Monday, September 28, 2009

In which the tides begin to turn...

It was a blessed and magical time at the restaurant. Captain Rig for whatever reason had decided to be rather reclusive and spend some quality time in his office. His absence lightened the mood in the kitchen considerably. The cooks, who I thought of as beaten drones actually showed some personality and senses of humor. Most of the servers spent the side work time chatting and having a laugh instead of being stressed to the M-A-X. Not to give the wrong impression here, Capt Rig world make his authority known several times a night on no uncertain terms. The cooks were lined up and publicly berated for making the salad dressing pink (mysterious) and for burning the meatloaf (unfortunate.) The servers turned on them in an instant, proclaiming that they would NEVER make mistakes and wouldn't DREAM of being such irresponsible f**kwits. Keeping my thought to myself, I considered how swiftly the tables could turn and we could be the ones getting strung up and beaten.
Another interesting development had taken place as well. There were now several new girls on staff. Any by several, I mean myself, two other experienced sassy servers and a gargantuan spectacled Shrek. Oh dear. Bonding together as only new, slightly overwhelmed staff can the 3 of us formed a tentative alliance. Swearing to have each others backs thru the good times and bad we kept a close eye on each other and tried to keep each other from befalling the wrath of Capt Rig. Shrek, on the other hand is simply dreadful. She is a close talker, a space invader and loves to butt in on conversations. She also stands at the end of her section and watches her customers eat which is creepy,and would make me uncomfortable. I could forgive her gigantic thick glasses and her messy scrunchie tied hair if she was fun, or a really terrific waitress but honestly she's just all around bad. It's a sad sight. My hope is that perhaps the 3 of us who are new, cool and do not have solar system sized chips on our shoulders can keep our heads above water and perhaps teach some people manners. We have decided that using please and thank you loudly might be a good start, since those little words do not make regular appearances in the kitchen. "THANK YOU" I shouted at the cook last night "THE FOOD LOOKS GOOD." "You're welcome?" he said, looking at me like I was fully insane. "COULD YOU PLEASE RUN THE SILVERWARE" I asked the dishwasher "WE ARE OUT, THANK YOU" See, it's really not hard.
The tides might be turning in my favor with the head harpies as well. Ashley has decided that she is going to be my new BFF, something that makes me recoil in horror. However, she is very good friends with Bobbi the manager/owner so it is in my best interest to listen intently to her romance-gone-wrong stories and to smile and non (but not agree, or disagree) when she gripes about every person who works in the restaurant. Jan continues to run around being a big old bag but I am at the end of my rope with her shenanigans and have started to break out the sarcasm with her. Usually I save the sass for my friends. The more I like you the more likely I am to banter on with you and give you a hard time. I feel that I am wasting perfectly good cutting remarks on her but it is getting her to back off and pick on someone her own size. Most of my responses to her crabby little questions go a little like this: "why did I leave that in the sink? for you to take care of, obviously." "why did I do so and so? clearly to try to make you mad." That's just the tip of the iceberg (an iceberg. Like Jan's heart.) I had fully intended for my motto at work to be "keep your mouth shut and your head down" but that wasn't cutting it. Ever since I declared full blown war on Jan and her craptastic attitude everyone has been treating me more like the goddess that I am (thank you, thank you.)
So bring it on people. You might think you can mess with me because I'm small and middleaged but I'm up for it. And I fully intend to take this place over, kick some booty, reign terror over Capt Rig and give Shrek a makeover.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Winners never quit

And quitters never win.
BUT, quitters can leave with their pride and sanity intact.
However, winners never quit without a fail safe plan B.
Taking into account the mental toll that Captain Rigatoni was taking on me I headed out (once again) into the world to job hunt. Also taking into account the all important "Plan B" I kept quiet about this turn of events and kept waiting tables, and not making pizzas (heaven help me.) Being that I already maintain a full time job, plus working a hair raising number of hours at Capt Rig's my time to hunt for Future Job of Huge $$$ was limited.
Being that I am a bit on the (ahem) "organized" side I made a list of restaurants that I might want to work at, listing their pros and cons. Obviously I broke out a serious spreadsheet to do this and had intricate details listed like the distance from my house, road quality in winter, possibility of having to work dreaded night cocktail shifts (or lunch) and tourist potential. Yes, I am a very fun girl.
List in hand I started to make some serious phone calls. And immediately hit a huge brick wall. Nobody was hiring! Not for dinner, not for lunch, not for nothin'... As is often the case the very last phone call I made yielded some interesting results: "We are going to be looking for a new waitress starting tomorrow" I was told "So call back at 3:30 to set up an interview." Which I did.
Several days later I dressed in my best going for an interview attire. One of the perks of being a middle aged waitress is that one has had the time to accumulate many suitable outfits for such an occasion, unlike when one is 17 and has to scrounge around for a shirt that fully covers ones midriff.... As my luck would have it the first thing I noticed upon stepping into potential restaurant of employment was that all of the staff were dressed in the hippest of waitressing attire. Oops, I could have worn my cutest outfit and fit right in. The restaurant itself was a beautiful space, and rather unexpected for the area of the world that it is located in. It was fresh and edgy, with a look that can only be described as retro chic. As I filled out the untraditional application: "We do things a little differently around here" I was told by the manager, I watched the staff interact with one another. A pair of male employees in their mid twenties stood behind the bar, debating the merits of vodka mixed with lemonade. As the manager came in she greeted them enthusiastically. "Hey boys" she purred, batting her heavily mascaraed eyes "how are you?" "Hey baby" they cried in unison "soooo much better now that you are here!" As I tried to figure out exactly what they were looking for on this mysterious job app I was able to see more staff trickle in. The girls who arrived first were young, hip and looked as thought they had just stepped from the pages of a fashion magazine. Everyone discussed their weekends, bantered flirtatiously with one another and pranced around, delighted to be young and attractive. Clearly, unlike at Capt Rigs where hatred runs rampant everyone at this restaurant loves each other (and maybe in that special way. if you know what I mean.) Looking at my old, crusty middle aged waitress self and reflecting on my many geeky qualities I came to the realization that no matter how qualified I was, I was not going to get hired here. I completed the interview very well, attempting to emphasize my skills and downplay my lack of model like stature and untrendy haircut. "We're all really close here, like a family" the manager mentioned to me "how do you think you will deal with that?" I replied that I tend to get along well with people and play nicely with others, and tried not to think about what kind of family would have that level of sexual tension.
Interview complete she let me know that the interview process was going to take at least a week and that I could expect to hear from her. "Umm hmmm" I thought to myself "to tell me that you have hired a six foot tall Brazilian model who works on the side as an exotic dancer." In my out loud voice I thanked her for her time and said any number of super professional sounding things.
So, the search continues. As do my fun evenings at Captain Rigatonis.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

In which the young grasshopper is allowed to spread her wings. ...

And one should remember that nobody likes grasshoppers and they often get swatted or sprayed with Raid. Anyway, I digress.
I was assigned to take an easy section of tables with less "training" time than I had anticipated. Evidently, Jan felt much the same way. "You're taking TABLES?? ALREADY??" she snorted in disgust. "Well" I replied, thoughtfully furrowing my brow "that is what one normally does. as. a. waitress." Looking at me with a mixture of surprise at my ability to shut her up and displeasure at the same, she bustled off to criticize people and smoke butts.
It is always a relief to get a couple of quiet shifts in where you only have to deal with few tables before the madness of a weekend. It was also an enormous relief to get out of the kitchen away from Captain Rigatonis fury and terror. I felt fortunate that I had been assigned to tables quickly more to be able to avoid the kitchen than for any other reason. Sad.
Nice quiet days behind me I entered into my first weekend with mixed feelings. Capt Rig had been in a good mood, due to the fact that some of his products had made their way successfully into the retail market. To see Capt Rig in a good mood is not much better than seeing him in a bad mood. Furthermore his mood swings will give you severe whiplash with the sudden turns they take so it's best not to take much stock in his happy moments. I was not feeling 100% in my ability to quickly create cannolis, make up multiple espressos or God Forbid make a pizza. That pizza oven is the bane of my existence and I dread the day when I arrive to see it fired up. As luck would have it, my first busy shift was one without the cringeworth addition of dough tossing so all was well.
As soon as the restaurant opened things became busy and shortly full blown madness had descended upon us. I was set up in a section that could only handle tables of two, something that in any normal situation would be easy as pie for me. As it was, it was all I could do to manage to get my tables taken care of without becoming hopelessly buried. Every waitress has an inner monologue that they run in their heads when they start to get in the weeds. Many just run thru the kitchen screaming "F**K!!! F**K!!!!" which is entirely expected and appropriate on a busy night. Since a busy night at Capt Rigs is so far above and beyond the busy of a normal restaurant the expletives are flying left and right. As I was running around, struggling to keep my head above water I was talking myself down from the brink: "OK, OK" I would think soothingly to myself "You only have 2 tops. this is easy for you. you have your shit together. you have your ducks in a row. oh crap, table 34 wants a cappuccino. table 33 wants a check and I can't get to the register. uh-oh they are calling for food runners. ok. take a deep breath. you can do this. you only have 2 tops. oh shit I have to make an appetizer and table 31 wants their check too. and I still can't get to the register. deep breath, everything is fine, put on a big happy (fake) smile and suck it up you idiot..." And that's how it goes pretty much all night. And one wonders why waitresses have to drink lots of beer when they get home at the end of their shift!
Captain Rigatoni was content to stay in his lair (aka, office) for most of the evening only coming out to question the following: Why do I pay any of you clowns? What is between your ears!!?? Clearly not a brain.... What the f**k are you doing you f***ing idiot?!!" So all in all a very restrained evening for Capt Rig, perhaps he remembered to take his meds? I often wonder what he does in his office other than watch the live feed coming from the surveillance cameras. I mulled over the possibilities that he drinks, or hits a punching bag, or maybe listens to anger management CD's (unlikely) I bet he has some creepy little habit like dressing up a cat in a baby outfit and pushing it around in a perambulator, or something equally icky and out of character. Honestly, I hope to never find out!
As luck would have it there was another new server on as well, who had been there for exactly 3 more days than I had. It's nicer not being the only new person in any situation so I claimed her as my new friend. I asked her how she was doing at the beginning of the night and she replied with great and surprising confidence that not only was she doing great but she had it all figured out. I was impressed as I most certainly do not have the 1.2 billion oddities of that place figured out- but I decided that I might be a bit slower than some. As the evening went on I watched as her confidence crumbled and she was reduced to a shaking, sobbing mess. As she stood trembling over the cash register, completely and hopelessly buried under her absurd workload I asked if I could help. "I need a f***ing cigarette and maybe a new job" she cried "I can't handle it, I'm in way, way over my head." As I patted her back and handed her a Kleenex she was reminded that crying in the kitchen is against the rules and that if she has time to cry she needs to be running faster (or something of the sort.) Remarkably, she got it together and lasted the night, finishing up in good spirits and with a big handful of cash. As we vacuumed the floors later in the evening she mulled over her first really busy day and pondered if it was going to work out for her. She was saying in her outloud voice many of the things that had been running thru my own head in a fairly steady way for a while. However, there is an unwritten waitressing rule that most people take pretty seriously. That rule is that you don't crack up in front of coworkers, or express doubts about your abilities. Any show of vulnerability is all it takes for the vultures to swoop down and pick you to pieces (look out for the head harpies!) or at the very least see you as the weakest link. So as much as I sympathized with her I was hesitant to share my own concerns feeling that they were better kept in the grumpy place in my head.
At any rate, I survived my first busy shift more or less intact. It might not have been fun or pretty but I did not loose any fingers on the bread knives, drown in the lettuce sink or get locked in a walk in freezer. And I plan to turn up (although with great hesitation) for my next shift. We'll see if I can say the same for the other new girl.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Adventures in sidework

After spending more quality time at Captain Rigatoni's I came to realize why the waitstaff regularly came to blows over the side work. The list is long, the work is challenging if not downright scary and it takes the better part of the evening to accomplish. One of the most dreaded jobs is preparing the lettuce for the salads. In all honesty, I might desire this job as it takes you deep into the belly of the restaurant away from the critical eyes of Capt Rig and the scathing remarks of the Head Harpies.

Upon my arrival one fine evening Mr Waiter #1 welcomed me with the following: "You are going to learn how to prep the lettuce tonight" "Well, sounds both technical and challenging" I said with maybe a hint of sarcasm. Looking at me quizzically over his glasses he said "Well, you must understand that there is a very specific way it needs to be done!" Rolling my eyes on the inside I said "Really? I am so surprised to learn that. Who would have thought?" (or something of the sort, as my patience was growing thin towards the absurdity of the situations.) Heading into the deep dark passageways of the kitchen I discovered that though lettuce prep is by no means rocket science it is a bit of a challenge for several reasons. (Sorry Mr Waiter #1, but the prep of lettuce is something that I have been doing for many millennia and the fact that we can wear kevlar gloves at this restaurant takes most of the danger out of it.) Which is good- as I loose fingers on a regular basis thanks to my questionable cutting abilities. What makes the salad prep a bit treacherous here is the use of a gynormous salad spinner, a huge green monster of a thing mounted decidedly above my head. After you dump heaps of greens in it and smack the on switch with a fry basket (if you are me. if everything in life is 8 feet above eye level) it takes off with an airplane engine like roar and shakes the whole building. Very worrying!! The removal of the dry greens is tricky as well, as standing on chairs is forbidden (might fall) so I have to stand on tip toe and wiggle the beast out of it's home with the tip of my finger and catch it smoothly before it goes all over everything. This is accomplished while leaning perilously over an industrial sized sink filled with water and lettuce- drowning is certain should you loose your balance. Now really, these people know how to put the "A" in adventure.... The most adventurous part of this task is the cautious and sneaky disposal of lettuce that is far past its prime. Essentially, we are supposed to use up everything and not throw anything in the hopper. If one comes across a leaf, or God forbid a whole BAG of brown lettuce you must casually walk by a trash can, drop it in like stealth and the run like your life depends on it. And if possible, sling something else on top of it so that what you have left does not resemble waste. Lettuce prep is a job that can easily take up an hour of your time and in my eyes, it is a blissful way to hide out back and think bitter thoughts.

The ultimate battle of the day always comes at closing time as the waitstaff fights bitterly about who can stay and vacuum and who can be sent home. This fight reaches a fever pitch if there are lingering diners at tables who are holding up the process. The rule is that everyone has to stay and help but this rarely happens. I have seen servers pay off other servers to do their section, cry sudden and urgent illness, or just cry. It is such obvious torture to stay that extra hour or so that it really seems wise to make vacuuming a part of the next days opening side work and save everyone the fight/sobbing in the corner/sudden hysterics.

The theory that the waitstaff should do the jobs of many reflects very clearly in both the opening and closing side work. It is critical to remember, that a server makes a horrible hourly wage (just a tad over $3 an hour) and so extremely cheap labor can be obtained by having us do so many different things. The bathrooms are cleaned by us, floors are mopped and rugs are vacuumed, saving them the cost of having a cleaning person (or, have one of the "paid" cooks do the kitchen floor.) I have mentioned before that putting away the dishes is our job, saving them the cost of paying another dishwasher, or having the lone dishwasher put in extra hours. They save the cost of an additional prep cook by having us do much of the food prep that is typically assigned to the lower ranking chefs. We clean our own tables, reset them in addition to making our own salads and desserts something that bus people do in all other restaurants that I worked it. Being something of a business person myself, I understand the theory of having fewer people on the payroll, but at what cost to the customers? Obviously the mental health of the staff is suffering greatly but when you have 1.2 million menial tasks to do the diners are the ones that will have to wait for their cake, or check and that ticks them off- resulting in terrible tips. AHHHH! So the moral of the story is that in the end, nobody wins. But what do I know, as I'm just a middle aged waitress....

Monday, September 7, 2009

In which mistakes are made that change the course of history...

At the end of a long week, at the end of an even longer day I sat for a moment in my car and groaned. Resting my head for a moment on the steering wheel, and successfully fighting off the urge to beat my brow while screaming I reflected on the events of the evening.

Armed with positive feelings I had marched happily into the kitchen and pleasantly greeted my coworkers. Looking at me like I was speaking in moroccan wearing nothing but a shower cap they ignored my greeting and went right on their merry little ways. Determined not to be shaken by the animosity so early in the evening I went to find out what I could do. Happily, I found that I could help one of the few normal waitresses set the dining room straight. As we washed chairs she gave me a few hushed bits of advice. "Jan, Gina and Ashley think that they are the bosses of everyone" she whispered "but in reality, the only people you need to listen to are Captain Rigatoni, his Mother and Bobbi." Mulling over this tidbit of info I wondered how not listening to Jan in particular was going to work out for everyone. Not well, was my conclusion. Her ears must have been ringing because at that moment Jan trundled onto the scene to mutter loudly about our inept ability to properly wash chairs and then go off on a furious tirade at the hostess about the evenings floor plan. Sighing to myself I remembered that my inner poise and many zen like qualities were sure to get me thru the night in a state of calm.

My state of calm lasted until 3:55, when on schedule Capt Rig had his first meltdown of the evening. Deviating from his normal schedule he kept at it all night long. I had been assigned to stand in the kitchen and learn what the food looked like, and deliver it to the appropriate tables. By the time the dinner rush rolled around I had lost all sense of inner poise and wanted to run as fast as possible into the labyrinth of the restaurant passageways and hide in the gelato cooler. The tension was so thick that you could barely see thru it, Capt Rig was in a terrible state, and one could barely hear over his shouts of fury. Keeping all of the various dishes straight was a very tricky job as so many look very similar. Garnishing the plates properly is a matter of life and death, and heaven help you if you send an entree out without it's little parsley friend. And heaven help you if you slip up, and add a garnish to something you should not. My nerves were on high alert as I attempted to appropriately garnish the plates, rest their boiling hot little fannies on my arms and run them to the dining room while suffering third degree burns. All of this being done, with the bulging eyes of Capt Rig watching my every move.... While waiting for a plate of pesto to make it's way to me Jan stormed into the kitchen and shouted "HEY new girl, when you are not carrying food you have to be drying silverware." OK, off I went (hoping very much to hide in the dish station all night.) No such luck as within 2 seconds the cry went out for food runners "I have a rigatoni alfredo, a chicken broccoli and pesto with a side of veg for table 20!!" the cook droned. I repeated the order, as is required, garnished nervously and ran off to table 20 while watching the skin burn off my appendages. Coming back into the kitchen moments later I was greeted with an uproar "WHERE ARE MY VEGGIES" screamed Gina "Oh shit" replied the cook "The new girl took them" WHAT IN THE F**K WOULD SHE HAVE DONE THAT FOR, GOOD GOD??!!" screamed Gina in a complete rage. Sure enough, this attracted the attention of Capt Rig. Thundering out from behind the prep counter he demanded to know what was going on. (wait for it... THUMP. oops, that's me getting thrown under the bus..) "The NEW girl" fumed Gina "TOOK. MY. VEG." Deciding that there was nowhere to hide in I went to meet my doom. "Yes, it was me" I declared "I misheard the ticket order, and took those veggies right out. It was completely my fault and I'm very sorry." Standing there feeling like a complete ass for apologising so abashedly for making a side dish accident I awaited certain death. Things were suddenly very quiet. Looking at me Capt Rig took a deep breath "Okay. No problem." I glanced around nervously waiting for the trap door to hell to open up and swallow me whole. Gina, who evidently was wishing for an epic beat down to happen sourly snipped to me "well. let's make sure that mistakes like that don't happen again." My relief in escaping the fury of Capt Rig was painfully short lived as each and every server took it upon themselves to tell me that avoiding the wrath would be a short lived situation. Gina, obviously very mad at me for ruining her life and stealing her veggies made sure to loudly tell everyone to check their tables to make sure they were getting the correct food. Jan, never one to be nice continued to scream at me to dry the silverware, even if I was already drying it. The cook, who had given me the veggies and HAD been reamed a new one by Capt Rig for the horrible mistake took great satisfaction in giving me looks of death all night long, while reading the tickets so fast that I could hardly understand them. Just when I thought that my feelings of jarred nerves and horror couldn't get much worse Capt Rig ramped up the fury a few notches. Noticing that more sauce than he considers to be acceptable was going onto a plate of ravioli he freaked out at one of the cooks. "WHY WOULD YOU F***ING DO THAT YOU CLOWN?" he ranted "WHY DO I PAY TO TO BE SUCH A POINTLESS MORON!!??" And then he started smacking him. I waited for a full blown fist fight to begin and was a bit horrified when it never happened. A little voice in my head asked me what sort of grown ass man lets a big bully smack him around? Before logic could reply that NONE would, Gina and Jen both screamed towards me to DRY the SILVERWARE FASTER!!! Oh good grief, if this had bee a normal restaurant I would have taken a moment in dry storage to gather my nerves or perhaps shed a hysterical tear. In this case with my every move being in some way recorded I just continued to dry silverware as fast as possible while feeling like an uneducated 15 year old who is being punished.

When it was time for me to leave I took a moment to remind Bobbi that I was going to be out of town taking a blissful break from the madness of her restaurant for the better part of a week. I was curious to know when she expected that my training would be over and when might I be allowed to take a small section of tables. "Oh I really can't say" she purred "You still have A LOT of training to do." Which meant more shifts from hell making what boiled down to zero dollars.

Sitting in my car, later that night (or, early the next morning depending on how you look at it) I genuinely felt a bit shattered. The tension, the screaming and the backstabbing will take a lot out of a middle aged waitress, even one who has fairly thick skin. I concluded that I would need to make the most out of my time off and decide if the trauma was worth any amount of money. As I count down the days until my next shift I am still undecided...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

In which all names are changed for obvious reasons...

Arriving at NASA (oops, I mean the restaurant) on my second evening I was filled with trepidation. I had been told that my duty for the night was to shadow a server named Jan, who I assumed was the head waitress. Observing her the night before had lead me to believe that if not the head waitress, she certainly was the head harpie. Her temper was short as her stature and she was very quick to fly off the handle at the drop of a hat.
Reminding myself that this was not my first rodeo by any means I gave myself a shake and headed into the lions den. Jan was clearly not thrilled to have a newbie on her tail all night long. She drilled me about what I had learned the previous evening with the flighty waitress. Not satisfied with my answers she snipped "Well, last night was a huge waste of your time because not only is the flighty waitress an idiot but she's on drugs." "Nice" I thought to myself, accuse people of illegal activities.. Thinking back to my previous evening of training I could not think of any reason to think that the flighty waitress was on drugs.
We plowed forward with the staggering quantity of side work that this particular restaurant has the wait staff tend to. Since this is not my first time around the block I have a good outlook on side work. It can be an organized and rather fun time to ease into an evening of food and chaos. Here, it is a way to prep for the drama and hatred that you are going to be witnessing for the remainder of the evening. These people like to take the claws out early! As I was filling parm shakers (a job that it took 4 people to decide that I was qualified to do) I listened in to the chatter in the kitchen. As servers would come and go the conversation would transition from how so and so hated so and so, to how the server who just left was a waste of space, to how nobody liked anyone (evidently this is ok converstaion to have recorded on the kitchen audio system. HMM.). I mulled over how as much as I was not planning to make life long friends it was a bit alarming to see this level of animosity. My thoughts were cut short by the 3:55 flip out of Captain Rigatoni. He hurtled into the kitchen like a tsunami with high blood pressure and extreme anger issues. "WHAT TIME IS IT???" he ranted "WHY IS THIS PLACE A F***ING DUMP? WHY DO I PAY ANY OF YOU???" As his rant continued I looked around the immaculate kitchen and honestly wondered if my eyes were playing tricks on me. Out of all the places I have worked this was the cleanest, most organized kitchen that I had ever seen so his anger over the mess was baffling.

As the evening progressed I was educated in the way that checks need to be handled. This is a restaurant that operates under the outdated and archaic method of hand writing tickets. In my experience this is a one way street to incorrectly ordered food, lost tickets and general chaos. However, I am a quick learner and felt that I was swiftly getting a handle on the finer details of the method. I was rapidly learning to use the prehistoric cash register and feeling pretty proud of my skills until I was interrupted by Gina, another server who I assumed was pretty high on the food chain. "I don't know if Jan bothered telling you" she snarled "but half the prices on the register are incorrect and if you don't remember to punch them in by hand you pay the difference." My world came crashing down as I realized that out of the 40+ items pre-programmed into the register I would have to be remembering to ring in completely different, and mysterious (and ever changing from the sounds of things) prices.
Jan took me around the restaurant in between serving everyone's food to let me know about what our duties were during the night. "As you know we do all the salad, bread and table prep at the start of the night" she squawked "in addition to that we make about half our own appetizers and we prepare all of the desserts to order." "When we have pizza as a special we make and bake that and prepare all the toppings" (at this point my notes started getting a bit shaky.) Trundling thru the restaurant, muttering criticisms of the other servers under her breath she continued "We get all the fruit and gelato for the frozen drinks, we make our own cappuccinos and coffee beverages." Spinning around to face me she continued "We bus our own tables and put away all the dishes and you NEVER, EVER leave that kitchen empty handed!!!" Lecture out of her system she continued on with some of her most heartfelt thoughts "I have OCD and everything about this place drives me insane... I often dream of blowing away every single person who works here because all of them are pointless idiots and I hate them... God, I hate them...." Noticing what must of been an expression of terror mixed horror on my face she laughed hysterically and said "But that's my problem not yours right?"

I spent the reminder of the evening keeping my head down trying to stay out of trouble. It was not an extremely encouraging situation to be shown how to do something and then to have it shown to me a completely different way by the next person to cross the threshold (and to be told by each that their was was the only correct way to do it and not to question the wisdom.) However, I managed to avoid breaking anything, getting too badly in the way, or catching the eye of Capt Rig.
As expected, at 7:30 Captain Rigatoni had another epic meltdown, there was shouting, swearing, getting into peoples faces, and from the looks of things another step was made towards a major coronary. I was not as bothered by this outburst as I had already borne witness to one earlier in the day.

While leaving I was asked by one of the servers how I was faring. I had to think about my reply carefully, as not only was I not exactly sure how I was doing but I knew that whatever I said was going right back to the kitchen. I replied that I thought I was learning the ropes as well as could be expected. She encouraged me to stick it out, as she had felt very insecure for her first couple weeks there but had adjusted and had been there for 7 years. Armed with this encouraging statement I tried to shake off the strangeness of the evening and develop positive feelings for my next shift.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Current time: where our heroine considers her escape plans

Standing in the kitchen I looked around, and seriously considered dashing out the back door never to be seen again. I was in a precarious position, trapped between two waitresses having an epic cat fight and blocked in from the other side by the owner/manager/chef (who we will call Captain Rigatoni) tearing into one of the cooks. Far to my left hand side one of the other waitress burst into tears upon realising than an error she had made on a check the previous day was going to cost her over $175. I heard glass shattering from behind the line which distracted Captain Rigatoni. "WHAT THE F**K WAS THAT" he screamed, red face darkening to purple as the veins bulged in his forehead. "It was the olive oil decanter" whispered one of the cooks "my elbow hit it and I'm very, very sorry Captain Rigatoni." "THAT BOTTLE HAS BEEN IN THIS RESTAURANT FOR SIX YEARS" Capt Rig screeched with escalating fury "NEVER, NEVER IN MY LIFE HAVE I BROKEN A BOTTLE OF OIL, HOW CAN YOU BE SO STUPID YOU CLOWN???!!!" This rant continued for several moments more as did the enraged waitress debate over side work. Noticing that most employees were continuing to work as though this was a normal everyday event I concluded that making a mad dash for freedom was not critical to my safety, although it might be a wise choice for my mental health.

It had already been a long evening when the screaming in the kitchen started. I had not bargained for a first day mostly consumed by lists of things not to do. The flighty waitress that I had been assigned to train with thoroughly enjoyed lecturing me on the art of staying out of trouble. Her bottom line? Impossible to do. Standing in one the wait stations she fiddled with the coffee machine to appear busy while giving me a long list of dont's. "First of all" she declared "NEVER stand with your hands on your hips. NEVER cross your arms or rest your chin on your hand. And NEVER, EVER lean on ANYTHING." Another waitress made her way in to join us and jumped right on the "don't" bandwagon. Like crows cawing "DON'T DON'T" they jabbered away manically: "Don't EVER touch your face" And NEVER touch your hair" "Don't break anything because then you will have to buy it" "And whatever you do, don't remove your SHOE." Slightly amused I asked what might possess me to remove my shoe. They launched into a long and trying tale of how once a server removed his shoe in the wait station to fix his sock and the floor opened up under him and he fell into the seventh circle of hell. Pondering all that I had been warned against I asked an obvious question. "Who is watching us, and what will happen to me if I slip up and brush my hair from my face?" Cautiously, they both looked up and gestured towards the ceiling "THEY are watching us because there are cameras everywhere" the flighty waitress whispered. "And in the kitchen, they have us all on audio and they can hear everything!!" "So whatever you do" they both droned on "do not say anything about anyone and don't think that you are safe to relax anywhere." "And if you slip up" cautioned another waitress as she walked in "you will be called into the office and reprimanded. Capt Rigatoni will really let you have it." I wondered at that point where I had missed my turn into a restaurant parking lot and accidentally ended up in air traffic control, NASA, or some job where huge world changing decisions were being made. All of this seemed a bit silly and intense to me but I had yet at that point seen the huge hate ball that Capt Rig carried around with him.

Every restaurant has an order of how they like things done and what are the most important things for servers to be doing. Evidently in Capt Rig's house it is OK to seriously delay taking care of "your" tables as long as you are running the hot food out as soon as it's little food fanny hits the dishes. I noticed that many servers would completely forget that tables had reordered drinks or had requested their checks in their panicking haste to remove the food from the line. I suppose that you can look at like this: the guests will never get weary of waiting for their food but will grow old and gray while hoping for a check to get dropped off. but what do I know, I'm just a waitress...

Hours later while driving home I felt as though I had run 100 miles in 90 degree weather without taking off my winter jacket. Reflecting upon my first day I decided that perhaps the screaming was a fluke, the hate between the servers was (somehow?) justified and the feeling of concern that I had about the overall bizarreness of my evening had more to do with first day jitters than anything. By the time I had reached my house most of what I had witnessed seemed something that my jangled nerves had perhaps overreacted to. Was that the case? Stay tuned to find out...