As a server in the restaurant business, you have to contend with a lot of questions. People wanting to know what kind of ingredients are in each dish. People wanting to know what’s the best thing on the menu. People wanting to know what kind of beer you have. People wanting to know what your name is. People wanting to know if you have something… even though it is not on the menu. People wanting to know if you’ve been busy. People wanting to know what you do in your spare time. People wanting to know your phone number. People wanting to know anything that they can know really.
This is dealt with by way of a fake smile and the same redundant answers.
Last night, at the sushi bar I work at, we were slow, dead, bored, broke. I waited on a total of three tables. Working at a ski resort, this is not necessarily unexpected in the summer season, but upsetting, nonetheless. Collectively, the workers in different restaurants throughout the ski village will gather at the end of the shift and discuss how little work they actually did.
And generally speaking, as a server, I expect questions. What does maki mean? What is vegetarian? What isn’t raw? Is the fish fresh? Blah, blah. But every once and a while, I am asked something that forces me to attempt to answer seriously and fight back a giggle and a cocky smile (which results in my face contorting into an uncomfortable, unnatural stare). Last night, I was delivered one of those questions:
“Does the shrimp shumai have shrimp in it?”
(Please note, this is not the first time over the course of the last year I have been asked this, which is equally as frightening.)
So, as I’m responding with “uh, yes” trying not to sound like I’m thinking wow, that’s a dumb question, it occurs to me that this could be an epidemic, an epidemic of dumb questions. Ask any server, and I’m sure he or she can rattle a variety of instances right off the top of their head, and every time I am asked one by a customer, I am catapulted through a series of moments where some hungry person did not have the common sense to sit for a moment and critically think before they asked. (Although one should ponder their intelligence as well, if they must sit and critically think whether the shrimp shumai has shrimp in it.) Sometimes though, a dumb question can be your (eventual) salvation.
I used to work at an Irish pub (that, it would seem, single handedly ruined my idea of working in a restaurant). Needless to say, I worked there for five years too long, so one can only assume that the amount of stupid questions I was asked accumulated greatly. Occasionally however, fed up, I had the nerve to fight back in a passion aggressive manner.
On one fine day, at the very end of a busy holiday week in which I worked seven doubles (a shift consisting of twelve hours or more) in a row, a couple walked in. The man was average height, wearing a ski suit from the 80′s and had a head of thinning hair. His wife (or whatever) was in jeans and a sweater, and a fur lined winter coat. Her eyes were puffy and wet and her nose was red and irritated, by tissues I assumed, because little snot bubbles were forming in her nostrils. They sat in a booth at the far end of the restaurant in my section.
After the usual, repeated greetings and the bringing of their drinks, they announced they had some questions. I replied I could probably answer them. And then this happened:
Man Patron: You see, my lady here is not feeling so well, so we would like the french onion soup… but with no onions.
(At this point, whenever a server is asked a silly question, a chain of events occurs in the mind. First, you must evaluate whether it is simply a terrible joke, something restaurant patrons are notorious for. Wait, is he joking? Should I not be laughing or should I be using my make believe waitress laugh? Once the server has figured this out, taking sometimes up to a whole confused minute, they then must transform their blank, puzzled look into either the most genuinely fake laugh ever heard or into a look of absolute pretend understanding and deceitful true concern. You know, the oh, silly me, I wonder about that all the time. I care… look. In this case, it was the latter.)
Yours Truly: Well, I could ask if the kitchen could scoop most of the onion pieces out, but there is no way to fully remove the onion from the onion soup.
Man Patron: Oh.
(While I hold an endearing smile painted on my face, they both look at each other disappointed. It’s clear that I just ruined their day and this sick woman is most likely going to die because of my inability to completely change the ingredients of the soup that was already prepared.)
Man Patron: I guess that will do. Just make sure you get as much onion out as you can.
(I continue to smile as I jot down in my handy notebook: 1 onion soup, no onion.)
Man Patron: Yes, and I’ll have the New England clam chowder.
(I’m not sure what came over me as he said those words, but mainly it tasted like a hearty helping of frustration combined with one cup of confidence and a pinch of delicious wow, I’m pissed off. Maybe it was because I was coming to the end of seventy hour work week? Maybe it was because I had already had my full share of dumb questions? Maybe it was because one of the other servers was having a bad day and was stomping around on a pissy-like mission to ruin everyone else’s day, too? Maybe it was because I had just a bit too much to drink the night before in the attempt to relax? No matter, I dropped the smile from my face and let my face go dead-panned.)
Yours Truly: Oh, yes, of course. Would you like me to have the kitchen remove all the clams for you?
(Now, it was his turn to stare while trying to figure out if I was joking, as his lady’s nose ran snot all over the tabletop.)
Although, I would not recommend a server ever engage in such a retort, it was a proud moment for me. It seemed to make up for every time a person had acted as if I was their personal robot at their beck and call (which, uh, I am kind of, I guess).
And as I walked into the kitchen, and all the line cooks stood with mouths gaping, before the one holding the order slip in his hand shouted “are you fucking serious, Becki,” I stood proud, nodded, and responded “yeah, I’m fucking serious about going back to college!”
In the immediately following fall, I held a class schedule in my hands for the first time in seven years.