"Tractor Beamed"

Lately, I have been spreading myself pretty thin at work. In an attempt to cut labor costs during these uncertain times, some nights I find myself being bartender, host, Maitre’D, manager, expeditor, and Sommelier simultaneously. This has mostly been working out well for the labor costs, keeping the service charge pool as shallow as possible, and for the guests, who are not experiencing any dropoff in service quality as a result. But it can be a real high-wire act without a net sometimes. Things as insignificant as a phone call can run the risk of disrupting the delicate balance. I am reminded of the old Ed Sullivan Show and the guy who used to come on every few weeks to do his Spinning Plates on The Sticks Routine. He would get all these plates spinning on these incredibly thin dowels, and have to constantly return to the first plates he had started to keep them spinning, all the while adding more and more plates, and then running back to the beginning again to keep the first ones going, well you get the idea. What would happen if this guy’s phone rang? Decisions, decisions…

So last night I am in my multi-tasking glory. We are fairly busy for a Tuesday, lots of tables, but they are all small parties. Much easier to keep the deuces spinning on the sticks than the 10-tops. I am helping out by taking a dessert order from a table when the lady orders a Hot Tea. Coffee, espresso, even an after-dinner “frou-frou drink”, I can jump on and have out to the table in no time, allowing me to return to my spinning plate collection and keep them all from crashing down in a pile of broken china. But Hot Tea is, and always will be, the bane of waiters everywhere.

People who drink Hot Tea are just different. Maybe they are trying to be just Oh-So-British, or they are doing it for their health or to help them sleep (“Do you have chamomille? And skim milk only…”). Whatever your reasons, we hate you. We don’t hate you personally, we don’t really know you; but we hate it when you are in our stations when we are in the weeds.

At most American restaurants, Hot Tea is an afterthought. Buy a gigantic box of Lipton bags, throw it on a shelf in the Coffee Station, and you’re done. Some places try to dazzle with their huge variety of old, stale, Twinings tea bags (and isn’t that big fancy wooden box with all the bags in it just SO impressive? “It must be good, they brought it out to the table in a wooden box so I could choose my bag!”) But really, Hot Tea is something most Americans and many restaurants, know little about and care even less. So Americans who order it have become used to Hot Tea being a tea pot, tea bag, lemon, maybe some milk if the waiter really wants to suck up, and sweetener. We, of course, use very fresh, very expensive loose tea in a tea strainer, individually brewing each cup (and the 7 refills that are invariably asked for), serve it with a de-seeded lemon wedge, steamed milk, yada yada yada. Takes a while to put together is my point. While I’m tractor beamed in by my solitary Hot Tea Lady, the phone starts to ring, a new party has arrived at the door, hot food is coming up, and my waiter needs a couple of Martinis for Table 9. Oh, man, gotta keep them plates spinning…

Once, I was working a dinner shift at Chops/Lobster Bar in Atlanta. I mentioned Chops and the everyday craziness that went on there in an earlier post. I was, of course, up to my arse in alligators, so busy that as tables ordered dessert, I didn’t even want to whisper the word coffee for fear of having to actually stop the Merry-Go-Round to serve one. I’ve got this party of five, all guys, businessmen in town for some convention or other (they all started to look alike to me after a while). The Boss Man, who had ordered the wine and been everyone at the table’s role model for ordering (he had the Surf and Turf, the boys all dutifully followed suit) had asked for the check. I had printed and presented, picked it up, run his Amex, and was just setting the pen down on top of the returned folder thinking “Thank GOD I’m done with these guys I might survive this Hell Night yet…” when Boss Man says to his Boys, “Anybody want anything esle?’ What?!! You are done my friend. I have given you your allotted time and effort. You go now, other people coming. But, Boss Man is now asking “Could you bring me a Hot Tea?”; and he is about to drag me over the cliff with his lemmings by looking around the table and pointing at each of them, asking, “Hot Tea? Hot Tea? Hot Tea? Hot Tea?”

At Chops there were three restaurants and three bars with anywhere from 8 to 15 service teams of two waiters working on any given night. The people kept coming through the door like the Zombies in “Night Of The Living Dead”. The breakage there was incredible. Property-wide we broke something like three dozen pieces of glassware and china EVERY DAY! We barely had silverware to set the tables and serve our stations. So I don’t think I need to tell you what a Hemorrhoidic Pain in the Ass getting enough shit together to do FIVE Hot Teas at the same time was. And of course, the Lemmings decided that Hot Tea time was the perfect instance to finally express a little individuality and assertiveness with their choices and all wanted different flavors (“Very impressive Tea Box you have there…”); so I couldn’t even double up two of them in one pot of Darjeeling. Add to that the fact that I was positive we only had one teapot in the station, so I had to go on the hunt. Let’s see, didn’t I see one in the Walk-In last week with Cocktail Sauce or Ketchup in it? Oh, someone please help me wake up.

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