Anxiety Never Sleeps
You can take the girl out of the restaurant… but she’ll still have the nightmares.
I can’t greet my table in time.
From the alley, I’m watching the table in my section be sat by a bubbly teenaged hostess, the patrons settle in, and I secure my apron around my waist. I pull out my book, organize my past tickets, and grab the beverage napkins as I start to walk out of the alley when suddenly, somebody needs me for something urgent. A birthday. To run food. To take something to the bartender.
“I can’t, I need to get to my new table,” I say with a sigh, gazing toward the exit as they pull my arm, leading me in the opposite direction. My napkins fall to the floor for someone else to clean up.
The side quests begin. I clean the ice maker, prep the honey cinnamon butter. Bake some bread, because, why not? Can you clear the dishwasher? The drink station doesn’t have ice. The Coke’s out. The bar needs ice. Can you grab the lemons from the walk-in? When I find there are none, I drag the heavy, stainless steel slicer from the shelf under the counter and hum along to the song coming from the speaker above me. Load the lemon, drop the blade, repeat until the translucent square polypropylene container is full. I nearly forget I have a table waiting for me.
I run, ragged, back and forth across the alley (with the the beverage napkins back in my hand), hoping I can still get to my guests. Somehow, some way. By this time, full minutes have passed. MINUTES! And I am supposed to greet within 30-seconds! They aren’t going to tip me, I just know it.
Then… Finally. I arrive at table 237. This table is the most annoying one to get to. It’s got a real “Shenaniganz" vibe going, with its table and wall decor (IYKYK). It’s up a ramp, in the back of the section. Why couldn’t it be 313, I think, as I round the corner and approach the mound of shells on the floor, because they have already consumed all the peanuts. I say hello, take their drink order, and apologize profusely for my tardiness. They aren’t mad, just annoyed. And I am deeply ashamed. I go back to the alley to fulfill the order but another series of side quests begin once I step foot in the back of the house. Someone needs something, now, and apparently I am the only one who can fulfill the task(s).
I can’t get the drinks to the table in time.
The bartender is making thirty frozen margaritas and daiquiris. Half are virgin! The bane of the bartender’s existence! My table’s draft beer and kid’s chocolate milk is at the bottom of the list, even though it would be easier if I could just walk behind the bar and get them myself… but I don’t want to get fired for such a mistake. Instead, I’ll just get fired for letting my table die of thirst!
I round the corner with my finally completed tray of drinks only to either run into a co-worker who didn’t shout “CORNER!” or I slip on lemon wedge. The tray goes flying, glass breaks near the drink station… which means, yes, you guessed it: I have to empty the entire ice bank, clean it out thoroughly, and then and only then can we refill it with ice and continue using it. Everyone is mad at me and the other drink station now has a line. I’m sorry, I wail, as I empty scoop after scoop of contaminated ice into the nearest sink.
Of course, I can’t do anything more efficient than this, so it takes entirely too long to finish. But finally, I do.
I reassemble my tray. I get new drinks from the bar. And I’m finally heading up the ramp back to 237. Thank goodness I had the foresight to grab another basket of bread — they are starving — and crayons because the child is starting to throw a tantrum, who dries his eyes once I hand over the new pack and a fresh sheet to create more art.
I can’t take down their order in time.
I go around the table and each person at this four-top has at least six questions about the menu. Even the child! It’s like a pop quiz and I try to keep my smile plastered across my face as I get increasingly more stressed out by their inquiries. “No, you’re fine! It comes with two sides, just like the rest of the entrees. No, it’s fine, take your time! I’m not going anywhere,” I say with a wink, knowing if I could walk out the door and never look back, I would. I point to where the wall meets the table when they try to hand me the menus and tell them I’ll get their order squared away.
I trip on my shoelace down the ramp, embarrassing myself in front of half of the bar and at least four co-workers. I get to the computer (a very dirty POS with barbecue sauce smeared across it from the last server to use it) to enter their order, only to find my code has expired — somehow — and I need to get a manager to finish this part of the job. I feel the lump in my throat rise, but there’s no time for tears! Finally, the order is placed, and I can rest but only for a moment. Because their salads are the only thing that comes out in a timely manner. I stroll back to the kitchen and roll my shoulders.
I can’t deliver the rest of their food in time.
The minutes tick by. Fourteen… Fifteen… Sixteen… My ticket is never called. The sides are dead; the steak fries have gone cold and the cheese on top of the kid’s broccoli sitting under the heat lamps is now waxy. I desperately call for fresh sides — all seven of them. I have to defend myself to the line cooks. It’s not my fault, I exclaim, slamming my hands down on the steel countertop. The person running expo tells me to get out of their way and I sulk by the salad station, waiting for my table’s food to be prepped and watching everyone else’s go out the door.
The steaks meant to be medium-rare will be well-done by the time they pass to through the window to the expo station. The chicken will be dry, inedible. The new sides are mediocre, at best. I just know the table is going to be pissed and I’m going to have to get the manager to comp the entire meal… and I won't make a dime off this whole ordeal. I ruined their one night out and knowing they only get one per month breaks my heart! They all get free desserts, which I also can’t deliver in time. I feel horrible. I hang my head and walk back into the alley, ready to clock out and end this horrific shift. But I can’t because the dinner rush just began…
I turn the corner and see there’s a line at the drink station, the salad station, the restroom, the bar. Then, I’m cleaning something else up in the alley. Clearing out the ice bank again. Changing the lines on the Coke and the lemonade. Heading to the walk-in to tap a new keg. Taking glass racks to the bartenders. Helping someone run food to their table… instead of taking care of my section.
It repeats, on a loop. I’m always stuck in the alley, unable to get to my table. Doing things for everyone else in the kitchen. Never getting anything done in a timely manner. All. Night. Long.
I wake up in a cold sweat, annoyed by the fact that I would never not get to a table in a timely manner or deliver drinks quickly! I was a great server, dammit! I whisper, waking my sleeping husband. He assures me I am right, reminding me I haven’t worked in a restaurant for over fifteen years and we fall back into a slumber... just in time for my anxiety dreams to begin again.
This time, I’m in the coffeehouse and the steamer on the espresso machine just stopped working and there’s a line out the door…
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