I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been contemplating making yet another career change, or if it was the spicy BBQ pork sammy for lunch today, but I have just woken from the Mother of All Waiter Nightmares. Those of you that have had them will know what I’m talking about when I say they come from out of nowhere. I know I’m still in the restaurant business and, granted, I have some waiters at work who ARE nightmares; but I haven’t worked a shift as a waiter in almost five years. Waiter Nightmares? After five years?
I’ve written about Waiter Nightmares before (click and read), and about how I had learned a kind of “Directed Dreaming” technique, ala “Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Warriors”; so I can usually pretty much just sit back and enjoy the comic relief that comes with the absolute futility in most Waiter Nightmares, somehow knowing that this stuff could never really happen. But today’s was scarily different.
This one started at Chops in Atlanta, except that it wasn’t Chops. In my dream I knew it was Chops, but the dining room had absolutely no resemblance. Some of the waiters were guys that I worked with at Chops, as was the Manager, and the room was that kind of Boys Club Steak Housey kind of place with button-tuck booths, men in suits, cocktails clinking, etc. I am back to work there, and it’s my first night back. I don’t think I’d gone through any re-training, I think they just threw me out there. I do remember being strangely happy to be back to work there. Most therapists at this point would say, “Maybe you should look at that…”
I had just arrived at work, and was saying hello to some of “the guys”. Everyone is shaking my hand and welcoming me back when The Manager tells me I’m working solo (Chops was team service with a partner, although I had some living Nightmare nights there when somebody no-showed and I DID work solo) but I will have a smaller station, over by the bar. No prob, it’s my first night back and I’m feeling pretty bulletproof.
So, I’ve got my waiter jacket on, and my little metal badge with a number on it; I’ve got my notepad, my Cross Pens, corkscrew, crumber and all that crap. I’m feeling good, cocky, ready to take some tables. I had found my station in the gigantic restaurant (they’re usually gigantic in my nightmares), four deuces and one four top all in a neat little cluster near the end of this horseshoe shaped bar, and it all seems pretty manageable; after all, I’ve worked here before and know the drill. Then I notice that the Host is walking away from seating a single diner at one of my tables, a professional looking woman in a business suit with briefcase. I know what you’re thinking: what kind of useless Shoe Clerk am I, to be having a Waiter Nightmare over a SINGLE!!??
Anyway, I greet madame, and get her a cocktail, a Manhattan or something I think. She orders: Spinach Salad to be followed by an 8oz. Filet, medium. I don’t remeber ordering the salad, but after a couple of minutes I notice it’s on the table and, yikes, she’s almost done with it and I haven’t fired her steak yet.
I’m mildly panicked about the fire time on her Filet but, hey, it’s Chops. They have about a billion 8oz. filets in the broiler at any one time on busy nights, and maybe I can use my one “New Guy Get Out Of Jail Free Card” to get them to rob another table so Milady won’t have too long of a wait. But first I have to get to the POS and fire her order before I can go throw myself on the mercy (Ha!) of the Sous Chef. And, as they say in the Circus, this is where the fun begins…
My cockiness and confidence is beginning to waver a little as I realize I don’t know where the POS is. I walk out of the bar, into another gigantic dining room that is almost completely empty, and over against one wall is a POS touchscreen about the size of a 52″ plasma TV. I make my way over to it and, of course, it’s a system I’ve never seen or used before. I manage to log in, find a screen that looks like a table map, and double tap the icon for my single diner’s table (#63). But instead of neat rows of buttons, or screens that have actual menu items, the screen looks more like a website; one of those really hard to read websites that was designed by some genius who thought red letters on a black background would be a good idea. Almost all of the screen is taken up by pictures and advertisements for cars and other stuff. Way down at the bottom are lines of uber-tiny type, hyperlinks to click on for menu stuff; but the type is the REALLY tiny stuff you get at the bottom of a company’s website where they put stuff like “Privacy Notice. Site Map. Contact Us. Careers.” And it’s a touchscreen, so every time I try to double tap a tiny link I get the wrong one, and some other gigantic window opens with more pictures and ads.
Now I’m really starting to freak because I know that spinach salad has been cleared and my single is sitting there, tapping her fingers, waiting for that Filet, and wondering where the hell her idiot waiter has gotten to. In my panic state, and willing to try anything I can think of to navigate this behemoth screen, I decide that there’s not enough light in the room to see it properly, so I take it down off the wall and carry it over to another corner where some sconces are beaming spotlights down on the carpet, creating circles of light in the murky room. Strangely, there are no wires; and, strangely, this doesn’t even factor into my thinking as I pick up this unusually light, strangely wireless, and utterly useless Piece Of Shit. Under the glow of the spotlights on the other side of the room the screen is no more readable than it had been on the wall. And I still haven’t fired her steak. And, even with the panic really starting to set in, I’m thinking, “Shit, all these steaks are ala carte. I didn’t ask her about sides!” I figure I’ll deal with that after I get this DAMN STEAK FIRED!
Still tapping at links, still getting the wrong screens, I try turning the screen around, rotating it, thinking if I can get a closer look at these damn tiny hyperlinks, I would actually be able to read them. I’m trying to hold it out in front of me, like some massive artist’s sketch pad, and the screen is rotating with the movements, like on my wife’s Droid; so every time I turn it to make the links closer, the screen changes and they move back to where they were before. Now I’m totally sweating, full blown dread is setting, yet all Mr. Sensitve To The Needs Of Others here, can think about is “I wonder if someone else needs to use this terminal…” This turns out to be an non-issue, as I look back across the room to see that the screen I have taken down has been replaced by an even LARGER one, about the size of a small billboard, a veritable JumboTron of a POS. In my panic I’m willing to try just about anything to get this one stupid, stinking steak fired, and I consider going over to the giant screen, thinking the type must surely be larger on that one, right? Just as I’m putting my screen down I see the link for “Fire” at the bottom and hit it. I set the screen down on the floor, and start sprinting back to my station.
As I approach my tables, I am mildly relieved to see that no one else has been seated in my section during my adventure in the Gigantic Room with the Gigantic POS Screen. The only catch is that my station is now somehow outside, and it’s starting to rain. Guests at other tables are being moved inside by their waiters, but my single is standing up and looking around. She starts picking up all her stuff, briefcase, purse, and is grabbing the silverware and napkin off the table and walking off toward the inside area. I catch her and relieve her of her burdens, and tell her I will usher her into one of my “Inside Tables”. I don’t know why or how I knew I actually had inside tables, but I did. Except I don’t know the table numbers, so I don’t know if I’m seating her at one of my tables or someone else’s. It doesn’t seem to matter, and I’ve still got to get to the kitchen to tell them to hurry that 8oz. Filet which, despite my being out of my station for what seemed like an eternity, has not arrived. And shit! What about those side dishes? I forgot to ask her.
I get my single diner situated at an inside table in a dining room that is now a gigantic white event tent, like they set up at wine auctions. I know I still have to get to the kitchen, but I can’t stop myself from helping the Manager. He’s trying desperately to get tables set up for all the people coming in from the rain. The tables are all 72″ banquet rounds, with one flipped upside down on top of another, so I take my place on one side of the two tables to help him flip the inverted one off. I’m waiting for him to flip the legs up and lock them into place when I notice a stack of 6 B&B plates sitting on table we are about to flip over. The Manager has not seen the plates, has locked the legs on his side into place and flips the unusually light table off the other one, sending the stack of B&B’s flying. Oddly, they all stay together in one stack and fly out onto a road that is outside an open flap of this massive circus tent of a dining room. I’m waiting for the sickening crash of shattering china, but instead hear a metallic clang; and I realize the plates must have been sitting inside of one of those metal plate covers. Huh. Didn’t see that one coming.
Anyway, I still need to get to the kitchen, get that Filet on the fly, and then get back to my section where I still didn’t know what the fuck the table numbers are. Shit! And I need to ask her about those sides! I contemplate just ordering her a baked potato. I mean everybody likes those, right? But that would entail a return to the JumboTron POS again. It’s at this point I see a guy that I used to work with about 10 years ago at another restaurant, who is apparently now working here. Nothing about this strikes me as the least bit strange, and I stop him to say hi; but he doesn’t know me from Adam. He does know enough to remind me I’m covering his lunch shift tomorrow, though. Even though I haven’t been back to check on my one and only guest, I somehow know with all certainty that 8oz. Filet is NOT on the table yet, and I am a total loser. This is when I wake up to my cell phone buzzing on the nightstand and thank God for text messages!