It takes a certain amount of hubris to write a blog like this. To sit back and write about how to be a better server almost implies that you think you are good enough to be emulated. I will never claim to be the world’s greatest server. I do consider myself humbly better than average, but apart from that I try to keep my ego in check. Contrary to what this blog may lead you to believe, I make my share of mistakes.
As I approach my 50th post and my 5th of the week, I thought it only fair to share some of my most memorable slip-ups. Over 15 years there have been plenty. In order to be hospitable you have to be able to relax a bit with your tables. This leads to the occasional “foot in mouth” moment. You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. Here are some of my more memorable omelets for your Friday reading pleasure.
Many years ago I worked at a casual dining restaurant near a hospital. The restaurant was empty mid afternoon, so I was pretty excited when a party of three came in. I greeted them by asking, “How is everyone today?” They responded with a beverage order. This has always been a pet peeve. When I ask how a guest is, I really want to know. So I responded laughingly “No really, how is everyone today?” One of the ladies looks up and says, “Well I just found out I have cancer so can I get my iced tea?”
A year or so later, I got hired at a midlevel Italian restaurant chain. It was my first week and when I arrived my trainer was wrapping up a big party. Being the over achiever I am, I ran over to help him pre-bus the table. While I was collecting empty plates, a guest told me they were still working on one of their family sized platters and jokingly told me not to take it. Playing along in a similarly joking manner I went to my standard line for this situation. Like the many hundred times before I faced this situation I replied, “I know better than to take that plate. That is why after all these years I still have both my hands.” The table got silent. Not only did I not get even a courtesy laugh, but the previous pleasant table got quiet. I chalked it up to being a tough crowd and went to remove the next plate. This is when I realized the next guest was missing a hand.
Autopilot responses are always dangerous. I have used that line hundred of times. You never know when an innocent line is going to offend someone. Sometimes you can get so into using these routine lines that you don’t make the connection in time. That is why the last tale is so embarrassing and the one that has kept me in check ever since.
I was working a brutally hot patio shift. I hadn’t had a table all day and after a few hours of sitting around, I was already planning my evening. A party of three sat down. I didn’t see them seated, but went out to make them happy. One person ordered the food for all three immediately and without menus. This struck me as strange as did their reluctance to make eye contact. I didn’t think much of it though. As I delivered their food, they commented on me getting all three plates to the proper people. I replied, “as my grandfather would say, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn in the woods sometimes.” I didn’t really think any more of it until the end of the shift when the host asked, “How did those three blind people tip you?”
Even after all these years I can still come up with new ways to embarrass myself. Whenever I need a dose of humility those stories remind me that I still screw up. When I do make a mistake I tend to make a big mistake. I hope this allows some of you reading to put your mistakes in perspective. No one is perfect and we all do stupid things from time to time. Forgive yourself, learn from your mistakes, and move past them. At least until you need a bit of humility.