Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Second Wind

I just realized it's been over a year now since I started this blog. Of late, I've really not been on the writing wagon. And the reason smacks of irony.

I wanted to write this blog to aim some positive light on a much-maligned profession. I wanted to focus on why I love my job, why I feel like I'm lucky to be doing the work that I do, how serving and bartending are not just worthy of a little respect by customers and non-waiters, but by servers themselves who often seem to not take their jobs seriously.

I wanted to write about the funny stuff that happens, the ways in which the table-waiting list of pros outweighs the list of cons, how I can't believe that more people don't embrace food service as a meaningful profession and career in our culture.

What I very much didn't want to do was to spew complaints and gripe about my work. I didn't want to rag on customers and highlight their foibles. I didn't want to sound like I was complaining all the time, which is what happens rampantly in waiter blogs. I didn't want to add to that mix.

But I'm looking back at my posts, and I can see how I'm being seduced by the dark side. More recent (however infrequent) posts are cranky ones. There's little that I say that isn't grousing.

And I swore I wouldn't go down that path. That path of using my blog as a way to be negative about the work I do. That path of crabbiness. The path of bad juju.

But I'm having trouble focusing on what I set out to focus on, maybe because after eighteen years of doing this work, I'm feeling a tad burned out. Perhaps a lot burned out.
It seems that when I'm at work and an idea for a blog entry strikes me, it's almost always because of something that falls under the heading of "whining/bellyaching"-- precisely what I was trying to avoid.

So, finding myself conflicted, I just keep my mouth shut. Hence the long periods of no writing. In keeping with adage, I can't find anything nice to say so I'm not saying anything at all.

I've thought a lot about where to go from here. Give in to the dark side? Make things up?
Scrap the blog? After a little introspection, this is what I've come up with: 1) try harder to find and reap the good stuff and 2) be really bitchy if I want to be.

Is that the obvious solution? Probably. But in keeping with my default
black-and-white thinking, compromise doesn't come easily for me. I'm willing to give it a shot, though, and hoping that it won't be long before that second wind kicks in.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Dear Bar 8

Dear Bar Seat Number 8,

I appreciate the great enthusiasm you have for wanting to pay the check. Really, I do. However, I am currently actively engaged in taking an order from the person sitting next to you (that would be Bar Seat Number 7), and when you try to get my attention by waving your hand in between our faces in a frantic chopping motion, it makes me want to swat it. Hard.

It is my job and not your job to manage the needs of the eighteen (no exaggeration) people who are currently demanding my attention, so I certainly don't expect you to know the crazed way in which I am juggling all those priorities in my head. In a way you made my job a bit easier by moving yourself to the top of the list.

But I don't think I'm quite at the stage where I can thank you for that.

I know you would like think you are my only customer, but when you're dining in a restaurant, you can expect that you are not your server or bartender's only focus. We all have to share our love-- spread it wide and far. We try to be fair. We try to act like you're the only person we have to take care of. We try to tap into our inner lap dancer and pretend like you are the only person that exists in the world.

But when it comes down to it, we have to see to lots of people. And sometimes that means you have to wait nine seconds for your check while I take someone else's order.

Or at the very least it means you needn't stick your hand in my face.

Anyway, I hope you got to where you needed to be, with a belly full of fennel salad and a refreshing Negroni on the rocks.


Your Bartender Who Wishes More Than You Do That She Were Not Being Pulled In A Million Different Directions

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Dream About Bartending

last night's dream:

I am bartending at a bar that is in the upstairs bathroom of the house I grew up in, and it is on a cruise ship.

Five middle-aged, middle-American, white women are gathered around the bar, which is where the sink should be. One of them wants to order the rhubarb cocktail. [note: the restaurant where I work is, in fact, featuring a cocktail made with rhubarb juice right now.] Then another one wants one. And then suddenly they all want the same cocktail.

It's easier just to make five at once, I think to myself.

One of them says pipes up.
I just looove rhubarb pie! she says.

I wonder if she knows what she has ordered, if she thinks she is getting pie.

It's a cocktail, not pie, I say.

Rhubarb pie is my favorite pie! she implores.

I let it go.

I begin to mix the cocktails. I do so not by shaking them in a cocktail shaker but by mixing them in my mouth and them spitting them out. But I don't even spit them into glasses; I spit them into shallow terracotta gratin dishes.

No one blinks an eye, but I think that the cocktail seems a bit low in volume and I wonder if it should have been more, if maybe I'd made them too skimpy.

The End.

[Oh, and just for the record, I have never spit in anyone's food or beverage nor ever would, lest any paranoidals accuse me of doing so. But any other pathology you can extrapolate from this dream I probably have no defense for.]

Monday, June 8, 2009

Dear Table 17

Dear Table 17,

I'm sure you hear this all the time, but what a toddler you have! She is just about as adorable as adorable gets in the whole spectrum of adorableness. That cute little face! Such an engaging smile! She appears to be nothing short of delightful.

You must be so thrilled to have such an animated little moppet to call your own. Just look at how she stands confidently on her highchair and waves her fork aloft. Was that a handful of pizza she just flung onto the floor with focus and commitment of a major league pitcher? Her feats of coordination and whimsy are the likes of which I rarely, if ever, see in a child who is barely verbal.

And I know she's so much more than just her darling looks and lively demeanor. I'm sure she's got wicked smarts, way advanced for her age. And sharp wit. And a heart the size of an island nation
. With those traits I bet that one day she will burgeon into adulthood gripping the cure for cancer in one hand and the key to peace in the Middle East in the other.

Really, it's undeniable that she's destined for greatness. J
ust look at how she commands the attention of everyone in the restaurant as she calls out with great enthusiasm and authority. She sure doesn't let her lack of ability to speak actual words stop her from vocalizing-- at decibel levels that would send OSHA scrambling to slap earplugs on all of us working at the restaurant tonight.

And she doesn't let up. What persistence! She just keeps going and going. She barely needs to stop to breathe!

Your vacant stares suggest that you might be somewhat desensitized to her elevated utterances-- numb to them, even. You've probably had to learn to tune them out as a survival mechanism, assuming that her public restaurant behavior is similar to her behavior at home. But I can assure you that even if I were able to act as if the piercing, stabbing pain of her high-pitched shrieks did not exist, it would not mean that my eardrums would not still shatter, which I think they just did.

Well there she goes again! It sure has been a spirited last hour. You can tell by the gnarled grimaces and clenched teeth of the other sixty people in the restaurant right now.

Well, I could go on and on, but I really should go and try to sop up the blood coming out of my ears.

Hope you had a lovely dinner.


Your Bartender Formerly Known As Able To Hear Normally

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Well, now I can spot VD from a mile away!

-young man with three friends, table 25, seat 3, approximately 9:15 pm, so sad I didn't hear the rest of the conversation.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Center of the Universe

If you haven't been able to find it, I can tell you where it was tonight: the Center of the Universe came and sat at the bar, and I got to wait on her.

I tried not to make any snap judgments about her by her wildly dyed, attention-getting hair style. And I tried to suspend my interpretation of the air of self-satisfaction she exuded. And I gave her the benefit of the doubt when she first beckoned me over to her with an air of urgency even though I was already clearly on my way to tend to her.

She was nice enough. Almost too nice, though. The kind of nice that says I know how to act like I am nice though really I require your constant focus and if I don't get it, I will unleash the hell-on-wheels that I really am.

I set her up with a cocktail, and as she and her dinner companions waited at the bar for their table to be set, the C of the U continued to peruse the beverage menu (it's an interesting read) as I waited on other folks at the bar.

Excuse me, she said, extending an arm over the bar and toward me. As in the me who was talking to another person on the other end of the bar.

I glanced over my shoulder and signaled that I'd be right over.

I walked with a deliberate slowness toward her. Yes? I asked with an even more deliberate sweetness.

Oh, she started. If you're busy it can wait.

No, no, I say. I'm all yours. Please go ahead.

And I meant this because I wanted to know what was so pressing.

She smiles fake-sheepishly. What's Cynar? she asked, pointing to one of the ingredients on the cocktail list.

I am always happy to answer questions about the menu (it's part of what I do, after all), and this one is a common one.

It's an Italian liqueur distilled from artichoke, I began. It's kind of sweet and bitter and herbaceous and vegetal.

Oh, cool, she replied, looking back down at the menu, which I took as my dismissal.

I eyed another customer who needed to give me an order and headed over to him.

As soon as I got there, the call came in again.

Excuse me, she implored.

And when I say implored, I mean she wasn't just casually trying to get my attention; her tone was just shy of suggesting that there was a natural disaster about to befall the bar and that I must act with all due imperativeness.

I consider ignoring her, but I turned around, smiling.

Oh, it can wait, she bluffed again.

I ended up answering two more questions in this fashion of hers, waiting until I'm otherwise occupied before she decides she must talk to me right away and then acting like she's just suddenly realized that she was interrupting me and feigning politeness by deferring to the other bar patron.

I know this game.

I've played it before. With other Centers of the Universe.

The kicker? Turns out she works in a restaurant, suggesting to me that she should know extra better than to try to talk to the bartender while that bartender is talking to other customers.

You don't have to be an astrophysicist to know that.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Black Saturday

Valentine's Day this year fell not only on a Saturday but also on a holiday weekend, so we were good and braced for a long, busy day.

Sarah and Neki raised spirits with Winnie-the-Pooh and Strawberry Shortcake Valentine cards. And Johnny Cannoli (sort of his real name) set the mood for the day by showing his love through what he does best: cooking. Before the restaurant got too busy, out from the wood-burning oven came a heart-shaped pizza.

What about that pie doesn't scream love?

So this holiday is known as Black Saturday because, theoretically, it's one of those busy nights that will help put a restaurant "in the black." Restaurants are infamous for jacking up prices and offering expensive set menus and overbooking their tables to help achieve this financial goal.

I will hasten to point out that this is not the case where I work.

In the industry, Valentine's day is also one of those events known affectionately as "amateur night," a night when non-restaurant-going folks feel obligated to go out to dinner. It's up there with Mother's Day and New Year's Eve, when restaurants are crammed with dazed and overwhelmed diners who might or might not actually want to be there. They are notorious for ordering cheaply, socializing poorly with the servers, and leaving tips not commensurate with service.

But we try to look forward to these nights anyway. Like any other night, we remind ourselves. Only busier. More challenging. We'll sleep really well after.

I only worked lunch so was spared the mania of the dinner shift, which, from all reports, was one of the busier nights we've had of late.
It was a night of controlled craziness, with the kitchen pumping out food at a furious pace and the floor staff scrambling in the most pleasant way possible, trying to appease a crowd of people who were competing for seats, food, and attention.

Me, I was home tucked into my recliner under a blanket with a big book and a big mug of tea while visions of festive pizza danced in my head.

All thanks to Jonathan for getting us off to a deliciously Valentiney start!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What We Like To Tell Ourselves

In my barista days, I made plenty of nonfat mochas with extra whipped cream. As a server, I've put in orders for pizza with extra cheese and bacon with a hot fudge sundae for dessert and a diet Coke to wash it down. I've heard men order fondue and steak in the same meal and say, Thank god I take Lipitor!

And now, as a bartender, I can say I did something that really, I never could have seen coming.

Saturday night was possibly the busiest night I've ever worked at the bar. From beginning to end, for at least six and a half hours straight, I was bounced from one end of the bar to the other, mixing drinks and taking orders and trying to keep clear in my mind the eighteen things I needed to be doing at every second. It was so intense that I swear the pressure I was under was making my hands shake as I poured drinks, my blood sugar plummeting and my adrenaline levels soaring.

It was way-super-crazy busy.

Anyhow, in the thick of the busyness, a woman waiting with her friends for a table watched me as as I built and shook a cocktail made from vodka, meyer lemon juice, and simple syrup.

That looks delicious! she gushed. Is it just vodka and juice? she asked.

There's also sugar in it, I said as amiably as I could while my mind frantically tried to figure out my next several moves.

Can you make one with Sweet 'n Low? she asked.

This question was enough to get me to stop everything I was doing.

Um, well, I don't know if that would work so well,
I said, feeling protective of the cocktail recipe.

Oh, I make drinks all the time with it at home, she said confidently.

Well, I said. I only have Equal.

That should have gotten me off the hook. But the woman fumbled through her purse and fished out a tiny pink packet.

Oh look! she exclaimed triumphantly. I've got some Sweet 'n Low with me!

She carried it with her? Couldn't I be tested on some night when I didn't have seven cocktails that needed to be made right at that moment, not to mention the plates that needed to be cleared, the cash that needed to be rung in to the register, the orders that needed to be put in the computer?

I was going to have to throw the game, lose the battle.

For the sake of keeping the flow of the bar going, I took the path of least resistance. It would have taken far too much effort and time for me to explain the importance of maintaining the integrity of the drink.

And at the end of the day, it was clear this woman was going to love the drink made her way; it was what she really, really wanted, and it was obvious that I was physically capable of making it for her.

I took the pink packet and, cringing on the inside, made her that cocktail.

She sipped. She swooned. She expressed pleasure and gratitude. I had made her night.

She liked it so much, in fact, that over the course of her dinner she ordered two more sugar-free concoctions, employing the servers as baffled couriers shuttling the packets of saccharin from her table to the bar.

And what did she eat for dinner? Not one but
two bowls of one of the heartiest dishes on the menu: pasta with pork sausage rag├╣ topped with a rich dollop of whipped ricotta cheese.

If she ingested less than an entire day's calories in just her main courses alone, I would be surprised. I guess that forty calories of sugar in those cocktails would have just put her over her edge.

They almost put me over mine.