Herald Journal Columns
July 18, 2005, Herald Journal

Take care of the table on the patio

By LIZ HELLMANN

“Liz, can you take a six-top on the patio?”

I briefly look up at my manager from punching in orders on the computer screen.

We exchange desperate looks.

My desperate look read: No, of course I can’t take another table, I have six or seven already, all of which are spiralling further out of my control as each second passes.

Her desperate look read: Of course, I know you have too many tables, but we are short staffed, and somebody has to take it.

Ah, such is the life of a waitress.

We compromise. I will take it, if she gets them drinks.

Of course, all of that negotiation takes place in under three seconds – during a “rush” in the food industry, one second is the equivalent of a minute in the real world – and I’m back to poking the glass computer screen.

Shoot. I forgot to ask if they wanted the spicy or regular chicken sandwich.

Do I guess, or go back and ask them?

I could suffer the brief humiliation of returning to their table now, or risk the possibility of angering the cooks when they need to cook another sandwich, because the first one was ordered wrong.

Not a choice, my friends; never unnecessarily anger the cooks.

As I speed back to their table, I run through the list of a million things I must do: bring water to table nine, food is up for table four, the booth wanted their check, make dessert for 15.

Dang it! As I walk past table five, I realize I forgot their bread.

They look up at me expectantly.

I smile. I’m going to have to say something, they are definitely expecting bread.

“Your bread will be out in a moment, they are making a fresh batch, and I didn’t want to bring you the stuff that has been sitting in the warmer,” I say.

They are very appreciative. Nice cover.

Now, where am I going? Oh, yeah, the chicken.

And I’m back at the computer. I was going to guess spicy, too. Oh, well.

It’s been about a minute. I should go check on the table out on the patio.

I open the door and step into the dead July heat. It has to be at least 90 degrees and humid. I’m met by the glaring sun, and sweat immediately begins to build under my long black shirt and pants (yes, that was my uniform, along with a tie – so attractive).

I squint around the cement patio, which isn’t very big. I see a few tables, but no six-top – a table with six people. Quite a code we waitresses have.

I shrug my shoulders and go back in. I find my boss.

“What table did you want me to take?”

“The six-top, they have their drinks already,” my boss replies.

I enter the sauna once more. There are two deuces – a table with two people, very good – and one four-top.

One deuce is almost done, but no one else has drinks.

I think my boss has gone crazy, and who can blame her.

Well, I don’t have time for this, crazy or not.

I run inside, practically running into the wall. The dim dining room lights are quite a change from looking into the sun.

I scurry into the kitchen, grab some bread, throw it in the microwave.

I load up a large oval tray with burgers and salads. Carefully surveying the room, I try to recall everything I need to do.

Brief panic sets in. Five minutes have passed since my manager asked me to take the table on the patio, just to give you a perspective.

All that means to me is I am five minutes closer to dying, but I’m sure fate will wait until I go through this night in its entirety first.

I scan the list of things in my mind.

I grab salads for table two and dessert for table 15. I frantically punch numbers into the computer until it spits out the check for the people in the booth.

The microwave dings. I load a basket with “fresh” rolls for table five.

Seeing a waitress with a second to spare (literally), I ask her if she can follow me with my salads.

She obliges. (The servers I worked with were the best, and we would always help each other out.)

I get everything out to the right tables and turn to snatch the water pitcher to refill all my tables, when my manager comes up to me.

Oh, no.

“Liz how is the table on the patio doing?” (It should be said that the people who were on the patio that fateful night were kind of Minnesota “celebrities.” But I won’t mention their names.)

“I went out to the patio, and there was just two deuces and a four-top, no one had drinks,” I said.

My manager then precedes to tell me that they did have drinks, but they were messed up, and had to be reordered.

I probably went out there while they were in the process of being reordered.

Sigh.

“The kids are sitting at the table next to the parents,” my manager explains.

I immediately set the water pitcher down and head for the door.

I turn. “Can you water my tables?”

“Sure,” she replies. “But you should probably know how their drinks got messed up in case they ask you about it.”

She goes on to explain that he ordered a martini, and she ordered a Bloody Mary.

Both of these drinks are made in silver shakers. When the bartender was mixing the Bloody Mary, there was some extra, so he put the shaker on the tray.

When my manager brought the drink out, she thought the extra was for the martini.

When the customer went to pour the extra mix into his drink, he ended up with his wife’s Bloody Mary in his martini.

Wonderful. As if I needed help tonight to make my tables mad.

I walk out onto the patio. Here goes nothing.

“Thank you for being so patient, are you all set to order?” I smile as sweetly as possible from under my black tent as the sun burns my retinas.

Of course, they are ready, by now they’ve had time to memorize the stupid menu.

They both order salads with their meal, but his needs to be without onions.

I smile. He orders it without onions because he is severely allergic to onions.

I know this because my best friend, who also works at the same restaurant, accidentally put onions in his salad once, after he told her not to.

He spotted them right away, and there was no problem. However, my friend was terribly embarrassed and felt awful. But the whole thing is funny now.

I finish taking their orders and start toward the door.

“Oh, Liz?”

“Yeah?”

“Could you take our kids’ orders, too?”

He points to a table one away from theirs.

“Oh, you mean they wanted to eat, too?” I laugh – you know, that nervous laugh, when you’ve screwed up and try not to focus on it. Stupid.

I take their orders, and their little girl orders a beef quesadilla. This is kind of strange, because she is young enough to be ordering off the kid’s menu, but instead she is ordering a huge beef quesadilla off the appetizer menu?

Whatever floats her boat, I guess.

I dodge back inside, run through the restaurant, trying to curb any damage done to my tables.

I pick up dirty plates and check waters.

Cringing, I ask how everything is, afraid that I forgot to bring out someone’s dinner in the maddening rush.

To my surprise, everything is relatively under control.

I turn, only to see I have been given yet another table.

I order their drinks and hurry to the kitchen. I want to get the salads out to the patio as soon as possible.

“How are things on the patio?” my manager asks. “Something always goes wrong when they’re here, so we want to try extra hard to make things go smoothly.”

Excellent, as if I needed to hear that. Scratch throwing their food on top of their heads.

“Good,” I reply.

I gather their salads and head to the patio. Trying to open the door, carrying the track jack, and the tray of food, I stumble out to their table.

As I set down my tray, my heart skips a beat as I look down.

Their salads are covered wih onions . . . to be continued.