Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sherry Was a Waitress

When my initial plan to immediately find a full-time job in New York didn’t work out, I decided to try waiting tables. Going door-to-door I came to a Mexican restaurant in World Wide Plaza called Blockheads with a sock monkey as its mascot and $3 margaritas all day, every day. The hostesses were having what looked like a very important conversation with one another, but I eventually got one’s attention and, ignoring her glare, asked to speak to a manager. What for? She wanted to know. I told her I wanted to ask about job opportunities, and she pointed and said “Alex is in there.”

So, I walked into the restaurant looking for anyone I thought could pass for my imagined version of Alex, or, preferably, a man holding a sign saying “Alex”. In the back of the room stood an older, Hispanic looking man. Unfortunately he was not holding a sign but, taking I guess, I approached him.

“Alex?” Yes. What did I want? “Are you hiring?” Without replying he handed me an application, which I sat down to fill out.

Here’s where I should probably note that I had absolutely no previous experience waiting tables. What I had was three publishing internships and two years working at Chic-fil-a in high school, a restaurant that only exists up here in the NYU dining hall (trust me, I’ve checked). When I handed back the application I’d listed all of those things and, as with every other restaurant I’d applied for, was certain I wouldn’t get the job.

Alex sat down and took what can hardly be called a glance at my application, then asked “So, how’s your experience.”

Except that’s not what I heard. Don’t ask me how or why, but through his accent, which, in my defense, is pretty thick, what I heard was “So, how’s your Spanish?”

“Well, I’m from Texas so I guess I know a little Spanish. Como estas? Hola. You know, the basics."

He stared.

“How’s your experience,” he asked again, enunciating the last word as if he were teaching it to a two year old hearing it for the first time. I looked for a trace, a hint, of a smile to cling to like some sort of life raft. His mouth was set in a straight, straight line.

“I worked in a fast food restaurant for a couple of years.”

He wrote something down on my application and asked someone for a piece of paper. Then, to my complete and utter amazement, he wrote down an address where I could go to fill out payroll paperwork and told me to show up the next day at 4pm wearing all black.

When I did, I met him upstairs to put my name in the system and there was my application on his desk. He left me for a minute to get something and I had a chance to read what he’d written on top. It said, “Good?”

I’ve worked at Blockheads for nearly three months now and while I’ve had my hiccups (ripped my pants on a chair the first day – HIGH on the thigh--… I may or may not have spilled sangria all over a customer’s white skirt, and I’ve broken my fair share of beer bottles) with a 22% tip average, I think it’s safe to say that I passed the test. Despite what some of my coworkers say, I am not the worst waitress ever. Which, I feel, is something of an accomplishment.

Waiting tables is not an easy job. I’d never realized before how annoying people can be. A few tips for some of you restaurant frequenters out there—if you want water, ask for it with your drink, not after I’ve already brought drinks to the table, because that’s an extra trip for me and I have shit to do.

Also, I don’t mind if people order four shots of Tequila, just so long as they make sure that they can handle it because at the end of the night when I bring their bill they’d better not forget that’s how many shots they ordered. I can’t tell you the number of times I get a table saying “Oh, there’s no way we ordered that many drinks” Oh, yes there is. Because if you ordered them, I put them in the computer, and if I put them in the computer, they made them at the bar, and if they made them at the bar, I brought them out to your table, and if I brought them out to your table, you drank them. You did. Nobody else.

Ok, I’ll step down off my soap box now and admit there is one thing about my job I love—the people I work with. They’re pretty amazing. Everyone there has a dream he (or she)’s striving for so I work with some of the most talented people I’ve ever met. When we’re slow they sometimes put on mini Broadway shows or tell me about the latest screen play they’ve written or about the incredibly cool place they had their last job interview (Forbes Magazine, MTV, The Observer, etc.) I count myself as extremely lucky to have had the chance to meet these people and honestly at times they’re what keep me going.

So, parting words of advice: always tip your wait staff because even if they maybe didn’t give you your third diet coke refill, they work hard and oftentimes live entirely on shift meals, Starbucks and shots of Jameson.

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