Herald Journal Columns
Aug. 1, 2005, Herald Journal

Every story has two sides

By LIZ HELLMANN

Let me take a moment to briefly re-cap the events I have relayed thus far, in honor of my fellow waitresses and waiters.

On a hot July night, one of my fellow servers failed to show up to work, leaving the rest of us with a heavier burden than usual.

Naturally, because we were short-staffed, we ended up being incredibly busy that night.

I, along with the rest of my colleagues, were frantically picking up (not literally, although that might have been easier) tables.

In waitress talk, I was “in the weeds,” which is not a good place to be, when my boss asked me to pick up a table on the patio.

The people on the patio were a Minnesota celebrity and his family.

For some reason, every time they came in to our restaurant, something always went wrong with their food.

That was put to an end that night, when not something, but everything went wrong with their food, and drinks, and service.

I will briefly summarize. Their drinks were ruined, leaving him with a half Bloody Mary, half martini.

They waited at least five more minutes for service than they should have. Onions were placed on his salad, of which he is dangerously allergic, but which I luckily noticed and removed before he ate them.

His young daughter was given the wrong quesadilla, which rivaled her in size, and probably scared the poor girl.

The dinners for his wife and daughter took a long time to make, because they were made incorrectly the first time.

And now, after all this, I stand before them only to hear that the pasta dishes for his wife and daughter are incorrectly made, once again. Instead of one with pepperoni and one with sausage, both pastas have both meats.

My head pounding and my feet aching, my head swirls with the unbelievable reality of this surreal night.

I contemplate sprinting across the ninth green to my car (the restaurant was located on a golf course). Entertaining my fantasy further, I consider the idea of stopping to run through the sprinklers to wash away some of the sweat built up under my black prison of a uniform.

On the verge of going mad, I’m snapped back into reality as my customer’s face turns a shade of red that would make the blood pulsating through my temples look baby pink.

This is it, he is going to absolutely destroy me. I have ruined his evening with his family.

All he wanted to do is play a nice round of golf, and soak up the waning summer sun on the patio, while enjoying a leisurely meal with his wife and their children.

Instead, he was yanked through a series of screw-ups, miscommunications, ill-prepared drinks, and an appetizer the size of Texas.

Surely, he did not deserve this, and had every right to be unhappy.

Briefly, I understood his plight, and prepared to be yelled at in accordance to the situation.

But wait. Although much of this was my fault, I was trying to do the best I could under the circumstances.

Like him, I had much different expectations for the evening. I was going to come in to work, make decent sales, and hopefully, some good tips that could go towards my savings for next years’ college tuition.

The moment I walked in the door, I had a table. One of the waitresses didn’t come into work (she was new, and now, she was unemployed).

Due to the summer weather, many golfers decided to eat in the restaurant that night, leaving us with a full restaurant, bar and grill, and patio, all to be served by three waitresses and a bartender.

No, my customer did not deserve this, but neither did I.

Something inside of me snapped. Maybe I was delirious from dehydration and hunger (I had not been able to eat since lunchtime), but I was not going to stand here and simply smile and nod while absorbing another complaint.

There was two sides to this story.

I leveled my head and stared back at my customer through exhausted eyes. Not knowing yet what I was going to do or say.

His head looked as though it would burst. And then, in light of all the night’s events, something truly unexpected happened.

His body began to shake, he opened his mouth. . . and laughed.

He laughed hysterically, and his wife and daughter joined him.

My mouth literally dropped open, I was so stunned.

In between gasps for breath (he was really laughing that hard), he explained.

“It’s just so much stuff has gone wrong,” he said.

Honestly, him and his family were giggling uncontrollably.

I threw up my hands in desperation, and deserted my roll as waitress to become the helpless teenager I felt like.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “We are short-staffed tonight, it’s just one of those days when nothing is going right. The kitchen is doing their best, but can’t keep up, we got a whole bunch of walk-ins; it’s just a mess.”

His wife had subdued her laughter and turned to me.

“I completely understand, I used to be a waitress,” she said.

Those were the best words I had heard all night. I chatted with them for a few more moments. They were fine with their meals, his daughter and wife just rifled through their pastas and gave each other the meat they actually wanted.

I went inside to finish up in the restaurant, which, thankfully, was clearing out.

As I printed out the check for my table on the patio, smiling, I dropped a customer comment card in the folder.

This should be interesting.

After I thanked them again for their patience and they left, I went to pick up their check.

I was intrigued to see what they wrote on the comment card. To my surprise, they wrote that everything was fine. (I hadn’t expected them to write anything mean or negative, but thought they would write something out-of-the-ordinary.)

But they did take the liberty of surprising me one more time. On the check, they had written me a $20 tip.

What a surprise, what a night, what a wonderful thing it is to have people who understand there are always two sides to any story.