The 5 Stages of Serving
I’ve been waiting tables for about 10 months now (which is approximately 9 months longer than I anticipated, but who’s counting?). As restaurant turnover goes, this makes me a seasoned veteran. I was training a new employee yesterday, and during Wine Service 101 (teaching her how to open a bottle of wine with the label forward while not setting the bottle on the table/breaking the cork/providing the taste for the person who ordered the wine etc-ever notice we do that? Unless you’re over 50 or a sommelier you could probably care less but it’s a classy party trick if nothing else-oh and a requirement) my poor trainee somehow managed to break the neck of the bottle, slice a crater into the palm of her hand and ended up in the hospital getting 7 stitches. We’re just going to gloss over the fact that this might make me the worst trainer ever, as I’m not sure any of us are ready to laugh about it yet and I feel a pending incident report needing to be filled out when I go into work this afternoon, but it made me think about what I really should have told this girl to prepare her for serving. Our shifts are epically long. You’re on your feet for anywhere between 6-9 hours without eating, and the restaurant I work at is 5 stories tall. I have the thighs of an ox from all of the stairs, which I suppose gave me a good excuse not to join a gym (which I did eventually and haven’t used in the last week…fail) and eat virtually anything and everything I want. Did I mention the kitchen and the bar are on the first floor? Shit sucks. On any weekend night we’re typically on a wait and you’ll come in contact with 150-200 people depending on your section. I’m still not quite sure if you can mentally prepare yourself in full for marathon weekends (Friday night close, wake up in 5 hours to come back for the 9 hour brunch shift etc) but I really think we should have all been forewarned about the 5 stages of emotions you go through during your shift.
Stage 1: You are a zealous, serving machine
This usually occurs when your shift begins through the first 2 hours. You realize you spent way too much money at the bar last night and still managed to find 20 minutes to stop by Starbucks and purchase $9 worth of caffeine and pastry products before you walk in to work. You are ready to give every miniscule detail about the special and provide at least 3 suggestions and/or smalltalk about the weather/how bad the Wizards suck. You may have even high-fived your table as you thanked them when they walked out the door.
Stage 2: The novelty wears off
This usually occurs around hour 2-3, or when you notice that high-five guy left you a 12% tip (and let’s face it, in zealous, serving machine phase you deserve at LEAST 20%). You are beginning to feel betrayed by your tables, but still making a concerted effort to run food from the kitchen and appreciate the old couple in your booth holding hands and calling you “dear” over their shared lemon tart.
Stage 3: You are weeded
Weeded is an industry term for totally overwhelmed and now behind on everything you were supposed to do. People are beginning to raise their hands to get your attention as you are talking to another table and you wantonly raise your eyebrows to signal that yes, you did hear their request, and yes, you will get them ANOTHER serving of ketchup, because as well all know 3 ramekins of tomato paste just certainly isn’t enough for 1 burger. You begin to resent the old couple in the booth for their need of constant decaf refills. Which happen to be in the kitchen you’ve been avoiding for the last hour.
Stage 4: Hunger
Stage 4 is my least favorite stage. This is the stage where your blood sugar has dropped and every order you take is met with an “oh my god I love that.” You contemplate taking a few bites of the half eaten leftovers your coworker who worked the morning shift left in the server station and your eyes well up in tears of joy when you find a Nutrigrain bar under a pile of dirty socks in your gym bag. You are now weeded again because you impulsively chose to eat the questionable Nutrigrain bar and the leftovers while checking your phone for any semblance of connection to the outside world. You may or may not have desperately texted your friends/family/loved ones to come and sit in your section. You are also beginning to question if you will ever leave.
Stage 5: Delirium
You are slap happy. The rush has died down and they have officially stopped seating the restaurant. You semi-ignore your last tables who obviously are taking their time sharing 1 cocktail with 2 straws and staring into each others eyes as they bond over their shared love of liberal politics and public transit. You begin cleaning and the sun begins to shine in your life again as you plan with your coworkers to go for “just one drink” because “tonight sucked,” knowing full well you will miss the metro and cab home. You ignore the fact that you have to be back in 5 hours.