Merry Christmas, everyone! And while I’m at it, Happy New Year! Hope you’re still having a fun and profitable holiday season.
Like the rest of you (assuming mostly waiters read this blog), I’ve had a very busy Christmas month. Michael’s ramped up earlier than the previous two years – an encouraging sign, no doubt – and stayed busy right up till Christmas eve. I worked long shifts. I made a lot of much-needed money. I got a few ‘handshakes.’ My best day was $475, which included $150 in Christmas gifts, separate from the tips these generous guests gave me. All told, I’d guess I averaged close to $200 a shift for about three weeks. Michael’s is my lunch job.
My dinner job, Carney’s Corner, was hot for about two weeks – though not like two years ago and earlier. Actually, there was hardly any sense of the typical Holiday Crush, where there are a lot of large parties and tons of reservations. Instead, Carney’s had reservations only moderately heavier than non-holiday times. However, the walk-ins were very strong. You could count on them any night of the week. And there were also a lot more, ‘We’re whooping it up tonight’ vibes floating around – more high-digit wines sold, more steak and lobster combos, more appetizers. Non-weekend shifts ramped up to $150-175. Weekends, $220-250 per night.
I worked a lot of doubles. One week I worked four. I felt good this year. Sure, I got tired, but not too run down or sick. As usual, I kept the end in sight and kept counting off the days till Christmas . . .
I’m sure a lot of businesses (retail, especially) are hectic during Christmastime, but restaurant work has to be up near the top. It’s difficult for ordinary people to understand. First of all, there is a heightened level of activity and responsibilities for everyone engaged in the Christmas season: shopping, wrapping, social commitments, etc. So it would be stressful just to add those elements into a normal month. But restaurants compound the crisis by being twice (or more) as busy. Suddenly, your four hour shift is 6 or 8 hours. In my case, three shifts a week became five – at each job. A four-table station gets fudged up to five or more. Traffic getting to and from your job sucks away more hours of your time. You wake up hungover and tired because you were so tired from the double the day before, you treated yourself to a couple of martinis when you finally got home at 11:30 p.m. . . . Well, I did, anyway.
But it’s cool. There’s a perfectly beautiful symmetry to the year for a waiter. Most other professions will see Christmas coming and also see a lot of money they don’t have suddenly flying out the window. No so for waiters. Right when you need a bunch of extra money to pay for all the gifts you’re buying, all the socializing you’re doing – that’s the exact time you happen to be making a bunch of extra money. It works itself out every single year. And even if you happen to overdo the generosity a bit . . . if you file your taxes as early as possible, you’ll get a tax refund to pay the leftover credit card bills.
It’s really not so bad being a waiter.
Wait, did I just write that? In a Pet Peeves post? I take it back. Lots of things suck about being a waiter. Here are a few I’ve been making notes about the last several months.
Waste Sugar Packets In The Caddy
Why do people tear open sugar packets, empty the contents, then put the shredded paper back into the sugar caddy? Are they ashamed of the ‘mess’ they made, like they just soiled their own shorts, and they’re trying to conceal the evidence? Or maybe they think they’re helping, by keeping the rest of the table tidy?
It makes the restaurant look bad, because quite often the waiter does a brief visual check of the caddy and can’t detect that anything is amiss (the used packet blends in with the rest of them). Then the caddy goes out to another table, and the guest finds this trash. It also goes another degree further because the used packet is usually not emptied completely, and the diner unfailingly puts it back upside-down, spilling sugar into the caddy.
Actually this goes for any kind of waste. I’ve seen gum, wadded up ‘straw paper’ (is there a name for this? A straw sheath?), even stray pieces of food. It seems if it will fit in the caddy, it will be hidden there.
I know I already debunked the ‘They wouldn’t do that at home‘ myth, but . . . dammit, they wouldn’t do that at home, so why do guests think it’s good to do in a restaurant?
Wine Tasting Indecision
These days I take pleasure in not automatically assuming the man will be tasting the wine. I know it’s proper to present and pour the taste for the person who ordered the wine. I usually do this. But sometimes fuzzy logic can be employed if it’s apparent that the party isn’t too uptight.
For instance, the guy orders a martini and says he’ll take a look at the wine list for the lady. I bring his martini. He selects his wine. I return with the wine. At this point, his palate is fucked because of the harsh martini. Further, he was selecting the wine for the lady (though he’ll obviously have some later). So here I might ask if maybe we should have the lady taste the wine?
But here we sometimes run into trouble. The man will say, sure. I pour the lady a taste. She picks up the glass and sets it in front of her date. He puts it back in front of her, ‘No, you go ahead.’
‘No, it’s okay.’
‘No, really, go on and taste it . . .’
So she’ll finally taste the wine . . . and then shove the glass back to her date. ‘What do you think?’
I’ve also seen this play out in perfectly straightforward wine tasting scenarios – no cocktails or other mitigating factors involved.
People, do not pass around the tasting glass to everyone at the table so they can sign off on the wine. Either it is acceptable or it is not. This is not a question like, ‘Do you think this sweater matches my pants?’ If the wine is bad it will smack you in the face with its badness. If your sample of taste and bouquet seems inconclusive to you, then, the wine is fine.
‘Do You Mind Taking Our Picture?’
This isn’t actually a pet peeve of mine. It’s more of a curiosity. Why do people say this? Because, I do not mind at all taking someone’s picture. I can’t imagine a reason why anyone would mind. Are there waiters in France or Manhattan who consider this the foulest of insults? Are these waiters pitching a fit when guests ask them to take their picture? Do they passive aggressively shoot out of focus, or time the flash wrong, or leave people out of frame?
Or maybe it’s the guests themselves. For some reason, they think it’s terribly demeaning for a waiter to take a picture. Perhaps they feel it rubs the waiter’s nose in the fact that this is as close as he is ever going to get to ‘working’ in the film industry?
Wait. You know what? Maybe it is offensive. ‘This is a restaurant, you idiot, not a portrait studio. I am a Waiter. I didn’t spend two weeks training for this job just have you come in and treat me like a common photographer. I doubt, Dr. Wyrick, your patients ask you take a snapshot of them and their family when you finish the colonoscopy.’
Red Sweater Day
Like the inexorable calendar-creep forward of the baseball playoffs, or the backwards creep of the ‘first Christmas shopping day of the year,’ what I call Red Sweater Day happens earlier every year. Red Sweater Day marks the first appearance of the hideous Christmas sweaters donned by (mostly) women. And (mostly) older women. And (mostly) overly precious women. And (mostly) women who order cheap(est) wine and pretend they don’t normally drink more than one glass.
I saw a doozy the other night. A knitted cardigan affair in lime green with candy canes and snowmen (also knitted) affixed like ornaments to the front of the sweater. Read that again. Affixed. These were not designs in the sweater. They were separate knitted entities hanging from the sweater. Sheesh.
I think I’m pretty old (48 now), and I’ve been waiting tables for 23 years, but this makes me think I must have missed something. Because these women appear to be part of an earlier era or generation. But if so, where were they with their sweater in decades past? If it was a tradition that’s been going on all along, I would have noticed in 1987, when they were in their hey-day, sporting their Holiday Reds-And-Greens.
And if not, how did this entire generation get sold, so late in their lives, on the idea of garish holiday wear? Isn’t it a whole lot classier and impressive to simply wear your best outfits? As it is, it’s like an entire month of Halloween night – but Christmas-style. I don’t see people showing up October 12th in a Mummy costume. But these women don Santa hats, and scarlet sweaters, and snowflake pins for a solid month.
Maybe it’s just something old people do nowadays. Sheesh, old people nowadays! (You know, like, ‘Kids these days . . .’? Not funny? I thought it was, but if not, let me know, because I can’t hear you laughing.)
But with all the ‘mostly’s’ accounted for, the worst is the emasculated man in the Red Sweater-Vest in the company of ‘his women’ (I put ‘his women’ in quotes because there is no chance in hell or heaven or this limbo called earth that this man would ever ‘have’ women). He’s typically the white-haired fairy (not to mean gay – just the ‘fun’ guy) of the office henhouse, or the badgered accountant/teacher/no-level salesman husband. This is the same guy who makes bad jokes (usually puns) at every opportunity, and ‘his women’ laugh dutifully, because he’s supposed to be funny. Of course he’s not. What he is, is a disgrace to masculinity. A toy for the office women. Just like a girl’s Chihuahua dressed up in, well frankly, in the same damned sweater he’s wearing.
Don’t get the idea I’m against a red shirt or sweater around the holidays. I have a couple I will break out when the family gathers, or just for general wear on a Christmas vacation. It’s just a color, after all. My problem is with the guy who is decorated. And yes, you can always tell the difference if a guy is clothed by his garments or decorated by them.
Christmas Overtime Panic
A corporate thing. It was refreshing this year: I heard from a manager, himself, that the company wasn’t going to freak out about doubles this year.
Which was in stark contrast to every other year I’ve worked in every other corporate restaurant:
‘Dennis has to get off the clock! He’s working a double tonight! I’m sorry, but you guys’ll have to handle his sidework. He’s got to get off the clock!’
‘No. Even though Megan is willing to cover your shift on the 22nd so you can have Christmas with your 5-year-old twins, that would put her on a double that day and we can’t pay the overtime.’
‘Justin, Fred, and Eunice are here to help out today with the big parties at lunch. I’m having them come in late and leave early so they can still cover their dinner shifts.’
These are all scenarios I’ve experienced . . .
Personally, they all irritate me. But rarely do I even try to get a shift off during ‘The Season.’ So the middle one plays out infrequently. The other two, however, are the worst.
Look, it’s not my fault I have second job therefore making my 18 hour day not your problem. I don’t mind. That’s one reason I have the 2nd job. But when I’m getting stuck with extra sidework from someone making all the same tip money here as I’m making . . . just so the company can save $4? I have to get to my other freakin’ job!
Likewise, I haven’t worked these stupid lunch shifts 11 months this year just to have someone from the dinner shift come in late, wait on the big lucrative parties, then leave early without doing sidework . . . so they can fit into the labor budget.
For Christ’s sake (and I guess I mean it, as this is all for the Christmas season), can’t restaurants just reconcile that it’s going to be super-busy and they’re going to need all hands on deck? Just accept it as the cost of doing business. It’s the cost you’ve saved all year by having fewer employees, by avoiding over-scheduling just to give everyone ‘enough shifts.’ I mean, really, we’re talking about $8 an hour (or far less in many states) employees here. You (managers and corporate bean counters) are paying $4 more per hour for a person who’s generating up to 100 times that amount in sales each hour. Live with it.
And last of all, isn’t corporate mantra (at least as professed), ‘. . . anything that makes the customer happy . . .’? It might make the customer happy if you kept your restaurant fully staffed during the busiest month of the year, and paid whatever overtime was necessary to make that happen.
Happy New Year!