It’s a busy night at Café Machiavelli and one of the POS computers is down. Forced to share a single terminal, the stress level among the waitstaff is running high. I’ve got several tables to input, but a newbie waiter, hovering over the touch screen as she frantically searches for the right buttons, is blocking my path.
“What’s the holdup?” I ask, trying to filter the frustration out of my voice.
“How do you modify a steak medium well?” the waitress, a sylph of a girl no older than nineteen, begs.
“Touch the ‘Steak Special’ icon first,” I reply.
“Then hit ‘Modify Item.’”
“Then hit ‘Temp.’”
“Then hit ‘Medium Well.’”
“Is that it?”
“Are you finished with the table?” I ask.
“Are they getting anything else?”
“Then exit out,” I say.
“How do you exit out?” the waitress asks.
Groaning inwardly, I hold on to my patience by remembering IT people put up with this kind of shit everyday.
“Hit the button that says ‘Exit,’” I say.
“Now let me in there,” I say. “I’ve got to put in five tables.”
“But I’m not done yet,” the waitress wails.
“How many tables you got left?” I ask.
“Listen,” I say. “Things are nuts tonight. Tell me what you need to order and I’ll put into the computer for you.”
“No,” the girls says, shaking her head. “I’ve got to learn how to do this.”
“I understand you want to learn,” I reply. “But now’s not the time.”
“I wanna do it!”
A lightening bolt of stress flashes from the top of my head to the base of my spine. As my chakras begin to smoke, stomach acid vaults up my esophagus and starts filling my mouth with the taste of regurgitated lunchtime pizza. I’ve got cappuccinos to make and desserts to plate. If I don’t get my orders into the computer soon, I’ll go into the weeds and be destroyed. Swallowing hard, I channel all my frustration into my eyes and unleash my thousand yard waiter stare. The girl’s resistance, predictably, implodes.
“Okay,” the waitress whimpers, “You do it.”
As the girl reads from her order pad, I input the information into the computer. What would have taken her ten minutes takes me only two. Digital generation my ass.
“So,” I ask. “Is everything’s in now?”
“Yes,” the waitress says, sullenly.
“Don’t take it personally,” I say. “You’ll learn the computer when it’s slower. Tonight’s just nuts.”
“You’re doing well,” I say, my voice softening. “It just sucks your first night is so busy. You’ll be okay.”
“Thanks,’ the girl replies.
“If you need help let me now.”
“I will,” the girl replies, a small smile playing on her lips. “Thanks.”
I turn to the POS computer and start inputting my orders. As my fingers fly across the keyboard, a hulking presence reeking of garlic suddenly materializes behind me. It’s Willem, Café Machiavelli’s manager.
“How long you gonna be?” he hisses in my ear.
“I’ve got three more tables to do,” I reply.
“Let me in there. I’m way behind.”
“So am I.”
“I’ve gotta void a credit card receipt too,” Willem huffs. “Let me jump in front of you.”
“Dude,” I reply. “Wait your turn.”
“Why don’t you do as I say?” Willem shouts.
I was a restaurant manager once, and, truth be told, I was famous for cutting in line while other servers waited to use the POS machine. Saying I had an emergency with a customer’s credit card was my usual MO. Sure, maybe this is karma paying me back, but I’m not in the mood to accept life lessons from the universe right now.
“I’ll be done in a minute Willem,” I reply. “Chill out.”
“Goddammit!” Willem shouts, stomping his feet up and down like an angry child, “I need to get in there!”
“You’re having a temper tantrum now?” I reply, not taking my eyes of the touch screen. “Get a grip. Start drinking early or something.”
Willem storms off. I finish putting my orders into the computer, make my cappuccinos, plate my desserts, and run everything out to my tables. I’ve got an extra minute so I help out the food runner, extract a broken cork out of a bottle, recite the specials at one of the new girl’s tables, answer the phone, take a reservation, greet and seat a new table, hang up some coats, and direct an old man to the restroom.
As I head back to my section, I look over at Willem. He won’t speak to me for the rest of the night. I’m not worried. In his early thirties and turning into a drunk, Willem will consume several vodka and tonics, drunkenly grouse about how he’s under appreciated, and then stumble home early – forgetting all about my earlier intransigence. I used to work with drunks and drug addicts. I know how it goes.
I shake my head. I used to help people like Willem. Now I find myself standing on the sidelines secretly rooting for him crash and burn. I’m an asshole like that sometimes, but the restaurant industry is a tough business.
And you get tough with it.