Sunday, September 2, 2012


     I like giving specials to tables.

     Of course, by the 20th iteration of these babies, I'm a bit glazed over, glancing forlornly out the window at the darkened street, the sound of my voice in my own ears a muffled "wah, wah, wa, wa, wah," ala adult-speak in a Peanuts cartoon. I may, at this point, receive similarly disinterested looks by late-night guests, who are planning to order soup and salad anyways, but I am not deterred. Specials form an important part of my arsenal as a server:

     1) By convincing a table they may wither into frail agedness if they do not choose the healthy wild salmon option, at 27 dollars, vs. the butter-drenched noodles at 16 bucks, I can drastically raise my check averages

     2) I get to "do" something at my table, make eye contact with my guests, and establish myself as a friendly presence: "Hi, here I am," arms gesticulating. "I'm telling you about sexy food! Like me!" This amounts to better tip percentages, plus if the kitchen decides to do something silly like, say, lose their order, my table is much more likely to be gracious about it

     3) I liberally use foo-foo foodie lingo in describing glazes and preparations, and show off second-language skills by correctly pronouncing non-English terms. Again, my table won't as easily think I'm a total idiot and blame me for any hiccup in their dining experience

     Occasionally a guest will manage to derail me from my mission to grace their ears with talk of gremolata and braises. I'll approach a deuceit's almost always a two-top who does this and begin to introduce myself.

     "Hello, may I-"

     "We are ready to order."


     I have a few different options at this fork in the road. With seven or so tables behind me waiting, I can stop what I'm doing, give specials, and put myself behind with all the other things I have to do now. I've discovered that 99% of time these "Impatients," as I like to call them, do not order specials, as they are looking for a quick bite on a way to a movie, so I'm wasting my breath. My second option is to kindly let them know that I have other tables who have been waiting to order, but I could get them started with a beverage and be right back. "Control your tables, don't let them control you," is server knowledge 101.

     Or, the easiest option, and one I'll take if I'm far too busy, is order-follow-robot,  which is to say "OK" and take their order quickly, no questions asked, and no specials given; I get their order in ahead of the more relaxed diners and I don't have to deal with their pants being in a wedge later on when movie time approaches.

     Unfortunately, this short-cut method backfired on me recently. The moment of embarrassment came at the end of the meal, when I approached a couple of Impatients and presented dessert menus.

     "Do you have anything special?" the woman asked.

     "Well everything we have tonight is listed on the menu, but we make all of our desserts in house"

     "No, I mean your dinner specials. We heard someone talking about the specials at another table."

     I stared, unable to talk because the first five explanations that came to mind were not polite.

     "I'm sorry," I offered. Cutters. I got quadruple sat; you were last to sit down, yet you snuck your order in first.

     "Haha, busted," the guy actually said.

     "Can we hear them?"

     "Excuse me?" I said.

     "Yes, we'd like to hear them."

     I've been a server long enough that the angrier I get, the more stone-faced I become. A homeless person could have been taking a dump in the bushes outside the window in front of me at that moment and my face wouldn't have flinched. I had an incredibly busy station behind me, with tables that needed real things, not just something to fuck with me; Thinking they were cute and clever to mess with the server. I had no recourse, because I couldn't even put into words what had led them to be special-less that evening without further offending them.

     I stretched my face into something that may have resembled a cheerful look and gave them the damn specials. An over-the-top rendition, with no ingredient left out, a full account of how the chef was preparing and plating each dish. If I had to waste my life in this exercise they would have to suffer through it.

     Once this detailed account was finished, I dropped the dessert menus in front of each of them without another word. I barely said anything else beyond "thank you" when dropping off their check, as there was nothing to say. They tipped ten percent and surely left feeling that they'd shown their idiot server a thing or two.

     This uncomfortable incident stayed in my thoughts, leaving me to question my methodology. I mean, it is kind of fucked up that I categorize people so quickly, always looking for the fastest way between point A and B. Every table is unique, and I should be taking more time to get to know them. But, oh wait My station size ranges from 6-8 tables inside, with additional tables on the patio when it's warm, and we almost always run a wait list on weekends. If I treated every stingy deuce as though they were extra "special," I'd be screwing myself, and the restaurant, ultimately.

     Nevertheless...the next day at work I didn't just sell specials I practically humped the side of tabletops in my enthusiasm. "You want sexy food? I'll give you sexy food." I sure made a lot of customers happy that night.

submit to reddit


  1. That is just great writing! Fantastic inside look from the server side of the table. Your last line had me laughing out loud, "I practically hummped the side of tabletops in my enthusiasm." There should be Hall of Fame for lines like that. Perfect, ... incredibly funny, and also captures spot-on a crucial truth about customer/server interplay. Damn, I do enjoy your writing. :)

  2. Thanks Mike!
    I want to file this one under "why I'm sometimes bad at my job." No matter how experienced I am, my customers still find ways to mess with my head and make me feel like crap- I was trying to capture that feeling here