My room mate has these obscenely large, mixing-bowl sized salad bowls. They’re clunky to store, but they’re the best size if you love your leafy greens. We both like to have a heaping serving of salads, so it’s just the right size. The bonus feature is that, as she mentioned, you can toss your dressing with your salad in the bowl without worrying about making a mess.
And as with any tiny snippet that she volleys, I always have some random story to tell.
Whenever I go to toss dressing in my salads, I remember the time I worked at TGI Fridays as a waitress… neigh… a “dub dub” in the early 90’s. Prior to my time there, I had been working as a server at Bennigan’s, a place famous for their Monte Cristos which we affectionately called Monte Criscos for all the grease they were deep fried in. Bennigan’s wasn’t a hugely popular spot in Laguna Hills where people didn’t necessarily love deep fried anything, so to make any money, you had to work a lot, picking up shifts or handling multiple stations at once.
Whenever we got to grumbling about how dead it was, some of the servers would talk about waiters that had once worked there and had migrated to the new Fridays across town. They talked about these servers like you talk about the popular kids that left for college. In your early 20’s, anything passes for a hero. We admired these servers for scoring the better location, massive traffic, and all those tips. But getting hired at Fridays was basically saying “I hate Bennigan’s.” It was like some cross town rivalry. Ridiculous, now that I think of it. But at the time, I didn't feel comfortable jumping over there. Most of my friends worked at Bennigan’s and I had begun helping out in the office with scheduling and accounting before the restaurant opened. I hung on as long as I could, until we started getting let go on our scheduled shifts because no one was coming in.
You don’t just get hired at Fridays. You try out. We also had to promise that, if hired, their shifts took priority over Bennigan’s. I jumped out of my skin when I got the call that they wanted me. I went in for Fridays infamous training, which is basically boot camp for dub/dubs. I actually nailed it! I was so excited that I did so well and I started to relax now that I was going to be working at a “better” restaurant, making more money. I was a young single mom with two little girls and an ex who wasn’t always regular with the child support. Tips meant everything to me.
The boot camp and actually being on the floor were very different experiences. One shift is a perfect storm that you just have to get through. If anything is going wrong, you have to fix on the fly or wait until the end of your shift. There was very little time to spare with any inefficiencies. One of those time wasters was having to go back to the kitchen to explain anything. Anything that needed to be said to a cook could be typed into the ticket that would print out on the line, unlike the paper ticket we used to have to hang on a wheel at Bennigan’s. The technology was amazing! But it wasn’t perfect.
If you ever ask your waiter for any change to the thing on the menu, they have to relay that to the kitchen somehow. The old school writing on a ticket is great, as long as you have good handwriting and time to walk it back. But this was Fridays and you basically took a deep breath at the beginning of the shift and didn’t come back up for air until it was all over. Any special instructions would have to be chosen from the options on the POS (Point of Sale), the machine that we placed orders through. It was a fairly comprehensive list of special requests, but it didn’t have everything.
One of my first days, I got an order for a salad one day and the woman at the table wanted her dressing tossed in. No problem. Not a crazy ask at all. But when I went to put the order in, I saw that there was no “toss” option. I looked and looked and looked and then I finally broke down and asked a senior dub/dub. I was told that most of the dub/dubs would just type in “see me” and would run to the kitchen to yell at one of the guys on the line that the salad they just ordered needs to be tossed, usually pantomiming the whole thing before running back out to check on another tables drinks. But I was slammed that day and I just needed to get back out to my tables. One dub/dub suggested I use “scrambled” to explain. I assumed, coming from a server who had been there a while that the suggestion was legit.
Well, the guys in the kitchen were befuddled and that held up the line for a second while they found the manager to complain to. Scrambling was something you do to eggs, not a salad, they said. The restaurant manager (a really grumpy guy, especially during the lunch rush) came over to me at the bar where I was grabbing drinks for some other table, waving the print out in my face, startling the shit out of me, and asked, “What the hell do you mean by scrambled.” I explained. He said, Next time, just say toss. I repeated the part that he obviously missed… the part about how there wasn’t a special instruction option for that.
So I just kept using “scrambled” whenever that request came in, following it up with a quick visit to the line to make sure they got what I meant. I’d sheepishly smile and thank them for my silly little phrasing so they wouldn’t hold up my order so that I could get tipped. FYI: The kitchen is never wrong. You as the server are a piece of shit. Bow before them.
My jaunt down memory lane continued. I started telling my room mate about all the crazy side work we used to have to do. I guess she’s never worked in restaurants, because she had no idea what side work was. She was more concerned that we got paid to do it. We did… but only minimum wage, not tips, and we were there for the tips. So yes, we got paid… but not really. I went on to explain to her that side work is all the crap that magically gets taken care of when nobody’s looking.
Have you ever seen a waiter folding napkins or replacing the salt and peppers or refilling the ketchup bottles so that all the bottles always look full? That’s side work. The list of random tasks that a server might have to do before clocking out at the end of the day is long. Some stores will even have the task of scraping gum off the bottoms of tables on their list of duties.
Side Note: If you’re laughing about sticking your gum underneath a table once or often, I pray you step on fifty LEGO’s tonight.
Fridays used to have a special cleaning day (and probably still do) when we had to arrive an hour before our scheduled shift to do deep cleaning. It’s like, Level 10 side work. I was scheduled on that particular morning, but I completely spaced on the fact that it was cleaning day. When I arrived in time for my shift and saw everyone working, I realized my mistake and the blood instantly rushed down to my feet. My heart started pounding. I had been screwing up a lot the prior two weeks, trying to balance two jobs, school, and a couple of kids. I was only in my early 20’s, so it’s not hard to imagine my overwhelm.
The grumpy manager sensed something was up and in a stern but slightly empathetic tone said, “Maybe this isn’t the right time for you.” He was right of course. Not that I wasn’t a great waitress. You would love for me to be your server, trust me. Super nice… I remember all your special instructions, I make sure your plates look pretty, and I don’t let you sit for a second with an empty glass. But at that moment, I could try to turn it around and be the best side worker and kiss up to the manager and beg to stay, or I could admit that my brain was scrambled and I was fried.
I always imagine how I looked handing over my red striped shirt and walking out the door in tears. Knowing the staff, they probably snickered as I walked away, another casualty who couldn’t cut it. And, for a moment, they felt somehow superior that they showed up, on time, ready to scrape some Hubba Bubba from the bottom of a chair.
Lesson here? If things aren’t working out, it just might not be your time or your place. Walk away and find the thing that is. Also… don’t stick gum under your table or chair. That shit is just gross.