Herald Journal Columns
July 25, 2005, Herald Journal

Serving up another disaster

By LIZ HELLMANN

Damage control time.

If you are just joining this horrific account of a waitress under fire, this is a continuation.

If you have ever worked in the food industry, or enjoying reading books on torture, you might be entertained by the following.

I stare down at the salads. My back is currently to the customers. I could quickly pick the onions off the salad and present it to my customer like nothing happened.

But, he will undoubtedly see the onions on the tray. I’m stuck.

I turn and smile (if you can call gritting your teeth together as hard as possible, and slightly curving your lips upwards, a smile).

“Oh, I’m sorry, they accidentally put onions in your salad,” I say.

A vague “they” is usually your best bet in situations like this, and I don’t consider it a lie. Some research suggests split personalities develop under extreme stress, and in that case, maybe tonight I am a “they.”

He smiles politely, and I present the rest of the group their salads. I take his salad inside, throw the onions in the garbage, count to 10, and deliver his “new” salad. Chalk up mistake number three.

I run inside, bring drinks to my new table, and put their orders in. They both ordered salads, which means one course to serve, and little waiting time. Maybe I’ll get one good tip tonight.

No such luck with table seven. She did not like her steak, it was too pink in the middle.

Although she had eaten much of it, around the outside, she was utterly displeased.

Sigh. I had checked on their table shortly after they had received their food. She must have still been busy gnawing on the outside of her “disgusting” steak. I didn’t know I was supposed to watch her consume every morsel. Oh, well.

I return with the check and march into the kitchen to check the dinner for the table on the patio.

It should be “up” (that means done, and on the counter, ready to be carried out) soon.

I see many plates of food, none that resemble what the patio ordered.

I wipe the sweat off my forehead with a napkin. The salads are done for my other table.

I gladly load up my tray with the salads, rolls, butter, and freshly ground pepper. At least one table will be happy tonight.

I deliver their meals, and even get a chance to fill up their waters.

Happy for a mere moment, and triumphantly having time to do something right, I head to the kitchen, where my hopes are dashed.

“Where’s the food for the patio?” I ask the cooks.

“You haven’t taken their appetizer out yet,” they respond.

I’m confused (but what’s new?)

“They didn’t have any appetizers,” I half say, half question.

“The beef quesadilla.”

Oh, no.

“No, the beef quesadilla is what the little girl is having for her meal,” I explain.

This can’t be happening.

I can fix this.

“Can you just make the kids’ meals really fast?” I ask.

Kids’ meals usually don’t take long to make; sadly, many of them are just deep-fried items.

I will simply take the kids’ meals out first, with the beef quesadilla. Parents usually appreciate this because then they don’t have to listen to the kids whine about being hungry.

Sure, they can have it done in two minutes.

Fine. I turn around to grab water to check on my other tables, when I see a huge piece of chocolate cake on the dessert “line” (counter – you’re learning so much about waitressing).

Shoot! That is for table 10. How long ago did they order that? I try to remember, but time has lost all meaning. I feel like I’ve been here for an eternity, so they could have ordered that cake at 6:30 p.m. or half past forever ago and it wouldn’t mean a thing to me.

I grab the cake and head for the dining room. I squint as I make the transition to the dark cave from the overbearing florescent lights of the kitchen.

My head pounds behind my eyes.

As I walk up to table 10 a wave of relief floods through me.

I remember now, they ordered the cake right after I took the salads out, not more than three minutes ago.

I return to the kitchen to take the kids’ meals out to the patio.

As I serve the beef quesadilla, the girl looks frightened. (Probably by the size of the thing. You’d think we stuffed a whole cow in there.)

Her mother explains she wanted the kids’ quesadilla.

But we don’t have a kids’ beef quesadilla.

Or at least we didn’t a week ago, before I took a few days off and they added it to the kids’ menu without bothering to tell me.

That’s OK, she says. Her daughter will still eat it.

I look at the clock as I enter the kitchen, only 8:30 p.m. It won’t slow down for at least half an hour.

“Where’s the food for the patio?” I ask the cook.

“It’s right there.” He points to a pasta dish and a sandwich.

“I need two pastas,” I say, pointing at the ticket.

The mother and her oldest daughter ordered the same pasta from the menu, only one wanted pepperoni instead of chicken, and one wanted sausage.

The cook thought it was one pasta with both pepperoni and sausage.

After explaining it to him, he quickly adds more noodles and meat and divides it into two bowls.

As he does this, I check on my table with the salads, the one where everything was going so well.

Only, they are not there, and my boss is wiping up the empty table.

“Where is my table?” I ask.

They went home. The gentleman felt sick, all over the table.

Wishing I had a second personality to take over, I mechanically load up the rest of the food for the patio, complete with two pastas.

At least it’s almost over.

My long black shirt sleeves clinging to my arm in the sticky heat, I feebly deliver the notable Minnesotan his food, followed by his wife’s meal, and the meal for his oldest daughter.

But this doesn’t really look right; something is wrong.

The pasta looks odd. I have never served this type of pasta, and so I can’t put my finger on it.

Oh, no. My heart drops to the floor as I hear her explain, her voice echoes in my head as if she were miles away. (I wish I were miles away.)

Both pastas have pepperoni and sausage, instead of one with just pepperoni, and one with just sausage.

I lower my head and close my eyes. No way.

I slowly raise my head. His wife looks stunned, the girl looks down at her pasta. I turn towards him just in time to see his face turning bright red. . . to be continued.