Wine corks, bread rolls, and indecisive customers: The diary of a waitress
Quite literally getting that bread
After many long months of lockdown, restaurants are finally back open. We can finally head in from the cold (quite literally) and enjoy some food with friends in somewhere that isn’t the living room.
We might be able to sit back and relax as someone else prepares and serves our food for us. But what about those on the other side of the situation?
Waitressing may be one of the most popular student jobs but it’s also not easy. It involves long days on your feet, hectic shifts, and worst of all: difficult customers.
So, here’s what it’s like to be one of Edinburgh’s most disastrous waitresses.
Naturally, I tried the most obvious method first – responding to the advert with my CV. However, when this was met with an unceremonious rejection, I was completely undeterred. I had, after all, spent last summer’s lockdown traipsing up and down the high street, in full uniform, offering to start work immediately for anyone who would have me.
So, this is how I came to be in the restaurant itself, patiently nodding my head as they blamed IT errors for their failure to find me in their list of potential candidates. Eventually, the woman gave up and invited me for an interview the next day regardless.
“Can you carry the trays, pop the champagne, open the wine?” I confidently assured her that all these tasks were well within my capabilities.
“And your previous experience?”, here I confess I did momentarily pause . I had after all waited once at a Sixth Form ball held in the ~very glamorous~ school dining room. “Yes,” I responded brightly, vaguely adding: “I have catered at various high-end events.”
Having seemingly impressed her enough, I was told to return for the trial shift.
Firstly, I was taken meticulously through all the table numbers, which I forgot almost straight away. Undeterred, I picked up the first tray and set off (in the wrong direction), my wrist breaking from the strain and my body contorted uncomfortably to try and keep the plates balanced.
I reached the table with and quickly put the tray down, rubbing my wrist and contemplating my next move. The manager flew over to me and instructed me to pick up the tray immediately and distribute the dishes from the tray, restored once again to its precarious position on my straining arm. Clearly, I was going to need intensive rehabilitation.
I returned to the bar and picked up a bottle of wine to serve with some relief – at least it was light. I arrived at the table and realised that I had neglected to bring glasses with me. Unphased, I started unscrewing the cap until I realised that it wasn’t a screwcap. I stared at it in disbelief before hesitantly backing away and enlisting someone’s help.
Rapidly regaining composure I returned with the glasses – “can we try it first?” the customer asked. My eyebrows shot up grimly before I poured a splash into the glass…then having second thoughts on the minimal amount in the glass topped it up as the customer was raising it to their lips. They glared at me, as I tried my best to smile innocently back.
Somehow, miraculously, I got the job after the trial shift, so I set about preparing my uniform. The first requirement was black shoes. I looked dubiously at my black boots. They were so old that they had holes in them and something fundamentally off with their shape making me look as though I was constantly about to lose my balance and collapse in an unglamourous heap – although to be fair, maybe that wasn’t just the shoes!
I decided they weren’t paying me enough to invest in a new pair – they would do.
Having cobbled together a uniform I soon discovered that it was impossible to keep it clean. I was permanently surreptitiously wiping mayonnaise off it, disgustedly, before noticing a customer right in front of me and forcing my features into a less disturbing sight.
Washing it tested my administrative abilities severely – there was never a good time and there were several occasions when the uniform was still decidedly damp as I hurriedly pulled it on.
At one point, I decided I needed to make a better impression and come across as a model employee. I wanted to be seen as competent and professional! I had been rock-climbing just before my shift so tried to furtively enter the restaurant with the rope and climbing paraphernalia. Mission achieved to a moderately successful degree.
Feeling quite self-satisfied I burst into the changing room slamming the door into the chair of the manager who for some inexplicable reason had positioned herself right in the way of the door. Muttering my apologies and trying to conceal the rope I watched in dismay as the entire coat rack proceeded to topple over her – presumably due to some residual vibrations from the door slam. Through gritted teeth I rescued my manager, all hopes of a better impression abandoned – maybe tomorrow.
Very soon into the work I came to dread the simple sentence: “Anisha, will you get started on jobs?”. This innocent sentence hides a manner of all sins and covers up the most monstrous task possible.
It involves descending to the kitchen, knowing that in all likelihood you will be forgotten down there and never see the light of day again – and the kitchen itself is a perilous place – the floor so slippery that I may as well exchange the misshapen boots for ice-skates.
The “jobs” entails washing and then drying (with a napkin!) each individual piece of cutlery from the restaurant. The cutlery arrives, hurtling across the floor in gigantic buckets, from some well-aimed kick and is honestly never-ending.
I have tried everything to stay positive – meditation, regular trips to the toilet, singing but nothing can help make the “jobs” better. Especially when there is such a thing called evaporation which the restaurant has never apparently heard of and doesn’t believe in harnessing its magical powers to do the drying.
So now it’s an exercise in looking as busy as possible – when I see a manager approaching, I practically whisk away an empty plate from a customer, even as the fork is still hovering above it, offering up an apologetic smile.
It didn’t take long to realise that whilst I still spent my time running to and from the tables and of course, doing the “jobs”, other people flitted about between the tables talking to customers and operating the computers – it seemed like a far better option to me.
On requesting an opportunity to do this work instead, I was told that first I had to master the board. Eager to avoid any more cutlery, I agreed.
Operating the board involves standing beside the dumb waiter (whose high-pitched beeps I swear I can now hear in my sleep!) and unloading the food sent up from the kitchen. You then organise the food on the trays and ensure it gets sent off to the right table and nothing is missing – you mark with a pen the number of dishes you are expecting.
Tickets come through, detailing the food that will be sent and the table number, from an irritatingly silent machine – meaning I was constantly whipping my head back, imagining I could hear its soft whisperings. In your spare time, you slice the bread and ensure the trays get sent back down to the kitchen.
Sounds easy enough right? Well let me tell you, nothing short of a miracle prevented anyone else from noticing my mistakes – absolute chaos reigned but somehow, I was the only one aware of it.
I must have replaced the paper in the machine incorrectly because all my tickets were coming through blank – and though I diligently still put them up in their position, it was anyone’s best guess what dishes they were meant to account for. Shortly after that my pen exploded and became completely non-functional so even after I had fixed the machine, I could not write on the number of dishes expected from each ticket.
Feeling a degree of rising panic, I turned to the bread I had pre-cut to find it all gone as people had helped themselves to it on their way to staff lunch!
With some degree of relief I ascertained that I was not doing the board the next day. That is until a colleague rushed over to me asking me to swap with her saying she had an opportunity to get some bartending experience. I deliberated over whether there was any chance I could refuse and say I was interested in bartending too but a scene from earlier flashed before my eyes.
I had collected a drink from the bar – a Scottish Sunset – and walked purposefully over to the table with it. When I announced the drink and looked over enquiringly, gauging who the drink was for, I stared with abject horror as the family pointed to a child of 9 or 10 years. Now, I know I wasn’t exactly a model employee, but I had a basic level of understanding of alcohol laws. I rushed back to the bar to tell someone what had happened, only to be told that a Scottish Sunset was in fact a mocktail!
So reluctantly, I swapped with my colleague and resumed my position at the board.
When a mistake is made, and the wrong food is sent up from the kitchen, staff can eat it. One day I walked past, and a brownie was sitting there, unattended to. Delightedly I rushed to get a fork. On my return I found the brownie being loaded up onto a tray and heading out into the restaurant. I stealthily stashed the fork and thanked my lucky stars I hadn’t already started on it.
Another day, the restaurant was not busy, and my shift was cut by 2 hours – I was told I would be sent home early. Crucially, this meant I would not get a break and by extension I would not get lunch. I was already rapidly fading from breakfast and had been planning my lunch with relish for the past 3 hours.
At this point, I was severely hangry! I thought my face mask covered my private fuming until 3 people asked me if I were ok – grimly, I resolved to stop slamming the dumb waiter and grimace a little more softly until attention on me had waned.
Eventually, I was allowed to talk to customers. I went over to take my first drinks order and was hit with a curve ball – wine recommendations. I couldn’t even remember the name of the wines and had to take the menu with me each time someone ordered so I stared at them blankly before hurrying away for help.
Tentatively, I returned to the same customers to ask them for their food order. They needed more time. 20 minutes later and I sidled up to them again. Still not ready.
An age later and they were finally ordering. “Would you like some bread with that?” I asked. It was a routine question, a simple yes or no.
“What do you think?”, one asked the other hesitantly. “It’s really up to you,” the other replied, “I’ll be happy either way”, “No, let’s decide together” – at one point they looked pleadingly up at me, as if expecting me to make the decision for them.
I was too occupied with trying to keep my facial expression neutral and not laugh at them. They eventually concluded that they would order the bread later if they still felt like it.
And it was in that moment I realised the true meaning of the expression of “let’s go get that bread”. Because getting mine through waiting on indecisive customers definitely needs a lot of energy and motivation.