Confessions of a (very) Bad Waitress
As I traverse the rocky road of waitressing on the Sunshine Coast in Australia I thought you might like to hear some tales of hospitality-based woe. During our time in Coolum I have been working at the local Beach Bistro at the end of every week and occasional shifts at the fish and chip shop. I never thought I'd leave Australia with an entirely new skill set in salting chips but it's happened and I'm grateful. I'm also a dab hand at wrapping, if I may say so myself. Life at the Bistro is sadly not so successful. This isn't my first foray into the world of hospitality, I had a stint in South Africa five years ago but I quickly learnt that the industry just wasn't for me. I'd find myself getting jealous of the guests having a merry fun time and then feeling bitter when it came to me clearing it all up. An acute sense of FOMO + a dislike of dirty napkins = someone not cut out for life in hospitality. Reading back through my travel journal, I chose a few entries which really paint a good picture of my working Australian life and lack of motor skills. I wish I could say that these diary entries didn't happen but they really did, and with every morsel of food that went astray I lost a little part of my dignity with it.
Friday 12th April - This evening - I'm not sure why, or how - my thumb keeps finding itself wedged in the side of everybody's steaks. It must happen at some point during transit. After I've laid the plate down on the table I scarper so that I can't be questioned about the large thumb-shaped indents.
Saturday 13th April - I'm having the same problem, except not just with steaks. The invasive thumb is claiming a spot in OTHER meals too. It really can't have looked good when I delivered a customer's meal and brought my thumb away from the plate dripping with garlic prawn sauce.
Sunday 14th April - BAD NIGHT. I dropped two ribs on a lady's lap this evening. I'm not sure if it's better or worse that they'd already been eaten.
Pros - it was all chewed up to the bone, only exposing dry scraggly bits, so there was no sticky marinade left
Cons - They weren't from her table
Saturday 20th April - Tonight I have my first attempt at carrying three dishes. I throw myself into the deep end and attempt to pick up three dirty plates from a table. My reasoning is that they're nice and light and the chefs can't get cross with me if I drop them. Unfortunately, I'm only on plate two when a dirty fork slides straight off the plate and stabs a man in the thigh. Luckily he, and the rest of his twelve-person table laugh it off. Not one to be deterred, I have a second attempt about forty five minutes later. This time I clip a child on the shoulder and lose a bowl.
Sunday 21st April - A quiet evening, so I try my hand (pardon the pun) at the three plate trick once again. After twenty attempts of carrying three plates out of the kitchen - all ending in me begging anyone nearby to take one off me - I have a successful trip. I carry three plates full of food to a table and am just in the process of smugly delivering all of them when I realise I've lost an entire ramekin of salad en route.
Thursday 25th April - If there's one thing I've learnt since becoming a waitress, it's that there's an open market for plates with grips. I don't mean grips for holding the plate, although that would be helpful. I mean grips on the upside of a plate so that food stays in place. This evening, feeling flamboyant, I accidentally passed a plate at an over-jaunty angle and the entire portion of chips slid straight off and onto the floor, bouncing off three different pairs of shoes.
Friday 26th April - Thoughts whilst polishing cutlery:
I reckon that I'm (almost) bottom of the hospitality food-chain. I'm plankton and the kitchen porters are krill. This is an apt metaphor because the dish washers' hands look like they've been in the ocean for about 5,000 years. How do I know I'm plankton? I am permanently assigned to polishing cutlery. It's my bag. I am not the first (or fifteenth) choice waitress to assist a table in need, but if there's a rack full of cutlery... I like to think I've got just the right touch to bring a sparkle to that silver. I know my ratio of hot water to vinegar all right, and I know exactly which cloth to use to get that shine.
Sunday 27th April - Sometimes you are tired and you are hungry. Sometimes big bowls of chips return from customer's tables untouched. 2+2=4. I think you know what I am saying here.
Monday 28th April - A one off shift at the BEGINNING of the week! Mixing things up! Halfway through my shift I notice a new sign on the staff whiteboard which reads: "Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES are staff to eat returned food". Damn.
Saturday 4th May - I am promoted to bar-tender! One of my first orders is a "lime, lemonade and gin", and I forget to put in everything except the ice and lemonade.
Friday 10th May - I am back behind the bar trying to separate two glasses which have been stacked inside each other when they both smash in my hands. Luckily I am not hurt apart from a paper-like cut on my third left finger. I'm cool. I'm breezy. A tiny bit of blood trickles down my finger. It's a papercut, it's a papercut, it's smaller than a papercut. To my embarrassment and confusion (it literally IS a papercut) I begin to get whoozy and start to faint. I'm carried away from the bar outside by two members of staff in a VERY dramatic fashion. I'm hysterically shoving my finger in the air trying to communicate that I REALLY AM FINE when I vomit, faint, gag and faint again. A favourite moment is when I finally head back to the bar and my supervisor says with concern "Have you managed to stem the blood flow?". I don't tell her that it bled for 3 seconds and looks as if it is healed already.
*For the next five days I insist on wearing a blue latex glove on my injured hand because I'm a drama queen and also totally pathetic.
Sunday 12th May - I turn up at the fish and chip shop in my blue glove and I'm busy minding my own business when someone cuts their thumb chopping lemons. My thumb - completely healthy and uninjured, begins to tingle and sting inside the glove and I feel a bit sick. I AM EXPERIENCING PHANTOM CUT THUMB and I am being more dramatic than the guy who actually has the cut.
Friday 17th May - Tonight I polished cutlery for ONE AND A HALF HOURS
Saturday 18th May - Back behind the bar and tonight there's a Jackson 5 tribute band. They've given things a Mexican spin which is interesting. Everyone's looking merry and a fun-loving woman comes up and orders a double Kahlua (coffee liqueur) and milk. In Australia there are quite strict drinking laws and bartenders have to get a license to serve alcohol. If someone orders a 'double', you must serve them one single with a mixer and give the other shot in a separate shot glass on the side. 'Blame it on the Boogie' is blasting and I am having a toe tappin' knee thumpin' good time and get a bit confused. Instead of giving this woman a shot of Kahlua in milk and an extra shot of Kahlua on the side, I pour a double shot of Kahlua into the milk and give her a whole extra glass of milk. She downs her double Kahlua and milk at the bar and stumbles off back to the dance floor clutching a glass of pure milk. My mistake only dawns on me as I watch her dancing away sloshing milk all over her friends.
Sunday 19th May - Today I have my first attempt at carrying a 2-way 1-bowl PLATTER. This is a whole different ball game to three plates. These platters are RECTANGULAR and there's a bowl involved, so I must reassess everything. I have made it to the table and things are going well until I drop the small bowl of wings onto a man's head. Luckily the bowl doesn't actually make contact (that would hurt and cause injury), just a few harmless buttery chicken sticks.
Saturday 25th May - Reach a new low today. There's a big wedding function outside and I'm monitoring the area to make sure everything's alright as the event wraps up. I find myself monitoring the 3 tier pile of cupcakes. They came from the kitchen so I know that there are a WHOLE HOST of cupcake options: strawberry flavour, chocolate flavour, gluten free, vegan and they all look so cutesy with their icing. I'm just scanning the room when I see two perfect intact cupcakes in THE BIN. One minute I'm by the door smiling politely as people pass, the next I'm stashing two cupcakes into my apron. It's a messy squeeze. No regrets.
Sunday 26th May - Turns out I don't know the difference between a rump and a rib fillet. Cue very confused conversation between me and an elderly gentleman:
"Here's your rump sir"
"Did you just say rump?"
"I sure did sir! Enjoy your meal!"
"I didn't order a rump! I ordered a rib fillet!"
"Oh! Ah... yes... there's your rib fillet"
"You just said it was a rump"
"Uhhm...yes...so I did... but if you ordered a rib fillet then that must be that!"
"Why did you say rump then?"
[confused conversation continues] I apologise and offer to go back to the kitchen to check but the elderly gentleman is hell-bent on knowing why I mistook his rib fillet for a rump. He's busy turning accusatory ("do they serve rumps as rib fillets here?") until one of the duty managers passes by, confirms that it is a rib fillet, tells me we don't serve plain rumps and apologises to the table, telling them that I'm new. I don't tell her I started over 7 weeks ago.
Thursday 30th May - Absolutely nailing this evening. Successfully executed four 3-plate carries and I've not dropped even a lettuce leaf. I'm just delivering two bowls of chips and a precariously balanced pot of tartare to a couple when the tartare rolls off and hits the floor. Turns out tartare REALLY travels. It's splattered the table, an empty chair, the nearby carpet and a gentleman's bearded chin.
That tartare explosion marked my last ever shift - at least I can say I went out with a bang.