My last shift. Ever. The last time I carry a burning plate slowly whitening the tips of my fingers to the furthest table, the last time I make a goddamn roll-up, the last time I have to polish an infernal side plate (top AND bottom).
I said all this almost three years ago when I left my last waitressing job, vowing never to serve another table of snooty assholes again. Two weeks later I was wailing ‘I have no money!’ and handing my CV into another local restaurant. And it’s been fun! I’ve become good friends with my colleagues, and we’ve had some really funny moments. Other times have been hellish but that’s all part and parcel of the job.
So, I am hoping that when I say this is my very last ‘waitress confessions’: I really mean it.
I start the shift with a confident smile and a positive attitude - after all, I’ve got five years of customer service and table-busting experience under my belt and with a strong team of well-trained staff, we’re unstoppable. Even when faced with a hungry table of ten, a birthday party, the phone ringing off the hook and a fully booked out dining area for both sittings. A few of us are nervously folding napkins during the calm before the storm, and trying not to get caught standing by the bar doing nothing by The Boss. (Keep calm, look busy.)
Two hours later and I’m carrying four empty plates up my arm - narrowly avoiding the mayo scraped on the very side of the plate and the gravy slowly making it’s way towards me - table two’s bill in my pocket and dessert menus tucked under my armpit to go onto table five. Table one is the birthday party so whilst they’re taking hundreds of photos in which the birthday mum blinks at the flash each time, I take a sneak peak at the cake sitting in the back of the kitchen which looks divine. Back into the restaurant and I have a table of six Welsh people who I can barely understand what they’re saying, purely because I literally cannot understand any accents other than mine. Nothing against the Welsh: I’m just useless. One lady on the table asks for a ‘day-ate cork’ and I have to ask her to repeat it three times before realising she’s asking for a diet coke. I feel awful. It doesn’t end there though, and later I have her repeating her meal choice several times (sorry Wales). I cheer her up with her ‘cork’, give table two their bill and table five finally get their dessert menus.
The food bell dings, so I tear the receipt from the card machine pronto on table two and race to the kitchen (‘STOP RUNNING!’) to take out meals to the big table. With several plates of steak that bend my wrist the wrong way and balanced precariously up my arm, I arrive at the big table announcing a medium rare steak, and low and behold, no one can remember which one they ordered. In the end they decide who’s having the steak with mushroom but no blue cheese, the medium-rare with blue cheese but no mushroom, and the cremated well-done steak with the blue cheese-stuffed mushroom. Back into the kitchen for more plates, and I return with another load. I can see people’s eyes staring at the plates, wishing they’d gone for fish and chips, not the plaice fillet, or kebabs instead of prawn curry. When I finally take out the tenth dish and it’s the wrong one, I KNOW one of them has decided at the point of handing out the plates of food that they’ve changed their mind and taken a fish and chips. That is NOT how ordering food works, matey! Back to the kitchen to rustle up an extra fish and chips whilst having to act to the lady with no meal that it was an unfortunate mistake on our behalf, when really one of her ‘friends’ sitting amongst them has taken her rightful dish.
Issue aborted when a Speedy Gonzales Fish and Chips comes out, and she’s sitting happily drowning all chef’s hard work in Ketchup. It’s time to bring the cake out to the birthday table, and sing the dreaded Happy Birthday song-where-no-one-joins-in and it’s just you singing. Fortunately everyone’s moods are high tonight, and the whole restaurant joins in with the welsh table singing all the harmonies. (It’s a restaurant, not the Royal Albert Hall.)
After a quick table wipe and relay, we’re up for round two of the evening. Table three are a group of snooty old fogies who really don’t want to say anything positive about the food they’re rapidly tucking into and when they think I can’t hear murmuring to each other how excellent the food really is, and I have to explain in huge depth on table six that the ‘steak served with blue cheese mushroom’ does not equate to a blue cheese sauce. IT’S A STUFFED MUSHROOM, ALRIGHT? Tables seem confused by the ‘x2’ scribbled next to the lamb on the specials menu, asking ‘do we have to order two of that dish in one go?’ or ‘does that mean two people can have it?’ before I explain once again that it means there’s only two portions of it left. Finger bowls are required for the xylophone-sized rack of baby back pork ribs (‘baby’ my ass!), so trying to remember to get the finger bowls to the tables in between starters and mains is an effort, but I seem to have got it down to a T.
The lady on the Welsh table has resorted to pointing to her chosen dessert from the menu, something I’m rather grateful for as I don’t have the heart to make her repeat anything else for the remainder of the evening. I’d have probably had to make a lucky guess out of the five desserts we offer had she not. The new table one are being highly impatient, but as these are V.I.P. guests I have to be on my best behaviour. One man keeps turning his head round constantly to grab my attention, even when it’s painstakingly obvious that I’m in the middle of speaking to or serving another table, and the other hasn’t paused his conversation for me once since arriving. He’ll have to just guess the soup of the day if he doesn’t want to talk or even look at me. In between the rush I have to bound to the top of the garden to rescue the four abandoned wine buckets from the regular group of village gossipers who left an hour ago leaving all their rubbish, fag ends and dead glasses to be collected. Back inside and the old biddy on table eight has managed to throw most of her Merlot across the table and over herself, although I don’t think she’s actually noticed that she has now permanently stained her white jumper.
Roll on closing time and we’re rushing through the jobs list whilst telepathically trying to persuade tables that really, it’s time to leave. Napkins, cutlery, menu checks, candles in… the last time I’ll ever have to polish the ice bucket, or shotgun not bringing all the umbrellas in from out back.
I’m not particularly an emotional person when it comes to people (although I cried like a baby over my dog the other day!), but I’ve had some amazing times, and the people are fantastic. Maybe not customers who feel the need to be angry, rude, or throw a scallops-related hissy fit at their server. The life of a waitress is full of pratfalls, and the only thing between you and her is your food. So a smile and a bit of courtesy from you will go far, keeping your waitress willing to serve your food, keep your drinks topped up and replace your dirty napkin, leaving you happy and willing to leave a generous tip. It’s a catch-22!
the crazy happenings in my life