Vodka & Voltaire

It’s eight o’clock on Saturday night when I belly up to the bar of a TGI Friday’s restaurant near my house. (I don’t want to hear any shit from you foodies.) After a long day spent cleaning, doing laundry, and food shopping, the last thing I want to do is cook.

“Hey there,” the shapely blonde bartender greets me, her corporate mandated smile firmly glued to her face. “Would you like to try one of our premium margaritas?”

“No thanks,” I reply. “I already know what I want.”

“You sure?” the bartender asks, her voice lowering a few seductive octaves. “They’re really good.” I’ll bet that vocal maneuver’s corporate mandated too.

“I’m sure they’re delicious,” I reply. “But I just want a dirty Absolut martini on the rocks.”

“No problem.”

As the young bartender turns around to fix my drink I admire her backside. She has a nice one. That doesn’t surprise me. Most female bartenders have nice figures. Sex sells in the restaurant industry – especially where the sale of liquor is concerned. Some restaurants even go so far as to ask for full length body photos before accepting resumes from potential waitstaff. If I ever had to submit photographs to a prospective employer, I’d never have waited a table in my life. Let’s face it, when I was on Oprah I looked like the waiter who ate Cleveland.

“Would you like me to shake that for you?” the bartender asks, turning back towards me.

For a second I wonder if the cute bartender’s engaging in a little double entendre. Then I realize, since I was just ogling her rear end, that the sexual emphasis is self generated and mine alone. Too bad.

“That’s be great,” I reply. “And I like my martini really dirty. So extra olive juice please.”


As I watch the bartender pour olive juice out of the plastic condiment holder into my drink, I mourn the fact that I’m not having the “Well Mannered Dirty Martini” that the Cheesecake Factory puts out. Made with Ketel One vodka and and blue cheese stuffed olives, that drink’s an alcoholic wonder to behold. And the bartenders at the Cheesecake Factory don’t use the olive juice a dozen fingers have been dipped in. They have a special squeeze bottle for just that purpose. That’s class with a capital C. I used to have a patron at my old restaurant who loved that cheesy dirty drink just as much as I did. Whenever he came in I’d fashion him one using olives hand stuffed with Gorgonzola cheese. The guy was so grateful that he always left me a great tip. Sigh. Sometimes I miss those days.

“Here’s your drink, sir,” the bartender says, setting my martini down on a coaster. The olives have pimentos in them.

“Thank you.”

“Oh no!” the bartender cries out.

“What’s the matter?” I ask.

“I gave you four olives!”

I count the olives impaled on my drink stirrer. Sure enough, there are four of them.

“So what?” I ask.

“An even number of olives is bad luck.”

“I worked in restaurants for nine years,” I reply. “I never heard that one.”

“That’s what the bartenders I trained with told me.”

“That’s just crazy superstition.”

“Would you like a fifth olive, sir?” the bartender asks.


“So you’ll have good luck.”

“If I gave you a even twenty as a tip,” I reply. “Would that be bad luck?”

“No, sir.”

“Then I think I’ll survive.”

The bartender shrugs and gives me a “It’s your life look.” As she walks away, I take a long pull on my drink. As I feel the effects of the vodka course through my system I think about superstitions and the anxieties that drive them. “Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy,” Voltaire once wrote. “The mad daughter to a wise mother.” I wonder what the great Enlightenment philosopher’s opinion on olives and bad luck would have been.

Then again, he’d have probably jumped the cute bartender.


Vodka & Voltaire — 59 Comments

  1. Be careful with the dirtiness! I’ve heard that 90% of the olive juice found in the garnish containers have rat feces.

    …and that ain’t superstition, just a great rumor…

  2. I’ve always followed the odd numbers rule with martinis; I was trained that it counts with stirs as well (and they should be anticlockwise), but, uh, that’s one of those things I guess you’re not going to be able to taste, so I’ve never been very concerned. Always with the odd number of olives though (it looks better in the bottom of a V glass, too)

  3. I hate it when people pass on their superstitions because I always remember them and then have the issue of “do I obey it or not”

    Like when someone told me it was bad luck to have the volume level on my car radio set on an odd number.

    I don’t wanna believe it but damn I always set it to even now.


  4. Contrary to the last commenter, I LOVE superstitions. Have you ever noticed how perilously close they come to sounding like what you hear in church sometimes?

  5. I think maybe that the olive rule is a superstition that chain restaurants pass on, so that you end up making drinks *exactly* how they’re mandated. I worked at an Applebees and have heard that before

  6. I used to drink “lemon water” at work, which means paying 10 cents for a cup of tap water, ice, and a few slices of lemon. Ever since I read an article about all the crap that comes with the sliced lemons, and how they are handled by dirty hands, I resumed to plain iced water….I love dirty martinis though, can’t give up the olives :)

  7. Superstition… or simply fun little bar talk. We barmaids love to banter across our bars. We have such a tough job… make the drinks, keep conversation flowing and innocently flirt with the boys. Dirty hands? I would hope that my fellow colleagues take pride in their environment and respect for their clientel.

  8. Anybody whose book is on the NYT best sellers list shouldn’t have to do his own cleaning and laundry. Loosen up and pass some of the loot along.

  9. Pingback: Superstition is to Religion What Astrology is to Astronomy | The Minority Report

  10. I have heard that cheese stuffed olives &/or peppers are great in martinis but I just cant seem to make myself try cheese in my drink….

  11. I used to work at the cheesecake factory and even though the olive juice may have been in a squeeze bottle behind the bar, rest assured dirty hands were in it at some point. That was the dirtiest resturant I have ever worked at. I even had to call osha on them because they decided to make the employee breakroom the loading dock next to the trash. After having worked there, I will never eat there again. And everyone do yourself a big favor and don’t eat the bread they deliver to the table. It’s dirty and contaminated with 1000 filthy unwashed hands.

  12. Starr01 — why not? you like cheese with your drink, right? Why not try a drink with cheese in it? I’ve never heard of it either, but it sounds like it may be worth a taste…

  13. Hehe, they say the more expensive the restaurant, the dirtier it is inside. I wonder if ‘Waiter’ has experienced this. I once was hired to repaint the kitchen walls in a Del Taco. That place was cleaned to spotless perfection at the end of each day and that includes behind the tables and in all nooks and crannies. Whereas I once was hired to paint the walls of the kitchen at a high end resort near the coast. There was food all over the floor with tons of mold growing on it. In some places, the moldy chunks floated in a sticky slime that was under everything. I moved the fridge and found a rat trap in which the bait had molded away and just left a dark black stain blob behind so it must have been there for months or more. I kicked the trap to the side of the hall and for the 2 days I worked there, no one ever even cleaned or moved that trap, just stepped around it. I had to use plastic on the floor because I could not allow my tarps to be contaminated with the stink and rot. Rotten food in the fridge as well, it was disgusting. Then they put all the done food on pretty linens and wheeled it out to the fancy dining room…

  14. Mmmmmm, dry, dirty vodka martini… Mmm.

    I’ve heard of the ‘odd number of olives’ thing, but I can’t remember where. I’ve also heard that an odd number of coffee beans in sambuca is not only good luck, but also means you’re welcome to return to the establishment that served you.

    Best dirty martini I’ve ever had was at Meridian 42 in the Outer Banks – and they had a squeeze bottle for the olive juice, too.

    And nothing wrong with a chain restaurant if they have what you want. My fav pub is a chain – a small chain, but a chain nonetheless.

  15. I know this is pretentious of me: I always like the idea of having a dirty martini, but I am not at all a fan of olives. Because of this, I opt for the more “fru-fru” drinks, and I am reasonably sure I am much less of a sophisticate for it.

  16. First time reading and I love it. I have never heard the thing about the even number of olives but I am not a dirty martini kind of girl either so…but I do agree that you shouldn’t be doing your own laundry and cleaning. Get a maid for goodness sake. :)

  17. I’m part Japanese, and I’m used to things like tea sets being sold with the components in odd numbers – i.e. as a teapot and five cups. Four is not auspicious because the word for death and four is “shi”, and they sound the same. The word for nine sounds like the one for pain and suffering. Maybe she was trained by people of Asian background? I grew up with it so I never knew any different.

  18. I’ve bartended on and off in Texas for the last five years and I’ve heard this superstition about olives several times.

  19. I don’t think he would have jumped her.

    I know he said ‘Once a Philosopher, Twice a Pervert’, but once you’ve been in a gay orgie, its pretty hard for me to imagine you being with a woman.

  20. I used to be a goalie when I played hockey. Goalies are pretty much one of the most superstitious groups of people around. Compared to most other goalies, I wasn’t too bad … my superstitions were limited to the way I taped my sticks, and a ritual of tapping the posts of the net in a certain order.

    I knew one guy (a goalie, of course) that believed it was bad luck to make a right turn into a parking space before a game, so even if it meant circling the lot to make a left into the parking space, he’d do it. If he was at his “home” rink, he’d always sit in the exact same spot in the dressing room. (and I mean exact … he brought a measuring tape and measured to make sure he was sitting in “his” spot).

  21. Hey, TGI Friday’s has great onion rings. Used to date the day-bartender at the one in Chattanooga and would hang out there after class until he got off work. I swear to God those damn things put an extra ten pounds on me!!! Hmmmm…the free cocktails probably helped with that too ;-)

  22. Wait. You blew a perfectly good opportunity to casually drop your Oprah appearance book deals etc? What were you waiting for? Her little olive spiel was a perfect opener. You have to start cashing in on your success.

  23. Superstition has power because it is related to a psychological concept called field dependence but that doesn’t have anything to do with martinis … I don’t care what anybody says, if you change the base liquor in a drink it should change the name; Martini’s are gin. If you put vodka in ‘em call ‘em something else that doesn’t end in ‘tini!

    PS I think she wanted to give her “it” a shake for you Steve and probably really, really wanted to give you an extra olive and maybe later something else.

  24. Pingback: Evening Threes

  25. Got a little, real little in the scope of things, famous and now you’ve become a punk bitch while the rest of us are trying to make a living in this economy. Go back to Oprah. She might give you another pat on the head. Go. Write another working man paperback you little lap dog. Be funny. The rest of us are standing on our feet for hours trying to survive in the chain places that you now feel so uppity about. Glad you’re so rich bitch.

  26. To the person with the comment on sambuca: I believe the traditional three coffee beans in a glass of sambuca stand for health, wealth and happiness.

  27. As a Daytime bartender at a chain restaurant, we do prefer good looking people behind the bar. We also have a (secret) height requirement. All of our bartenders are at least 5’7″ or taller. Bartenders are the focal point of our place, so you have be seen. We all flirt! Thats what bartenders do. Any trained monkey can mix a drink, but only good flirts and great conversationalists can be bartenders. Great bartenders remember your names and your drink and your last conversations. Thats where the big tips come from. I study the news, sports, stock market, book and movie reviews and daily trivia and jokes, every day before work so I can entertain my guests. My livelyhood depends on my tips and I earn them.
    I don’t know about the odd number thing, but I do know there is a mandated 3 olives in a martini.

  28. Hey, imbecile at 1:14 AM (trying to live…). Waiter aplogized to *foodies* (a completely different group of people) in a pre-emptive strike that OTHERS would be asses to him for picking a chain restaurant. He never said he abhorred them himself (evidenced by the fact that he is eating at one). If you reeeeallly want to get picky when you’re talking about sustaining our economy, nobody should eat at chains, they should be supporting their local businesses. (Disclaimer- I am not supporting this suggestion per se, just pointing out the hypocrisy of this moron). Another thing, Waiter has never claimed to be rich, and if he were, would you expect him to be eating at a chain restaurant? You contradict yourself so many times in 4-5 sentences its ridiculous. Clearly, he enjoys this restaurant at least a little, or he wouldn’t have gone there. End of story.

  29. I used to read your posts for the great insights and stories from your restaurant days. Now it’s just to see how far into a post you will get before mentioning Oprah. I know that she has millions that bow before her self-importance, but keep in mind that there are even more people who do not need or want a celebrity making their shopping, reading, and living choices for them. I understand that you wanted to whore yourself and your book to the cow-faced queen of television, but dude – give it a rest already!

  30. Wow, you can’t even brag…or name drop…just a little…without getting SOMEONE’S tighty whiteys all in a snit. Let’s face it, the Foodies don’t like TGI Friday’s. I, on the other hand, like it. These are hard economic times for many, so, Waiter, you are an easy target to lash out at. I am still happy for you and hope you are doing what makes YOU happy. I hope everyone else gets a little relief from life’s trials and can relax a

    By the way, I FINALLY ate at a Cheesecake Factory, and then I read comment #17…ack! Thanks April!

  31. A few questions to further spawn an exchange of ideas. Questions I am certain many of us have had.

    ** What determines a job as tip-worthy? {Two sub questions implied, below)

    Part 1.) What sort of employment makes it socially acceptable / expected that patrons tip?

    Part 2.) What level of staff service determines a tip, i.e. is a tip ever simply an automatic – an obligation as ‘Waiter’ suggests?

    – – – – – – – – –

    For the better part of my young ‘30-something’ life I have been in the broad umbrella of the ’service industry.’ Perhaps better stated, the ‘hospitality industry.’

    Working the range from small franchise hotels to large corporate run resort properties, to my currently employed position as an independent contractor who is more IT centered than guest service oriented – I often think about tipping as a larger social practice.

    Do we tip out of appreciation? Out of joy? Out of obligation? Out of guilt?

    I eagerly await the day when I too can pick up my very own copy of Steve’s book (as many bloggers have,) but even then – what do ‘the rest of us’ (yes, want to know what Steve’s thoughts are as well – of course – I mean, he’s been on Oprah after all – he, he) think about tipping and why tipping a restaurant server and a coffee barista are expected and acceptable – but not the friendly front desk staff at a hotel who decided not to charge you RACK, and ‘throw you a bone.’ The front desk staff are stressed by Joe and Jane Public – they are equally poorly paid (okay, perhaps not quite ‘equally’ – not as paltry a sum as some wait staff) as some others in the service industry.

    My wife has a point, why do I sometimes automatically tip? Why do I sometimes extend a tip to an obviously poor service performance? Also, she too wonders why I try and tip those atypical labor posts – such as front desk staff at hotels? I ask myself, and now ask you. Thoughts?

  32. hi waiter,
    nothing wrong with a tgif’s. i will opt out for convenience and proximity if i am tired.:)

    anyway, you asked about superstitions. well i try not to be superstitious. however, when i was teaching down in bogota, colombia, a friend nearly died of a heart attack when i went to put my purse on the ground next to me.

    she quickly picked it up and put it on a chair. she said if i put my purse on the ground, my money would disappear.

    so to this day, i ALWAYS make sure my purse never touches the ground. hasn’t seemed to help as i sure as hell am not rich….and in these hard economic times, my money seems to be disappearing.:)

    peace out. when you coming out to LA?

  33. I have some horror stories about not being a pretty girl and waiting tables. It sucked horribly. Now I’m working on a degree as an English teacher, so things are looking up infinitely. Hopefully, my life will never again be based on tips–at least of the monetary type.

  34. TGIF has the yuckiest food. Give me an Olive Garden if I am going chain.

    Zayrina, I totally agree on this. I prefer independents or smaller local chains, but if it has to be one of the biggies, Olive Garden is one of the more palatable choices.

    Here in Chicago, we have some great independents, from little ethnic dives to stuffed pizza to a great burger place 5 minutes from my house. I get spoiled.

  35. Waiter,

    I am new to reading the blog. I was unaware it existed until I picked up the book at B&N the other day. I read it once quickly to take it in and get my feet wet, then more carefully for understanding, and am currently examining selected parts.

    Hopefully, no offense taken that my current critical reading has been done for the most part during my “private times” of the sort so cherished by Elvis. God does not seem concerned that much of my daily Bible study is conducted in much the same manner. But I digress…

    Overall, your work is well done, hats off to you. The education preparing for the priesthood and health care experience have served you well. You certainly show a level of understanding, tolerance and forgiveness that others in your circumstances often don’t share.

    I think that “trying to live…”‘s comment on 01/31/09 at 1:14 am was out of line. I have always loved to see someone succeed. Hang in there, and enjoy it.

    Awaiting a Mike Hammer type work set in very realistic dining establishment.- Watersnake

  36. Nice story and a nicer quote from Voltaire.

    I am listening to your ‘Keep the change’ book on my long drive to and from work. I am loving your research and insights.

    You have earned some good karma by improving the lives of my future waiters.

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