Sometimes, when a person tries to help another, they’re really just making it worse. That’s not their intention. In fact, their intention is as golden hearted as a child’s, and you should have no choice but to try and suppress your feelings of frustration and reach for the courage to thank them anyway.
This is the case as a server when most people try and stack their finished plates for you.
Stacking plates is not a difficult thing. Nope, it’s really rather simple. Every home has stacks of dishes in their cupboards. Somebody stacked them there, taking that extra second to make sure each piece was in their rightful home, neatly and properly. As long as plates and bowls and cups have been around… people have been stacking them.
If you were to go into the kitchen of a restaurant, any restaurant, you would find rows and piles of different dishes stacked: bowls, plates of all sizes, platters, glasses, mugs, pitchers, saucers, souffle cups, to-go containers, lids, and a stock hold of cheap silverware ready to be shoved into people’s needy mouths (in my case, chopsticks actually). Each piece in a convenient place for quick retrieval and each piece ready to be handled by a variety of people over the course of one, single meal.
Last Saturday, as the dishes waited to be grabbed in a (hopeful) frenzy and the defenseless chopsticks laid out ready to be plucked up and used as drumsticks instead of food utensils, the outside patio of the restaurant began to fill with the sound of bustling, hungry, happy people.
At one table, positioned with perfect posture, were two well to-do, older couples; clearly from the upper chaste of society which was made apparent by the designer duds they wore and the big, honking jewels that fashioned the women’s jewelry. They were all smiling and engaged in each other’s conversation of what their children were doing to be successful and their early morning tee time on the golf course the next day. Sizing them up from afar, I could tell they were modest tippers, but pleasant, so the table would probably carry on without a hitch and I’d make my 15%.
And that’s basically what happened. I brought. They drank. I brought. They ate.
I cleared. They royally screwed me.
As I said, everyone knows how to stack plates. It’s not difficult and everyone (well, most everyone) at some point in their lifetime has had to do it. However, for some unknown, mysterious reason, as soon as they leave their house, people’s knowledge of this basic, everyday action remains in the confines of their own kitchen. People, in an attempt to be courteous, begin piling and stacking dishes in a way, they would never do at their house, as if they have never even done it before.
That particular day, just the same as most days, each of their plates still sat in front of them topped with everything they were through with: napkins, soy dishes, side plates, squeezed, lifeless lemons, chopsticks, as well as any other useless piece of garbage they could find. This is a typical thing for someone eating out to do and it doesn’t bother me or most other servers one bit. I pick up the first plate and begin the removal of some items in preparation to stack more suitably for carrying them the long trek back to the kitchen.
Then they do what many a person does in an attempt to help; they begin simply stacking their completely full plates on top of the one already in my hand.
I begin my pleas “You don’t have to…” or “No, please, let me handle this for you…” but they insist, because they think they are making my job easier. I appreciate that. I really do. But at the end of their piling of helpfulness, I stand there with a completely unstable stack of dishes, garbage, and chopsticks, each plate separated by an inch or two of items just waiting to move and pull the whole heap down to shatter on the cobblestone patio. The stack shifts ever-so-slightly as I mutter a thank you and take a step back. I have to take a deep breath as I prepare to pivot and wobble uncomfortably back to the dishwasher, my arms working as a shock system of sorts and all the while conscious of the fact that if this bulk were to topple and smash, interrupting everyone’s peaceful dinner, it is me, not the real culprits, that will look like an incompetent jack ass.
Most of the time, this amazing feat-making it back to the appropriate area with a tower of completely unstable, gravity-defying dishes unharmed- that servers are able to accomplish goes unnoticed. Honestly, that’s fine. After all, the public is simply trying to help, and everyone appreciates being helped out from time to time.
But not every time goes without notice. A couple years ago, back at the irish pub I worked at, I was in a similar situation- attempting to gracefully (even though grace was impossible) deliver a load of dirty plates and used, crumpled napkins, and cutlery placed in all of the worst spots- and I felt a light tug on the bottom of my polo shirt. Annoyed, I turned expecting to see a person with a paper napkin tucked in the collar of their shirt in need of more ketchup, but instead stood a little boy, probably about eight, wearing a spiderman t-shirt and the biggest toothless grin surrounded by smeared barbeque sauce.
“You’re a really good carrier!” he exclaimed over-enthusiastically. I smiled and tried to bend down as close to him as the pile would allow without falling over.
“Shh. It’s one of my super powers. Don’t tell anyone.”
As his eyes grew big, he put one finger to his lips, indicating he would in fact, not tell a soul and ran back to his table at the sound of his mother calling his name.
And you know what? Being able to say thank you to someone who is sincerely trying to help, yet managed to actually make everything worse is a super power.
But seriously, if you can’t figure out how to logically put your plates in an easily deliverable stack (keep all the same plates together in the pile, biggest on the bottom gradually getting smaller as you reach the top, and nothing in between aside from the occasional leftover bite you just couldn’t muster)… just let me stack your plates.
After all, it is my job and it just so happens… not only am I a really good carrier, but I’m a really good stacker, too.