The potential for disaster while serving food and beverages to the public is always present. Negotiating the service of hot and cold plates and beverages, or bowls of hot soup, to tables of finely dressed diners who are spending copious amounts of cash, can be daunting. The true pros in our business face these perils every day and know how to minimize the risks. The biggest obstacle in navigating the potential pit-falls (pun intended) of fine dining service can sometimes be the good intentions of the guests themselves.
As a server, I was always grateful for guests who were sympathetic to the challenges we face in our work. Sometimes they were former restaurant people (current restaurant people should know better; and if they don’t they are most likely on their way to being ex-restaurant people); or maybe their son or daughter put themselves through school working as a waiter. Whatever the source of their good intentions, acting on them and trying to “help” us, turns them into the Cal-Trans crew laying that fresh new blacktop on the road to Hell.
The Plate Stacker: This helpful soul will pile all utensils, plates, cups, saucers, and maybe even a cocktail glass, on top of their plate and, depending on how “helpful” they are, either push it off to the side or hand it directly to you. Either way the end result can be items dropping to the floor, sliding back to rest their greasy mess against your clean white shirt, or falling off the stack onto the place setting of the guest next to them. The tinkle or crash of falling silverware and/or china gets the attention of everyone at the table, and you are immediately branded as a “rookie” or a clutz: “Man. Can’t even carry a plate…where’d they get this guy?”
The napkin tosser: tosses his/her (truthfully though, the offenders are almost always male) napkin onto their plate, blocking your carefully choreographed clearing and stacking strategy, and necessitating its removal when you get back to the scullery. Their offensive linen, which is now dripping with sauce, butter, or oil, will often have a special surprise, such as some carefully concealed bones or cartilage; or chunks of half-chewed fat from their steak or roasted chicken. It’s like a really, really gross box of Crackerjack.
The Extreme Napkin Tosser takes their game to a whole new level. They drape the linen over their plate, covering it completely, severely limiting your ability to accurately judge the stability of its contents . The end result can be the same as The Plate Stacker scenario, above (clink, crash, and “Where’d they get this guy?”).
The Moving Target: holds their wine or water glass or better yet, their champagne flute, up in the air to “help” you as you attempt to re-pour their beverage. Most often they do this without making any eye contact, all the while carrying on a conversation with their tablemates, gesturing descriptively with hands and arms. Unlike the Napkin Tosser, these offenders are almost always female.
Lacking any laser-guided “smart pour” technology, you must make a decision to either,
a) Ask them to put it back on the table, effectively interrupting the conversation and resulting in the same looks of disdain as in The Plate Stacker scenario or,
b) Make your best attempt to pour at the moving target, which takes the same dexterity and aim as hitting the Clown’s mouth with the brass ring on the Merry-Go-Round. The end result is likely to be spillage, and makes this scenario lose-lose every time.
The Beverage Traffic Cop: There are a couple of different types. There is the person who admonishes your stingy-looking pour of wine with the palm-up, fingers flapping “Come on, is that all you’ve got?” gesture, like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix; so you are stuck having to pour them more than their fair share. The end result is usually a short-pour the next guest, who is usually the one that ordered said wine; and most likely they will end up signing the check and tipping you. Or not.
Then there is the “Whoa, no more for me” guy or gal who covers their glass with their palm at the last possible second, forcing you to lunge forward with your serviette to stop the approaching liquid. This is most effective with hot coffee re-fills, as it gives you the opportunity to apologize both for their ruined garments and the second-degree burns on their knuckles, at the same time.
The Helpful Drunk: Grabs the wine bottle off the table and helps themselves to a Big-Gulp sized pour, leaving only drops in the bottle so you must, yet again, short-pour the host of the party.
The “I Used To Be A Waiter, So I’ll Help You Out” Guy: This one is the worst, as you never know how his sincere yet misguided desire to “help” will manifest. He may get up from the table and grab the water pitcher, or maybe some missing silverware or salt and pepper from an adjacent table, because he “doesn’t want to bother you because you’re busy.” He has the potential to become The Helpful Drunk, The Plate Stacker, or any combination thereof (e.g. The Helpful, Drunk Plate Stacker).