In The Weeds: Necessary Tools . . . Other Than Customers
It may surprise you, dear diner, to learn that we servers are loaded down with a lot more than just plates, glassware and never-ending career doubts. Our pockets are chocked full with tools of our trade, and in general the better the restaurant, the more schwag you gotta carry.
The server uniform worn at The Capital Grille had 5 pockets, not including the pants, just to hold all the stuff required to create a high-end dining experience. They liked to do what they called “uniform checks” at pre-shift meetings to see who actually had thighs strong enough to support the additional weight of the following items:
Minimum of 3 Corporate-Issued Ball Point Pens
Liquor Serving License
Martini Shaker Cap
Lobster Bib Clip
Server Book with Order Pad
EDGE Card (a laminated card outlining the corporate values and mission statement in case you forgot in the middle of your shift what the hell your mission was…..”hmmmm, let’s see…oh yeah! To Nourish and Delight.”)
The uniform itself did exactly what uniforms are supposed to do, which is mainly to blend the server into the background and make him/her invisible. It’s not about us, I get that. It’s about the food and service. But this uniform in particular was so asexual, so void of shape and structure, that upon seeing me in it for the first time my husband declared, “Yep, I’m totally comfortable with you working there. Nobody, I mean nobody, will hit on you in that.” It’s true, complete with boxy tan jacket, button up collar with bow tie and ankle-grazing apron, this Amish-esque uniform only revealed my head and hands (not even neck!) But my, how my husband misjudges the lonely, drunken businessmen whose only requirements are indeed a head and hands.
I went through an entire pregnancy in this uniform, and it wasn’t until about month seven that guests even began to notice. Before that, I guess they just thought I was really digging the lobster mac n’cheese (I was) or that I was just another butter body from the midwest (I was). That jacket made it really hard to discern what exactly was going on under there.
Being pregnant and waiting tables always made me feel really bad for my guests. I didn’t mind the walking or hard work while carrying 40 pounds of pregnancy and 42 pounds of server tools, but here are my guests, out to spend a pant load of money and some waddler comes up to them and says, “Good evening, I’ll be taking care of you tonight.” They shouldn’t have, but it would be hard not to feel simultaneous guilt and resentment as some blimp tries to reach across your booth to clear plates. As a side note, I actually found it a bit easier to carry them with the built-in shelf and all.
One of the best ways to ensure a great tip only presents itself when you are 7 to 9 months preggo. About 10 minutes into service, guests would invariably smile and say in a high voice, “Ohhhh! Are you expecting?” I would deliver a (forgive me) pregnant pause, look them dead in the eye and say, “No. I’m not.”
But the award for “Best Guest Reaction to Pregnancy” goes to a guy in Chicago who stood on the other side of my concierge desk on a late night in Chicago. He and buddies had been tearing up the town all week and were now waiting while I booked them a limo to the casinos. I was nearly 9 months pregnant with my first son, but they couldn’t see the basketball in my black suit behind the tall desk. I hung up the phone and said, “Mr. Daniels, your limo will be on the front drive in 8 minutes. Have a wonderful evening.” Mr. Daniels said, “Hey, you’re closing up shop… come with us!” I said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Daniels, I couldn’t do that. But thank you and have a great time.” Mr. Daniels insisted, “C’mon. Get in the limo, let’s go!” I resisted, “I’m very sorry, but..” Mr. Daniels interrupted, “I will give you one thousand dollars to go with us. Let’s go. One thousand dollars. What’dya say?” I stepped out from behind the desk and said, “Mr. Daniels. I’m sorry, but I’m nine months pregnant.” Without missing a beat, he said, “Okay. Five hundred.”