Thursday, August 13, 2009

When Servers Become Babysitters

There is a book entitled, Waiter Rant, Thanks for the Tip--Confessions of a Cynical Waiter. It is simply written by, The Waiter. I think it was in this book that I read that people are their most vulnerable when they are eating. 

This is what people don't know. While they are enjoying their lunch in a noisy and crowded restaurant they think that no one else is paying attention to them. They're wrong. Waiters witness everything. We notice the things you don't. We see how you treat your children and how you treat your spouse. We witness the expressions, the body language, and the mannerisms. I have seen mothers hit their child when they think no one is watching. I have seen mothers on their cell phones take away the table knife from the baby only to have it scream in response and hand the knife back so they can hear their phone conversation. I have seen countless fathers ignore their children until the mother arrives. I have seen arguments, verbal abuse, physical abuse, and emotional abuse. I have seen parents ignore their child's temper tantrums much to the dismay of the surrounding tables.

I think probably the worst is just the opposite. I have seen children abuse their parents. And I have seen parents just take it and succumb. I have seen four year olds demand, scream, hit, bite, spit, claw, and throw things at their parents to get what they want. I have heard pre-teens curse at mom and dad just to leave in the middle of the meal. I have seen parents hand every single object, knives included, to their screaming children just to get them to shut up. 

However, the funny thing is to us the people we serve lose all identity of themselves and simply become table numbers to us. 

As in, "You're table twenty-two is screaming so fucking loud. Can't you shut them up?" or "Dude, give table eleven some crackers or something, their crying is so obnoxious." It's as if the tables assume the identities of our own badly behaving children. 

Any good server who works in a chain restaurant will have an arsenal of emergency tools in their apron: pre-packaged crayons (in all colors so Junior doesn't have to steal his sister's and sister doesn't have to throw a butter knife at him to get it back), saltine crackers (to hold over screaming babies), pre-packaged colored straws (any server who has spent ten minutes running around to find Junior a green straw because his orange just wont make his milk taste the same as the green knows to just drop a handful of different color straws in the middle of the table instead of assuming one color will work just as well as the other), and plenty of pens as well as their trusty server book. 

I think the straws are the worst. Who knew different colored straws could create such upheaval at a table? Once a four year old demanded a blue straw, which we didn't have. Once he accepted that there was no blue straw, his mother asked me to find him a yellow straw. The child pitched a bitch fit, and the mother tried to sooth him by saying I would be able to find him a yellow straw. He cried until I spent ten minutes searching for the color yellow until I had to go into dry-stock and open a new box. Ten minutes of my life well spent.

Any parent who allows their child to demand a different colored straw should not be a parent. You suck. Point blank. Your child does not need a blue or yellow straw to cope. Green will be just fine. Or Orange. They all work the same. Stop teaching Junior to expect everything he wants in life. He's only going to be let down sooner than later. 

That goes the same for asking for more colored crayons. Learn to use what you have. Your server does not have time to hunt you down a red crayon. Your arsenal or blue, green, orange, yellow, brown, black, pink, and white will be fine. Better yet, teach Junior how to make the color red. There, you could actually induce a learning environment for him. 

I once had a table (table 95 to be exact--we always remember the numbers of our memorable tables) where the parents at the table allowed their precious eight year old to run me like a dog. Back and forth and back and forth for the most mundane objects that little Johnny could think of. Every time I arrived back to the table I swear he stopped me just to think of something else he could get me to do. Mom was too busy wiping the food of his fat little face and Dad was too busy on his cell phone to care. Little Johnny was an inch away from asking me for a power-scooter when I turned to check on another table. "Excuse me," I heard with a lot of emphasis. I turned to look at Johnny's mom, "Yes?" (I smiled. I do that a lot.) "My son needs something." I turned to little Johnny. "Um," he stuttered and stared at me, blank in the face, "Can I get some marinara?" I looked at his plate. He was eating apple sauce. What the hell did he need marinara for? "What is that for sweetie?" Mommy asks. "I just want it," he states. His mom looks at me expectedly. I smile and turn around back to my fiftieth trip to the kitchen to call for some marinara behind the line wanting desperately to throw it at Mom. Who allows their children to just boss around a complete stranger. Im not a servant. Im here to make your dining experience more efficient and enjoyable. Not to babysit little Johnny. I should have dumped the marinara into his applesauce.

Which reminds me: I once had a woman leave in the middle of the meal to do some shopping, leaving me with her six and eight year old. "I just need to pop out for a second to return something. You can watch them for me, can't you?" She asked me. I started at her, a drink tray in my arm. "They're just eating, they should be fine." She gets up and walks away from the table and leaves the restaurant. Did this woman seriously just leave me to babysit her children while I was in the middle of my job in a public place? The eight year old stares at me and immediately begins to eat the six year old's food who proceeds to scream. I can't believe this woman just abandoned her children in a public place. What happens if one just gets up and walks out? Im not responsible for this shit. Im a waitress, not their babysitter. What the hell is this shit? I keep thinking to myself. At this point I have three other tables waiting for drinks and food. I turn away from the abandoned and screaming children (table forty-two to be exact) and proceed to watch my other tables. I continue to treat table forty-two as if their mother did not just abandon them and I get refills and box up the left overs. Mom finally returns, thanks me for watching them, pays their bill and leaves. I breathe a sigh of relief that the two kids did not just up and run out on the Restaurant thereby saving me from a lawsuit (because the Restaurant certainly isn't covering my ass anytime soon).

Once again. I hate serving your children.

Table 15

I am off today. Technically it's like my Sunday since I go back to work tomorrow. Last Tuesday has turned into an epic day at the Restaurant.

A small child at my table 15 vomited everywhere. There were 7 people at the table to begin with, two desperate looking women with their 5 children. The youngest sat in a highchair capped at the end of the table. Thinking back on it, thank god this table was out on the patio--easier to mop up mounds of vomit. From the moment the table sat down they were a chore. Rude, demanding, and blunt I knew I was going to have to power through with a smile. On a Tuesday morning, the sections are split unevenly, some servers are limited to their traditional four table section, but others, like myself, have the freedom to pick up the closed tables in surrounding sections. On the patio, the managers will place two servers on a slow day, four on a busy one. On Tuesday I had the liberty of being able to serve a six table section. This otherwise money-making pit would normally be a God-send on a weekday morning but on Tuesday it was not. 

Table 15, or as I affectionally called it, "Vomit Table," was seated in the front corner of the restaurant on the patio. At this time of day, around 1:30ish, we had a late pop of customers, and I currently had a six table section. After changing their order of kids' drinks after I had already punched it into the POS system, I delivered the sugary, calorie-ridden, multi-colored, syrupy soft drinks and shakes to the small screaming and demanding children at the table. All five of the children (all probably under the age of seven) were talking at one time, pulling on their mothers' clothing, and throwing crayons and silverware at each other. At first I felt pity for the mothers knowing they probably lived like this every single day of their lives, but then I realized that if anyone can let a five year old tell them what to do, and then do it, probably deserves to live in diaper and vomit hell. 

I went around the table, by how the checks were going to be separated, and took each order. Here is a little tidbit for mothers with young children at restaurants: We (servers) do not want to take your child's order from your child's mouth. We (servers) do not have time to stand there and wait for your precious little four year old to babble his way through the entire ever changing order as you sit there speaking in baby talk asking them what they want to eat. Or even better, we love when the four year old sits in silence and just stares at us while the mother points at every picture and repeats, "What do you want for lunch today?" Thats fucking bullshit. Just pick something for your indecisive and A.D.D.-ridden four year old to take three bites of then throw all over the floor so we can move on to the next table of adults who actually want to have lunch today. 

"Vomit-Table" had the same problem. As the mothers told each child, "now tell the Waitress what you want for lunch today," they all started to ramble and scream at once. Fan-fucking-tastic I think to myself. Once the mothers finish with their order, I reach the last child at the table. A young girl, probably 7, states "Him," pointing to the young boy in the highchair, "and me, will both have the grilled cheese with fries." She then decides to repeat herself, just in case me and my pen haven't gotten her lunch order right. "Meeeeee," she stresses, "aaand him," more pointing, "are both going to have the grilled cheese." I look toward the mother with confirmation but she is busy coloring with the smallest child. I smile (forcibly) and walk away through my section to make sure my five other tables are okay. 

I place the order in the POS system and proceed to cash out and serve the rest of my section. Soon, before twenty minutes are up, I am taking out a tray full of fattening fried food to my lovely table number 15. I pass out all of the food, including the two grilled cheese meals, and check to see that everything looks good. The mothers, in between mouthfuls of cheeseburgers and potato skins, say yes, and I walk away. At the Restaurant we have a two-bite check back rule, which means after the table as a chance to take two bites of the food, the servers check back to see that everything tastes alright. I take a loop around the kitchen and begin to swing back when I see the young boy projectile vomit all over himself, the table and the floor. all of a sudden chocolate shake and grilled cheese sandwich are regurgitated and sprawled out in liquid form. Again, Fan-fucking-tastic, I think to myself. Without bothering to even approach the table with a, "Well we had a little accident, didn't we?" I swing back to the kitchen and search for the dishwasher. "A kid just projectile vomited all over my section," I state to no one in particular, yet everyone looks at me, "Where the fuck is the dishwasher?" "Probably out smoking" my manager states. He is on the line expo-ing food for the tables out front. He doesn't even seem fazed by the statement of projectile vomit. Occupational hazard in the restaurant industry. "What did the kid eat?" he states. "Grilled cheese." "It's always the grilled cheese."

I run around the kitchen desperately. By now I've been in the back for about 45 seconds, which to the front of the house is like ten minutes. I can't find the dishwasher so I grab the mop and bucket myself and wheel it out to the patio. Trying to save the rest of my section from noticing the vomit, I wheel the mop behind one of the side stations instead of through my section. As I get to the table, the moms and children have pushed the clean food to the side and have continued to eat, despite the mounds of vomit on the edge of the table, the child, and the floor. "So, we had a little accident, did we?" I ask lightheartedly with a smile. "Yeah," states the other mother while still chewing. The kids are still stuffing their little faces and start to make vomit noises and laugh. The youngest in the highchair (who honestly looked to old to be in a high chair anyway, but probably demanded one and got it), looks at me bewildered. His face and clothing are still a mess. Now, I will mop up vomit off the ground, but they better not expect me to clean off his disgusting little face. The mother of the young boy decides that this is a good time to get up and clean off Precious' face and high chair. "Oh good," she states, "You brought a mop. Well, there you go." She pushes his chair away from the mess, and I begin to mop it up (with a smile). The whole time I am thinking, okay, this is fine, but where are the "sorrys" and the "thank yous?" The whole family continues to eat as I stand there, mopping in silence. One of the boys lean over and yells, "You missed a spot!" I wonder if I can get fired from punching a child. Probably. Now one of the girls chimes in, "Ewwwww. That is so gross. He is so gross." By this time the mother decides to stand up for Vomit-Child. "You know what, he is five years old," (I was right, to old for a high chair) "And he cannot control his actions," (she looks at me), "It is not his fault." Now wait. I did not say anything at this point about the five year olds vomit. At this point I am mid vomit clean up and the oldest girl looks at me, "I need another sprite!" she states. I have the mop in one hand and a plate of vomit in the other. "Yeah," the mom looks in her cup, "She does need another sprite. And I would like another diet." I stare at the table incredulous (though still smiling). I am fucking holding a plate of vomit and they are asking for more refills right now? "Sure, of course." I reply. "Also," the mother states, "You used all of our napkins. We need some more." I stare again, and this time I think they catch me because the attitude sets in. The mothers are now looking hostile because I think for a moment I caved and showed what all servers are never supposed to show--annoyance. The mother sets in on me, "Also," she stresses, "You must not have listened correctly. My daughter was going to share her grilled cheese with my son. She did not order two. She only ordered one. You just must not have listened correctly." By this point I am thinking maybe I can get away with throwing my vomit plate at her. Or maybe I could just drop it in her lap. "okay," I state, "I apologize for that, I will just have it taken off the check for you." She blinks at me, and stresses one more time, "You just must have not listened correctly." I smile, turn around, and wheel my vomit and pride back to the kitchen. 

The lovely Table 15 (after ordering desert for all of their precious children, even Vomit-Child) then state that they are ready for their checks. I nod and turn to the POS system, automatically separate the checks, and drop them off. By now the table has a distinct aroma of puke to it. "Excuse me," the mother stresses while slapping the check book back to me so that it taps me in the chest, "You forgot to take off the grilled cheese." I stare at her, somewhere between mopping up vomit and taking care of five other tables I forgot to delete the three dollar and ninety nine cent sandwich. I fix my mistake and hand the book back to her. They throw in some money, get up, and walk away. The table itself now looks like a bomb was dropped on it. Empty plates, residue of vomit, melted ice cream, broken crayons, and spilled drinks litter the large marble and iron table. People walk past it and stare, covering their noses. I grab the books with a huff and plug in the numbers. A nine dollar tip on a sixty-eight dollar check. I look at the table. Are you kidding me? Nine fucking dollars? And no "Thank you" or "Im so sorry for the mess?" I turn around, walk through my empty section, and march into the kitched to grab a buss tub to finish bussing the section.

I fucking hate serving your children.