It wasn't the general crazy vibe of the place. It wasn't the fact that it seemed like more than half the staff had dated, slept with, or wanted to sleep with everyone else.
"Let me give you some advice," a young hostess, wise beyond her twenty years on Earth, said to me one evening, "Don't ever fuck anyone in this place. I mean it! Don't kiss 'em! Don't go home with 'em! Don't date 'em! Don't touch their penis! Don't touch their vagina if that's what you're into!"
I didn't say anything. She looked at me crossly.
"That's not what you're into, is it?"
"I choose to not comment," I replied.
"You got a man?"
"I choose not to comment," I replied.
"What the fuck ever," she muttered, lighting a cigarette, "It don't matter here. They'll try to get you one way or another. Suck, fuck, whatever. Just don't do it."
She was right, too. Not three shifts had passed when one of the girl servers sauntered up to me as I fetched some water and said,
"So. Has, uh, anyone filled you in on the gossip?"
"Oh," I replied, grabbing my tray, "I'm staying out of all that!"
I had prepared myself for fire/desire/scorn of the workplace, as fraternizing with co-workers happens to be par for the course in the hospitality business. I could handle employees. I could handle gossip. To be completely honest, I liked most of the staff. There were some great people there who gave me a lot of help and/or answered my never-ending string of questions. And even if others weren't so helpful, then at least they'd say fun things like, "Watch out for that guy. He'll tell you you've got pretty eyes and then try to skip out on the meal," or, "Hey, champ, I heard you got sriracha in your bra."
The shift that turned out to be my last started out innocently enough. I had three tables. They ordered food and everyone was happy. The world was different back then. Within the hour, however, the flow in back room shifted from "paced and busy" to "chaotic and freakish." The hostesses triple sat me twice in a row, a manager tried to throw another table at me after they complained that their server was a racist, and I had to adopt a bow legged swagger during the second half of my shift out of fear that the Red Fury would spill through my all-white uniform if I even attempted the usual hustle. The kitchen screwed up two of my orders on their own and a third one because I rang it in wrong.
"Wow, glad we didn't get you on your first day!" one table joked. He chose this comment after he watched me slip on a greasy patch of the floor. He also saw the table next to him demand to know why they had only received brown bread when they specifically requested white. He also requested eight packets of Sweet and Low before his coffee got cold. In other words, this man and his progeny should forever burn to the ground.
I kept my head held high out of hope that maybe, just maybe, my tips would somewhat justify the afternoon's struggles. Several of my friends in Atlanta made bank as servers - to the tune of $200-300 dollars in one night. They worked in privately owned restaurants that boasted bountiful brews of locally made beer and expensive bottles of wine.
"It's amazing," they would say, "It's enough money to pay your bills, but it's also enough to have extra to set aside. You know, to save or get stupid with!"
|"Trust me, you can dance." |
The servers at my restaurant strayed from this goal by about a hundred and fifty dollars. We didn't serve anything too expensive and the demographic rarely ordered alcohol.
"Yeah," said my trainer, "I always shoot for a hundred bucks after tip-out. If I make a hundred, then I don't complain."
Let me explain tip-out at this particular restaurant chain to you.
Bussers get 20%.
Food Runners get 10%.
Bartenders get 10%.
That is 40% of a server's tips that have to be doled out at the end of the shift. Servers need to make somewhere around $180 to be able to take home $100 dollars for the night. Then, after that, they must still declare 20% of their sales - their SALES, not their tips - to the government. This creates a huge financial issue for servers at this particular restaurant because not only must they pay taxes on that 40% that they gave away, but they also pay taxes on money that they never earned. Patrons at this chain rarely tip 20%. Most patrons tip 10% to 15% at best.
Side note: I no longer understand why servers work in a chain restaurant in a tourism heavy area. If a table hails from outside the United States then it is safe to assume that they plan to leave you quarters at best - maybe a smile if you gave them exceptional service. It's true. I learned within my first few shifts not to pay too much attention to the tip line out of fear that the total would convince me to slit my wrists in front of patrons or provide less than exemplary customer service.
That fateful day, my stomach sank as I quickly realized just how little I could take home. Three tables ordered over $100 worth of food, yet tipped less than three dollars. Two tables didn't tip at all. In the end, even though I sold over $1000 worth of food, I made about $90 dollars in tips. This was before tip-out. Not wanting to piss anyone off, I followed the standard tip-out procedure. My busser had already left for the day, but instructed me to give his tips to another busser.
That busser then followed me out to the front of the restaurant where I waited for my ride and called out,
"Huh?" I whirled around.
"Fifteen dollars? That's nothing!"
"I didn't make that much money today," I said, taking out the bills I had left, "I'm sorry!"
"How much did you make in sales? Today was very busy!"
"It doesn't matter. I had three tables stiff me out of tips!"
"You know, it doesn't matter to me. I work in your section, it's simple. I don't get you bread. I don't clean your tables."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Not worth my time! But my friend? He's gonna want to know!"
"Look, I get what you're saying and I appreciate all of your help, but I did not make any money today."
"Did he not turn tables? Did he not get bread?"
"Not that it matters, but I brought bread to a lot of my tables today."
"This is nothing," he repeated again, "And he's gonna want to know why. We don't have to do anything for you."
"... Do you want ten extra dollars?"
"No, I'll just tell him what you tell me!"
"You know what? It's fine," I said, reaching into my wallet, "I didn't make much today, but clearly you guys need this more than me."
"It's too late," he said.
I held out the bill and said, firmly,
"Take the ten."
He was quiet.
"Just take it. Here you go. It's yours. Say whatever you want."
"I just tell him what you told me."
He took the ten and went back inside. I turned and faced the lofty stares of the patrons, both patient and impatient. I felt mortified, but on top of that, I felt frightful because knew that I would actually lose money if I stayed. All my my expenses flooded through my brain like a thinly veiled intense mental episode where the busser served as a vessel for my piling expenses. The apartment, my car, my classes; all of it flooded from his mouth and hit me like a bus hits a foolish person who wandered into the street. I considered going back inside and telling the management what had just happened, but my ride pulled up before I could commit.
I opened the car door and my friend's voice, exploding with giddiness, spilled out through passenger's side.
"So the office is going crazy because we got a Culkin brother to sit on a - whoa, what the hell happened?"
I said nothing. I couldn't tell if the welt forming in my chest would erupt in the form of a riotous scream or a series of hyperventilative soblets. Either way, I consider it bad form to cry or show visual signs of stress in front of people who do better then you, so I clamped my jaw shut and looked at my lap.
"Jas. What's going on? Are you ok? Do we need to stop somewhere?"
I turned my head slowly and sputtered,
"I need ...just... one... minute."
My friend understood the tone all too well and quietly replied,
"Say no more."
I don't remember much after that, but I'm certain we rode in silence all the way back to my place and then I drank a bottle of really, really cheap wine and decided that I wasn't going to go back to work.
I'm back to hustling promotional jobs and I'm fine with it. I have nothing but the upmost respect for servers. And you know what? Some servers legitimately enjoy their jobs. That's great for them and I am truly envious of their powerful, multitasking super brains.
I've said this before, but I will say it again with added conviction: I will twist my dimples and pass out one million pairs of free sunglasses before I wait another table.