“Hello and welcome,” I greet my new table, a prosperous looking couple in their fifties. “And how are you this evening?”
“What are the specials?” the woman says, not gracing me with eye contact as she rummages through her purse.
“I’m sorry madam,” I reply. “I haven’t gotten the specials from the chef yet.”
“You’re kidding!” the woman says, speaking into her cavernous handbag. I want to know the specials now.
The chef tells us the specials at 5:30.
That’s ridiculous, the womans husband blurts, finally looking at me. Its 5:10.
“We have to wait almost half an hour?” the woman whines, turning to her husband. “I think I want to eat somewhere else Bob.”
Can you ask the chef to tell you the specials now?” the husband asks.
“I’ll try sir, I reply,” knowing its a fools errand.
I walk back to the kitchen. Javier, one of the biggest assholes I’ve ever had the displeasure to work with, sneers at me when I walk in the door.
“Whatchu want pendejo?” he asks.
“I want you to tell your wife to quit bothering me,” I answer. “I’m not into transsexuals.”
“You think You’re funny maricon?”
“I know I’m funny Javier,” I reply. “Where’s Guillermo? I need to get the specials.”
“I don’t know where he is,” Javier says, waving me away. “Find him yourself.”
I exit the kitchen and don’t bother looking for Guillermo. He’s probably at his apartment taking a dump. Guillermo has a phobia about using the restaurants bathrooms and likes to go home to use the toilet. I can’t blame him. If you saw the staff bathroom you’d understand. I return to my table to deliver the bad news.
“I am sorry,” I say. “The chefs at the farmers market picking up fresh herbs for tonights specials. We expect him back in a few minutes.”
“Really?” the husband exclaims.
“Yes sir,” I reply. “The chef takes his specials very seriously.”
“Wow!” the wife exclaims. “We’ll wait.”
“Very good madam,” I say. “I’ll return when I know the specials.”
“Thank you waiter.”
I walk away from the table, knowing my customers are entertaining some grandiose foodie vision of a white coated chef waltzing though an open air market, lovingly picking out herbs for their consumption as opera music plays triumphantly in the background. If they knew that Guillermo was home straining out an infant sized bowel movement, busting his temporal vein in the process, it would fuck ’em up for life.
A few minutes later I spy Guillermo sneaking in the back door, his arms are laden with glossy looking cookbooks. I want to ask him if that’s his bathroom reading material but stop myself. Even I don’t want to know.
Guillermo and the head waiter huddle for several minutes and go over the specials. In this restaurant the chef never tells us the waiters specials directly — That’s a job for underlings. The head waiter laboriously writes down all the specials, double checks them with Guillermo, and calls the waiters over to repeat the process.
“I hope we don’t have the short ribs again,” Gunter says. “They sold like shit last week.”
“Who eats short ribs at an Italian Restaurant?” Carmela chirps. “Who thinks up that kind of shit?”
“Fucking fusion cuisine,” Gunter grunts.
I like Gunter. A career waiter, his strong Germanic features remind me of a Wehrmacht soldier from those old WWII newsreels – after the surrender at Stalingrad that is. A battle hardened restaurant veteran, Gunter looks like hes seen everything. His thousand yard stare even scares me.
“Sushi’s next,” I say under my breath.
“Enough talking,” the head waiter says. “Listen up. For appetizers we have the roasted corn fritters with gorgonzola cheese and jalapeño.”
“So we’re a Mexican restaurant tonight,” Gunter snickers.
“How about selling tacos?” Carmela suggests.
“Yeah,” Gunter says, “I bet you’d like to hustle that fish taco of yours amiga.”
“Fuck you,” Carmela says, laughing.
“Enough!” the head waiter snaps, trying to maintain order. “We’ve got a lot of specials to go over. Pay attention.”
We listen and scribble the specials down in our dupe pads. When the head waiter finishes we have twenty-one specials from every type of cuisine imaginable.
“What the fuck?” Gunter groans. “Did Guillermo just get his copy of Gourmet Magazine?”
“No,” I say. “But I saw him walk in with a bunch of cookbooks.”
“He probably took em out of the library,” Gunter replies. “He does shit like that. That’s why were having endive marmalade served with everything tonight.”
“Mira!” Carmela says. “Endive marmalade? I don’t even know what that is.”
“Would someone please pass the jelly?” I chuckle.
“How the hell do you expect the customers to remember twenty-one specials?” Gunter asks the head waiter.
“Sell those specials,” the head waiter says, ignoring Gunter. “Push the short ribs. You guys didn’t do a good job selling them last week.”
“Why can’t we print the specials up for the customers?” Taylor, a trainee waitress asks. “So they could remember them all?”
“Because,” the head waiter replies haughtily, “This is a fancy place.”
Fancy place my ass. If You’re eating out and it takes twenty minutes for the waiter to recite the specials – be wary. If a restaurant offers a million items the odds are good they cant cook any of them well. Many places think having a large list of specials is impressive. It isn’t. Its the mark of amateur restaurateurs everywhere.
“You still didn’t answer my question,” Gunter says, glaring at the head waiter.
“Sell, sell, sell!” the head waiter says, still ignoring Gunter. “Get those check averages up!”
I sigh to myself. The head waiter funnels most of the big spenders into his extra large section while the dregs get sent to new waiters like Taylor and me. While the head waiter has twelve tables in his section, Taylor and I have three or four. The systems rigged so only the people who kiss the head waiters ass make any money.
“Can I have more than three tables?” I ask. “Then I could get my average up.”
“Less talking,” the head waiter says waving his finger at me. “You need to sell more desserts before we can talk about you having a bigger section.”
I shut my mouth. The head waiter here is a joke. A patronizing small timer who’s only interested in protecting his little slice of empire, I’ve discovered its no use arguing with him. I need to find another job.
I sigh deeply and get up from the table. I walk over to the table that’s been fantasizing about the specials and rattle through the entire list.
“How do you expect us to remember all that?” the wife asks.
“I’m sorry madam,” I reply. “I know its a lot of information. I’ll be happy to repeat the list.”
“Now I’m confused,” the woman says, looking befuddled. Something tells me confusion is this womans natural state.
“I’ll give you a few minutes to decide,” I say, departing the table.
As I walk back towards the waiter station I see Guillermo sipping an espresso. He’s a nice enough guy and, to be fair, I’ve never eaten his cooking.
“Hey Guillermo,” I say.
“The people on 43 were impatient to get the specials so I told them you were at the farmers market getting some fresh herbs.”
“That’s some creative bullshit my friend.”
“Creative bullshits my middle name.”
“I was home using my bathroom,” Guillermo says. “I can’t get comfortable here.”
“That’s what I figured. Just don’t tell them that.”
“Hey,” Guillermo grumbles. “I washed my hands.”
The chef finishes his espresso and walks away. I spend the rest of the shift guiding attention deficit disordered customers though a maze of specials. The night would’ve gone much smoother if Guillermo had stayed in that bathroom.
Fancy place my ass.