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Category Archives: Waitressing Hell

How You Know Your Restaurant Is Failing: A Series of One-Acts

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#1: Insurance? What’s That?

A four-top prepares to leave. The matriarch, a wizened old lady with two Manhattans in her system, rises slowly, leaning on her metal cane, then promptly topples over. Paprika, Parika’s bossy co-worker, and the matriarch’s daughters help her up; the woman appears unharmed, and is escorted out to her car by her daughters. They drive away, and Paprika and bossy co-worker walk into the kitchen. Paprika rolls silverware while bossy co-worker dries pint glasses.

Bossy Co-worker: Shit. I hope she’s okay.

Paprika: She seemed alright.

Bossy Co-worker: Yeah. It’s just, we don’t have insurance up front.

Paprika: Say what now?

Bossy Co-worker: We have it in the back, but not in the front.

Paprika: How the fuck does that work?

Bossy Co-worker: Illegally.

#2: Fuck OSHA

Paprika, having just washed the blender, attempts to dry it with a cloth. Somehow, she slices her finger open on one of the blades, and blood gushes forth. It’s really gross.

Paprika: What the hell? I already sliced my hand trying to cut brownies this morning. I suck.

Paprika goes into the bathroom and wraps her bleeding finger in a paper towel, then walks into the office, seeking band-aids. She is saddened but unsurprised to see that the first-aid kit is completely empty, so she improvises by tightening the paper towel around her finger and securing it in place with a hair tie. She goes into the kitchen, locates the restaurant’s one remaining dry erase marker, and kneels in front of the whiteboard. The kitchen manager walks up and stands behind her, arms crossed.

Kitchen manager: What’re you doing?

Paprika: Putting band-aids on the “need to order” list.

Kitchen manager: Good fuckin’ luck.

Paprika: I know.

Kitchen manager: Cyndi’s been trying to get me to buy them for you.

Paprika: What? I know she told you to bring your own once–

Kitchen manager: Yeah, now she wants me to buy them for the waitstaff too.

Paprika: But you’re the kitchen manager.

Kitchen manager: And she wants me to buy all the dry-erase markers.

Paprika: How about no.

Kitchen manager: How about fuck no.

#3: Nothing to Claim

Pepper and Paprika pull up in front of the “stove store,” a shifty business perpetually under construction, from which Paprika obtains her bi-weekly paychecks. Paprika exits the car, walks through the mess of construction, and finds Marlys, the dispenser of the paychecks.  Marlys hands Paprika her check, then gives her a Very Severe Look.

Marlys: You know, you need to be careful about how you claim your tips.

Paprika: Do I.

Marlys: Yes, you’re not claiming nearly enough.

Paprika: We’re not very busy. Sometimes there’s nothing to claim.

Marlys: And sometimes what you claim is less than ten percent of your sales.

Paprika (annoyed): Yeah, ok.

Marlys: It isn’t fair for you to be claiming so little–then the other employees have to make up for it.

Paprika: Right, well, have a good day.

Paprika walks out, swings Pepper’s car door open with great force, plops down in the passenger’s seat, and angrily relates the tale.

Pepper: Uh, what? Half the time when you work you don’t even make minimum, and they don’t compensate you for that.

Paprika: Oh, I know.

Pepper: And they pay you three dollars an hour, so…

Paprika: Uh-huh.

Pepper: And aren’t your credit card and check tips automatically reported?

Paprika: They sure are.

Pepper: And how the fuck are the other employees “making it up”?

Paprika: If they are it’s illegal. I don’t fucking know. Let’s go get ice cream.

#4: We Be Fancy

Paprika stands behind the bar, hunting for a bottle of the house cabernet. Bubbly co-worker starts making a daiquiri, then looks over at the perplexed Paprika.

Bubby co-worker: Are you looking for the house cab?

Paprika: Yeah.

Bubbly co-worker: We’re out. John’s having us use that Lucky Duck wine.

Paprika: Isn’t that, like, three dollars at Wal-Mart?

Bubbly co-worker: Two ninety-seven.

Paprika: So what are we charging for this?

Bubbly co-worker: Well, we’re supposed to be charging six-fifty a glass.

Paprika: What are we actually charging?

Bubbly co-worker: I haven’t decided yet.

Paprika: How about free? Can we do free?

#5: Seriously?

Paprika walks in to work, ties her apron around her waist, and immediately checks the 86ed list.  They’re out of: avocado, portabella, bleu cheese, two kinds of Riesling, spinach, feta, chocolate syrup, and bread.

Bread.

They’re out of bread.

How the fuck do you run out of bread?

Paprika: Man, I really hate being overworked and underpaid.

The Economy: Whatevs. I think it’s great!

/close curtains

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Do. Not. Want.

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As I’ve said before, I am never having babies. Not because I hate babies, but because I would be a lousy parent. I can’t even fathom parenting; my brain gets to the part where I conceive, and then it just stops. It makes a terrible screeching sound, flips over, rolls down a hill, and stops.

But according to one of my co-workers, I might change my mind. Because, you know, she changed her mind. Because one time, she dated a guy who had a kid, and had the magical experience of helping care for his kid, and now she thinks kids = awesome. She used to be totally anti-marriage and –kids, but now she’s pro-both! Therefore, it is likely that this will happen to me.

Which reminds of the assumption drills in my GRE study book, where they give you a weak argument and ask you to identify the assumptions. You know, like:

Argument: Bossy co-worker was once anti-child, but changed her mind. You are anti-child. Like bossy co-worker, you will change your mind.

Assumptions: Uh, since when do I = bossy co-worker? etc.

So she suggested that I would inevitably develop baby fever, and I just shrugged and said something like, “yeah, I doubt it.”

“You never know…

“I have a good idea.”

“Well, just don’t do anything crazy.”

Like what, exactly? Cut out my own womb?

“Once I have health insurance and can find a doctor who will give me a tubal, I’ll have it taken care of.”

“Um, good luck finding someone in the states who will do that.”

You crazy, baby-hating harridan.

But you know what? I’m not a caretaker. I don’t nurture. I love and I help, but I don’t raise. And it’s not because I’m a fuckup, it’s because those just aren’t things that I do. If you’re going to ask me to raise a kid, you might as well use Red Bull to anesthetize a cat—because clearly, you don’t understand that all things can’t do all the things. Caffeine can’t sedate a kitten, and I can’t raise an upstanding member of society. It’s tragic, I know, but there you are.

And pestering people about having kids is so fucking rude it makes my head spin. As Pepper said when I was chatting with her earlier, you might as well suggest to someone homosexual that they could change their mind and become straight. Just try it! Because a lot of people are straight, and that means you should be too! (And really, when it comes to making babies, you can totally go on a test run. If you end up not enjoying the whole parenting thing, you can return the kid to your nearest Target!)

I don’t even hate kids—some of them are great—I just don’t want any. It’s like how I love cabernet, but would never run a vineyard. Or how I enjoy snow sometimes, but would never move to Greenland. Or how…well, you get it.

And you know, unlike bossy co-worker, I’ve never been “anti-marriage.” Marriage is fine; it’s the needy, crying, time-sucking children I’m against. So it’s not like I’m bumbling around being all “I reject intimacy and love!” (not that being anti-marriage means a person can’t have those things, but that seemed to be what she was suggesting)—I just. don’t. want. the babies.

But it’s not like I’m an autonomous 24-year-old adult or anything, so who knows.

Oh, and by the way, Family With the Constantly Shrieking Toddler Who Destroyed the Place Settings on Four Empty Tables, 9.02 on a ticket of 70.98 is not acceptable. You put me through auditory hell. Also, where were you when your kid was playing next to the fireplace?

Story Hour with Paprika

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[TW for virulent racism, workplace intimidation, racist and ablist slurs, general awfulness]

Once upon a time, there was an unhappy woman named Paprika. Her perpetual displeasure was directly related to the overall shittasticness of the world. She tried to be happy, to eat good candy and drink lots of soda, but nothing seemed to help. And then one day, Paprika logged on to Facebook, and shit went very much awry.

One of Paprika’s friends—let’s call him Matt—IMed her asking if she was ready to be infuriated. She said yes, and he sent her the link to a screen cap he had taken. It showed a Facebook status something along the lines of “those of you who don’t care that Bin Laden is dead are stupid and need to shut up,” which, you know, whatever. But then, there in the comments, was a really trashy woman named Jessica, who was all “Bin Laden didn’t kill the Americans! Some other sand n*ggers did!”—except without the asterisk. Matt had responded with “Wow. Racists shouldn’t have access to Facebook,” prompting Jessica to observe that Matt was just totally not patriotic, and, come on—“even our troops use that word!” (Side note: I’m pretty sure that quite a few of them don’t, and as for the ones who do, well, they should be kicked out of the military. Personally, I have a problem with armed racists traipsing into countries full of people they hate. Call me crazy, but there you are.)

So yes, Paprika was, indeed, infuriated. But as it happened, Paprika was Facebook friends with the guy who wrote the status—Jared—and she also happened to work with Jessica. Jessica, it must be said, defines trashy. Jessica is one of those people who buys herself breast implants, a Harley, and thousands of dollars worth of tattoos, then bitches about the cost of daycare. (Actually, I’ve never known anyone to do that, except Jessica. Thanks, Jessica, for being the beyond-rare exception that Rush Limbaugh contends is the norm.)

So Paprika was all “wow, I kinda feel like responding,” and Matt was all “yeah, I’d feel better if I had backup,” so Paprika swooped in and left a bitchy comment that ended with the line, “Congratulations, you’re a terrible person.”

Well, it could only get worse from there. Somehow, the status devolved into people arguing that it’s “okay to be racist, as long as you don’t act on it” (because apparently, writing racist Facebook comments doesn’t count as “acting on it”), and Jessica being all “yo, we’re gonna throw down at work and stuff.” It was a classy chain of comments.

And then, today, Paprika finally got to work with Jessica.

She walked in, dropped her purse in the office, and put on her apron. Jessica got in her face and explained that they were out of ice, so everything for the salad bar was still in the cooler, and all the ice they had was in the sink, so be careful with the ice, we’re out, no ice, no ice at all. “You think you can handle that? Hmm? Is that too difficult for you?”

“That’s fine.”

Jessica proceeded to follow Paprika into the kitchen and regale her with more questions: “So uh, is there a reason you like to call people racist on Facebook? Can’t you say it to my face? Yeah, you should be fucking scared of me.”

Paprika sighed. God damn it, she thought, Is this the dialogue I’ll have to recreate when I write this sordid tale? This just sounds stupid. This is freshman creative writing 101 dialogue. At least be inventive, you racist dumbass.

But Paprika didn’t want to get into an argument while on the job, because, professionalism. So she walked away, sat in an empty booth, and opened a book. Jessica, however, continued to pace back and forth, tossing out insults. It was a kind of stupid incantation, really:

“You think you’re so smart, but you’re just fucking retarded.”

“How long are you going to be working here, huh? You probably shouldn’t plan to stay.”

“Why can’t you say anything to my face? You’re so pathetic.”

“You do realize that you have fucked with the wrong person, right?”

“Did you just not realize I got married? Did you think you were insulting someone anonymous? Did you think it was okay to call me a racist piece of shit as long as you didn’t know me? Is that it?”

Paprika smiled and continued to read her book. Jessica proceeded to mimic, word-for-word, everything Paprika had written in her “stop being such a terrible racist” Facebook comments. It’s almost like those comments had hit a little too close to home. I mean, I’m just saying. Just asking questions.

But then Jessica won the argument. She did! She looked at Paprika, and she said, “”Do you really think it’s worse to say sand n*gger than to take the Lord’s name in vain? Or is that”—she pointed at Paprika’s book—“the only book you know how to read?”

And Paprika laughed. She couldn’t help it—that was funny. Horrifying, and utterly reprehensible, but funny.

That said, she should probably get a new job. Jessica is the boss’s daughter, after all.

The End.

What a Crap Night. Sigh.

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I had a shitty night, the kind of night that warrants reiteration of what should be obvious points. Points about tipping, and why you should, like, do it and stuff.

My wage is a paltry 3.00/hour. I am taxed on my hourly wage, 10% of my total sales, and any additional reported tips. All tips I earn via credit cards are automatically reported; I’m supposed to report my cash tips separately, but, well, I usually don’t. Because fuck that. (And most of my tips are credit card anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.)

What this means, then, is that when you tip below 10%, you have not merely denied me a socially acceptable tip; you have actually taken money away from me, because I am still being taxed as though you had behaved like a decent human being. It also means that you have not met the minimum standard of decency as determined by the IRS.

Allow me to repeat: the IRS thinks you are one cheap bastard.

Actually, I have fairly kind feelings toward the IRS. When I was 18, there was a bit of a clusterfuck resulting from the IRS’ mistaken belief that I owed them thousands of dollars in back taxes. The mix-up wasn’t their fault—they had every reason to suppose it was true. Anyway, once I finally obtained the necessary paperwork proving that I was not, in fact, the world’s youngest tax dodger, I sent it in a manilla envelope with a handwritten letter requesting to be reimbursed for the tax return they’d applied to my debt. Yes, a handwritten letter—because that screams professional.

But they acquiesced! They did! Four weeks later, I got a check for the exact amount I’d requested, and a note apologizing for the trouble they’d caused me.

So I don’t mind the IRS. Really, they’re just doing their jobs, and I’m all for apprehending white-collar criminals. But that makes it even worse when you don’t meet their human decency standard.

And you know, I can usually tell a shitty tipper the minute they walk in the door. I think most servers can. But although I was fully prepared for tonight’s murmuring, self-satisfied asspandas to leave me no more than 12%, I did not expect to be stiffed entirely. It’s not like I did anything wrong. They got their food, I checked on them, I refilled their drinks, everything your friendly waitress is supposed to do. And yet—nothing.

My other tables weren’t much better. The very nice but apparently cheap-as-fuck family in the corner? 4.75 on a 65.25 ticket. The two girls with the appetizer, shared entrée, and sodas? 4 on 32. The grouchy family with the screaming toddlers? 8 on 70. My last table left me 15 on 50, which, thank God, because that was the only reason I managed to average over ten percent for the entire night. But.

Bitching about tips isn’t exactly original, I realize. I’ve done it before. But what really angers me is the obvious sexism when it comes to tipping waitstaff.

All of the servers at my restaurant are women. We’ve had male servers, but they’ve never lasted long; they usually get fed up with the management and quit in a blaze of glory. Our cooks are men, and all the bartenders we’ve had have been men.

Our restaurant likes to think of itself as up-scale, but it isn’t; it’s just your typical steakhouse in a small town packed with restaurants. We don’t get many tables, and the food is only sporadically good. (It depends on who’s cooking.) A few weeks ago, I was looking for the blow torch so I could make crème brulee—yeah, we have to torch our own desserts; no, I don’t why—and found it in the hands of Saul, our most profoundly drug-addicted line cook. He was using it to “light a cigarette.”

So the restaurant is average, and the servers are women. This seems typical. If you go to a truly upscale restaurant, you will see plenty of male servers, and they make good money. But the less fancy you get, the more women you’ll find. I don’t mean to make sweeping generalizations, and I realize there are plenty of exceptions to that rule, but it’s still very common.

And it makes sense, because serving at an upscale restaurant requires a higher level of skill, and, well, we can haz sexism!!

Anyway, my point: Serving, especially at restaurants that are not considered upscale, is still widely considered Women’s Work; consequently, the women who work at such restaurants tend to be treated like crap.

The male servers I’ve worked with have been treated much, much differently from the female servers. This isn’t to say that customers consistently treat them wonderfully—they don’t—but there is, for example, a lot less finger-snapping. There are fewer pompous fucks holding their wine glasses aloft and waving them back and forth instead of just politely asking for another. There is less rage when their dining experiences don’t adhere to whatever ridiculous standard they’ve concocted in their heads. There is less overall entitlement.

Then there’s the sexual harassment. Assholes just love to harass female waitstaff. They love it because they can get away with it—not only because you’re at work, and they can complain to the management if you respond by telling them to go fuck themselves with a broom handle, but also because your tip depends on how well you tolerate it. You’re controlled by money, both on a large scale (whether you keep your job) and on a small scale (by what you make off that table).

Of course, tables like that rarely tip well anyway, but if you piss them off they often won’t tip at all. Also, they’ll become even bigger assholes.

Your typical male server will not have to deal with this. I don’t mean to erase any sexual harassment against men, because sure, it happens—but it doesn’t happen often, and not with society’s blessing. But, you know, women in the customer service industry are just asking for it, right? We’re not just here to serve you food; we’re here to serve you. When misogynists go out to eat, they get to imagine, for a brief moment in time, that they are living in their ideal fucking world—one in which tired, underpaid women zip around and cater to their every (food-related) desire.

Well, fuck all of you.

This isn’t to say that sexism is the only factor at work here—there’s also classism, racism…all the same tired, bullshit prejudices. It’s infuriating and exhausting. And every time I get a shitty tip, I want to run after the customers and explain to them:

When you go out to eat, you are paying for two things—food and service. The cost of the food is the price on the menu. The cost of the service is the tip. If you get good service and leave a bad tip, you have effectively stolen from your server. Because you are an asshole. And it’s probably related to your massive amounts of privilege and/or bias.

But why would they listen?—I’m just a waitress.

Paprika’s Guide to Not Being a Total Douchecanoe

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I work two jobs. I have a full course load (fifteen credits). I try to maintain a relatively active social life. I drink a lot of Red Bull.

And, you know, here’s the thing: if I’m going to go to work, I want to know that it’s worth my while. The Writing Center is always worthwhile, of course—the pay is good, the work is fun, and we always have a full dish of candy. Our communal mini-fridge and microwave are nice touches as well.

But waitressing. Well.

The sexual harassment is bad enough. A few days ago, one of the line cooks (who happens to look like a Motley Crue reject) put a paper towel over my mouth and asked if it smelled like chloroform, because, rape jokes! Funny!

Then there’s the fact that I’ve spent the past couple weeks waitressing while injured—yay for knee-wrenching bike accidents! My co-workers have been nice about it, offering to take upstairs tables so I don’t have to climb, but it still blows.

Oh, and then there’s the owner of the restaurant, who wears his ROYAL DICKBAG crown with pride and hates me for reasons unknown. I’d care, but then again…he’s a royal dickbag.

I can deal with this. Well, most of it—the chloroform rag incident is probably getting reported. But people. Pathetic, douchey, dining people. A three dollar tip on a forty dollar ticket is not. fucking. acceptable. You know why? Because waitstaff are legally required to claim ten percent of their sales as tips, and when you tip me less than ten percent, you cost me money. I actually get taxed on money I never received. All because you are a cheap piece of shit.

And lest you think my regular wages cover the various costs of my life, I get paid three dollars an hour.

Yep. Three dollars. So, y’know. Not exactly a living wage.

I’ve heard people bitch about having to tip at all, and while I agree that restaurants should pay waitstaff a living wage, I would also like to point out that, were this to actually happen, restaurants would have to find a way to compensate for that money spent. And how would they do this? Hmm. Well. Golly, I just don’t know…oh wait!

They’d raise the prices on your food, dumbass.  And you’d probably end up paying even more per meal than if you had just left a decent tip in the first place.

Also, sometimes shit goes wrong in the kitchen, and that sucks, and I’m sorry—but it’s not my fault, so don’t let it affect my tip, alright? One of the cooks at my restaurant is paradoxically addicted to both meth and oxycontin, and one night a couple weeks ago he was only the cook working. Luckily we were dead, but even so, he screwed up three steaks and let my order for a bowl of soup sit for six minutes without even looking at the ticket. He didn’t have any other orders up, so I asked him if my soup was coming, and he actually yelled at me.

BECAUSE SIX MINUTES IS NOT THAT LONG AND GOD WHY WON’T ANYONE LEAVE HIM ALONE HE’S ONLY GOTTEN TO SMOKE ONE CIGARETTE SINCE HIS SHIFT STARTED AND ALSO IS TOTALLY CRACKED OUT SO YEAH.

Of course this person should never work in a kitchen, and I am genuinely sorry that his hands are touching your food, but it’s still not my fault if he screws up. Hell, I’ll gladly yell at him on your behalf, because I really don’t give a shit what he thinks of me, but again—if it doesn’t work, it’s not my fault.

And yes, I realize that you, dear customer, have no way of knowing that our only working cook shoots up in the alley, but really, let’s think about this.

You are one of the only people in the restaurant. My service has been (fakely) cheerful and efficient; your drinks have been promptly refilled, and I have made a point of coming to your table to explain that there is a delay in the kitchen but your food should be out shortly. In the meantime, I offer to bring you some fresh bread so you have something to snack on while you wait.

Who do you think is at fault for your missing entrée?

Me, the friendly server striving to make your dining experience something better than dreadful? Or one of the incompetent asshats in the kitchen?

See, I’m not a very forgiving person. I never have been. If I see someone behave horribly, it takes a lot for me to give them a second chance. But then again, if I don’t know why things are messed up, I try not to assign blame—and I wish more people would do this.

Because it’s true—you just don’t know. And on a stressful night with cracked-out line cooks and six entrees on the 86 list, when our soda gun is malfunctioning and we somehow managed to run out of tequila, an awful tip from a pissed-off table just makes everything worse.

There are so many people involved in the successful running of a restaurant—managers, cooks, waitstaff, dishwashers, bussers, host/hostesses, whoever runs the delivery truck that has our food, the guy who failed at fixing our dryer, the owner who refuses to let us just pick up some damn Cuervo at the liquor store, etc. So when something goes wrong, well, it might be your server’s fault, but it could also be any one of those other people—and unlike your server, they all get paid minimum wage or better.

“Tips” is a stupid word, really—it’s not money you give when the service is exceptional and you want to show your appreciation, it’s money that you should feel absolutely, 100% obligated to give, unless the service was hostile and aggressively rude. Tips are what your server lives on—her hundred dollar biweekly paycheck doesn’t exactly cover rent.

So don’t be a dickbag. Don’t leave a dollar fifty dollar tip on a twenty-five dollar ticket. Don’t start yelling when you run out of ketchup. Just be a decent human being—because I’m not sure how many more of you assholes I can take.