This story was originally posted on: February 05, 2010
I've often had people ask me about my days in retail hell. Before becoming an RN (which has it's own special kind of hell) I've worked in retail, restaurants, and call centers. I tell people I will never ever become a waitress again. While I sometimes long for the days of having a pocketful of cash on a Friday night, you can't pay me enough to work as a waitress again. I've had people ask me how come? Well....it's a long story but here it goes:
While going to school to become an RN, I worked at a restaurant. A chain restaurant that I will not name.
I had just finished the last day of three grueling days of nursing finals. I was tired. I didn’t get off work till 11pm. I’d been up since 5 am. I had to be in to see my college adviser the next morning at 7:30 am to sign up for next semesters classes. I also had to fill out paper work to renew four of my scholarships. Not only was I working late, but I had to be up early the next day.
This man came in to celebrate his girlfriend's birthday. She was lovely, smiled a lot didn’t say much, but had noticeably astounding fake breasts. He was nasty, grumpy, angry. He was determined to be a real bastard, and a bit smelly too.
I took down elaborate instructions to enable the bartender to prepare his favorite drink, which ended up being some horrific concoction of cranberry juice, melon liquor and something blue.
He made me take a couple of these back because the bartender failed to make them horrid enough. The bartender, the wait staff and I tasted the blue stuff and it was as nasty as it smelled. The bartender-poor her. She gagged and coughed on the stuff for ten minutes. Finally, he accepted the drinks with much criticism of our bartenders ability to prepare said horrid blue crap.
Criticism continued throughout the meal. The menu was crap, he didn't like anything on it. The room was too cold so I turned up the heat. The room was too hot so I turned down the heat. He didn't like this table. I moved him three times. He didn't like this table either. It was 8pm on a Saturday night with a college basketball game that ended at 7:30 so there weren’t that many choices in the way of tables.
He wanted me to recommend a wine. I did. Several options, several price points, he chose one, he hated it. He said our wine was gross. I took the wine back. I sent our night wine director over. He suggested a wine. This wine was also "Gross. Are you trying to rip us off?" He decided to stick with his horrid blue cocktails.
He ordered a tenderloin for his main course. His girlfriend ordered a shrimp salad. The beef arrived. He asked for horseradish. I asked the chef. Doc said no, we didn’t have any horseradish. We were out until our Sunday afternoon delivery (this was a Saturday night.) So I relayed the information. The customer stared at me in what I hoped was disappointment. I should have known it was the look of complete insanity.
He freaked out. His meal was ruined, his day was ruined, his girlfriend's birthday was ruined, his horrid blue drink was ruined. His entire life was possibly ruined. The restaurant was gross, it was screwed, I was a moron. I took the biggest deep breath I ever took. I wanted to smack him at that point, but I didn’t.
Could we bring him another condiment? Mustard? Hot pepper oil? Deep fried dishwasher? Could we prepare something else for him? Anything? Anything at all?
As he went on with his rant, I got a stroke of inspiration. I fled next door to the tiny little drugstore and its even smaller, sad little grocery aisle. Which was nothing more than two small, wobbly shelves, almost dangerously over packed with over priced travel sized toothpaste, trial size deodorant, peanut butter, grape jelly and bread.
There, in all its glory, wedged somewhere in between the plastic sporks and a box of 18 count six ounce Dixie cups, was a small four ounce bottle of horseradish. That small little bottle cost me $4.19. I sighed. I could have gotten a bottle of the stuff three times as big at Safeway for $2.89.
I purchased the blasted horseradish with my own hard earned tip money while my other perfectly lovely tables languished under the watchful eye of my non-English speaking Hispanic busboy. I tried to send him for the horseradish but after much explanation was afraid he'd come back with a jumbo box of cornflakes or a 24 hour wear lipstick in deep rose.
I returned some fifteen minutes later, sweating, out of breath, triumphant. I held the small, sad little bottle in all its splendid glory up to the man. "I found some Horseradish sir."
But he refused the horseradish. It was too late. His meal was ruined. I was an idiot. This place was a dump. He went on and on. At that point I lost it. I really lost it. I was at my breaking point, and I went nuts.
I apologized for ten full minutes. I apologized for myself, for the restaurant, for the chef, and for the owners. I apologized for the tables and the table makers and the tile makers who make wobbly tables possible. I apologized for the heating systems and the fans and the lights and the napkins and the glass makers and the linen makers and the silverware designers and my hairdresser who colored my hair. I apologized for the length of time it took me to run to the store, and for my parents who didn't spawn a faster runner. I apologized for the farmers who grew the vegetables and the geneticists who created the cow that gave birth to the calf that became his overcooked steak. I apologized for western civilization and for bread and for chairs and for the class structure and for the demand for service jobs, the current economy and apologized until I couldn't any more. Until I couldn't think of anything else.
Then I left. I left my other tables, I left my Hispanic busboy, I took off my apron, took off my trendy red tie and left. Then I went home, turned off my phone and drank on some vodka from my freezer (nothing blue).
And this is why I will never, ever work as a waitress again.