Postcards I Forgot to Send

Posted on Thursday 19 July 2012

I know. It’s been more than a month since I’ve written. I should have written! I meant to, but…but I didn’t. Guess I’ve been away far longer than I realized. But I wrote postcards! I know, I didn’t send them. Well, here they are as one, all those postcards that I really did mean to send each week since I’ve been away.

Postcard #1 With this Ring

Weddings, weddings, weddings and a bunch of rehearsal dinners, baby showers, anniversary dinners and corporate meetings thrown in for good measure. I love and loathe the weddings the most. I try not to, but I become attached to each and every bride I work with. As the toasts are made and the cake is cut, I try with little success not to tear up. When a recent mother of the bride hugged me to thank me for pulling together her seemingly endless decorations, countless flowers and way-too-many candles, saying, “You made it so beautiful, so much more than I thought it could be,” we were both straddling the fine line of shedding happy tears and sobbing in a way that makes one’s face blotchy.

They are so much work and stress, these weddings, and they wear me out for days afterward. But as I remind my staff and myself almost every weekend: It is just another day at work for us, but let’s try not to forget what a privilege it is to be entrusted with one of the most the most important days in a person’s life.


Postcard #2 Winner, Winner!

I might have won a few dollars here and there, just when it came in really handy. My great guy eventually got tired of hearing about my jackpot winnings and my lament, “If I’d only bet the max!” Apparently, the Seminoles tired of me, too. My sure-thing machines turned cold weeks later.


Postcard #4 A Token of Our Appreciation

Thanks to my ridiculous proclivity to play a slot machine now and then, Hard Rock thanks me by bombarding me with monthly “freebies,” each worth about 1/10,0000 of what I’ve won and lost there.


But the weekly free concert tickets have provided some of the best nights out I’ve had in a long time. Dancing on stage with Sister Sledge as she belted out “We Are Family,” dancing in the aisles with RG Son (who came to town for a last-minute visit) to Earth, Wind and Fire one night and Al Green the next–all the while laughing with the ladies sitting next to us on both occasions who demanded to know, “How does that young boy knows all the words to all these songs–he’s too young!” To which I replied, “I raised him right.”

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Postcard #3 Birthday Girl

Happy birthday to Angel, my newly turned 9-year-old Boston Terrier. We found the doggy birthday cake at Fresh Market nestled between dozens of mustard varieties on a random aisle. Rouletta and Angel pretty much viewed the thing as crack, and we are stilling doling the cake out in small pieces. Apologies for the awkward photo that includes my great guy’s foot–snapping pics of birthday-crazed pups is no easy task.

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Postcard #5 Sometimes You Just Have to Rant

I may be off the floor as a server, but my former co-workers can’t help but share their share of “Are you kidding me? stories. Best one all summer: Party of 14 comes in with no reservation on a busy Friday evening to celebrate a birthday. The staff scrambles, but gets them seated, hides the cake, finds candles forgotten by the organizer, and generally makes sure they get top-notch service. Everyone has two happy-hour-priced drinks. Everyone shares seven appetizers. Everyone is happy. At the end of this perfect evening, everyone wants a separate check. The server explains that he needed to know that at the beginning of the party in order to set it up properly in the computer, and adds, “But you all got pretty much the same things, within 25 cents of each other. Let me split it evenly.”

“No, no!,” says the host, “We’ll figure it out. Give us a minute.” A full 45 minutes later, this is what they handed the server:


At which point, the server walked back to my office to show me this table’s handiwork, saying, “I’m killing time to make it look like I’m following this dumb-ass worksheet. I’ve already split the check in 14 equal pieces. But here, you keep it–you know, in case you ever miss your nights working with us.”

Postcard #6 The End as a Court’s Mere Afterthought


“Here, Judge.”

“Do you have your ID?”

“Right here, Judge.”

“Do you own any property together?”

“No, Judge.”

“Do you have any minor children together?”

“No, Judge.”

“Is everything over, finished, the end?”

“Yes, Judge,” I said, so softly I barely heard my own voice.

“Yes?” asked the judge.

“Yes,” I repeated, as loud as the others before me had spoken, so all in the tiny courtroom could hear.

“You are divorced. Good luck.”

And just like that, multiple decades of marriage and five years of separation ended with a shuffle of paperwork and a nod toward the door to send me on my way.

“How do you do this every day?” I whispered to the bailiff as I walked toward the courtroom’s door. “That’s it? That’s it???”

She smiled at me, her eyes reflecting a tinge of sadness laced with jaded irony. “Every day, sweetie, every day we do this. That’s it.”

“But I thought I’d get a chance to say something, you know, that Mr. RG and I are on good terms, that he’s a great dad and a good person, how sorry I am that I had to leave and move on. How I will always have love in my heart for him, you know, in my way.”

“Good luck,” came the judge’s voice as she pronounced the next person divorced.

“Shhh. You go on now,” said the bailiff, pointing me toward the door.

“But…” I started.

“Go on now,” she smiled. “Go on. It’s okay.”


Postcard # 7 Calling All Muses

Postcards are snippets, aren’t they? Easily scrawled, abbreviated snapshots of so many days filled with so much unwritten rich detail. Why, I wonder, have I found it so difficult to write about any of them? Am I out of words? Is my writing finished, over, the end? I hope not. I want to reconnect with my old friend RG and allow her to give me back my voice to laugh, wonder, and tell it all. Here’s to hoping it’s soon.

Meanwhile, I’ll tackle my summer reading list.

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Best wishes. Wish you were here!

Restaurant Gal @ 9:26 pm
Filed under: Beloved Co-workers andFirst course andGuests
Here Come the Brides

Posted on Friday 1 June 2012

One day you’re having the experience of a lifetime during Kentucky Derby Week, and the day you return to work from the experience of a lifetime, your GM says this: “From now on, you’re doing all of our private events.”

Oh. Okay.


I have enjoyed the past three years working as a bartender and server. No work worries except making customers happy, making money and making rent. Time off was time off without a thought about work except being on time for my next shift.

Yet, in the back of my mind a peculiar restlessness was beginning to shake me awake at 2 a.m. And when I am shaken awake at 2 a.m., I’ve learned I need to listen to the thoughts nagging at me.

How long, really, could I keep doing this? How long before off-season income uncertainty and working alongside 20-somethings made me uncertain about all of this Restaurant Gal fodder? In my way, I knew it had been long enough.

On a quiet evening, just before I left for the Derby, I snuck a smoke outside the entrance to our beautiful private dining venue. I’d worked several events back there, both as a server and a bartender. I’d watched the revolving door of event planners spin one, then another, then another out of that door.

I’d liked all of them. I’d worked for each one of them. But I’d wondered at their few at-work hours, missed appointments and seemingly carefree attitudes about menus and staffing and just about everything else about private dining that drove me to endless hours and much after-work worry to make sure all went just right, when I tackled that same job in D.C. and again when I moved to SoFla.

As I stubbed out my cigarette, I saw my gravely stern GM round the corner, camera in hand, and watched as he furiously snapped pictures of our quaint courtyard, our lush foliage and our colorful water views, mumbling to himself, “I’m doing this, why?”

My first thought was: Shit, I shouldn’t be out here smoking. My second thought I spoke aloud: “You know, if you need some help with anything back here, I have a little experience in event planning.” My third thought was: Shit, I shouldn’t be smoking back here, and now I’ve opened my big, fat mouth.

“Really?” he growled, seemingly unconcerned about my smoking. “Because you might just be doing it all.”

“Ha ha ha,” I laughed quietly aloud. “Oh no, I didn’t mean THAT,” I nervously laughed some more. “I just meant, if you need a little help…”

“And I meant you might just be taking it all on,” he barked.

Well, shit. Why had I said a word? Why would I rock my carefree world?

When I cashed out later that night, he said nothing more about my taking on event planning. He reviewed my credit card receipts, palmed my cash out for the bartenders and bussers, and said goodnight.

Good. He’d forgotten all about my inane comment.

At 9:30 a.m. the next morning, I groggily answered his call. “Can you come in at 11 this morning and talk more about private events?”


But was it really? Because I had been awake since 2 a.m., once again, wondering what to do with my carefree life.

“Uh, sure,” I said, trying to sound awake.

I showered, dressed in something casually cool yet professional, cranked my real resume out of my computer–one he’d never seen when I’d applied for a serving position–and decided to just go for it. For real.

It is not easy to surprise my GM. But my resume surprised him. “You really have done this,” he said as he scanned it.

“Yep,” I smiled. “And I brought you some menus and pricing information from my previous jobs and those I think might be close competitors in our realm.”

He looked down at the stack of paper I shoved toward him. “Thank you,” he said, and I think he meant it, because I’ve had the feeling all along that this guy doesn’t thank many people.

“You start tomorrow, but I need you on the floor, too, until I can get people trained to replace you.”

“Uh, you remember that I’m going out of town for five days,” I said, not a little surprised. “I can start when I get back?”

He kind of glared at me, caught himself, then said, “Yes, of course. And we’ll ease you into this part time.”

Except the events held while I was away were a disaster, not to the customers, but behind the scenes. Thus, when I returned from my experience of a lifetime, there was nothing part-time or easing into anything.

“Here are the files, there’s the phone, use that computer, and you have two rehearsal dinners and two weddings over the next four days.”


That was almost a month ago. That is why I haven’t written a word since my experience of a lifetime at the Derby. I have been working 60-hour-plus weeks and triple shifts, placating worried brides to accept me as their new coordinator, trying to book as much new business as I can, and picking up the pieces of a revolving door that I hope not to pass through myself. It is a tall order. My carefree work life is over and done.

And everyday I have wondered, what the hell was I thinking to do this again?

Then today’s mail call brought me this note: “I want to thank you so much for making my rehearsal dinner and wedding as wonderful as I’d hoped. I know I only met you a few days before, and you were kind of assigned to me at the last minute, but I feel like you were my coordinator for the past year. Thank you for everything. It was perfect.”

As I left for the day today, I placed that note alongside my brochures and new business cards that I have carefully displayed for those who wander through our private event space when I am not there. I smiled at the shameless display of all me, touched the raised silver letters that spelled “THANK YOU” on the face of the notecard, and marveled that a bride would hand write a note to me so quickly, when surely she had a 150 other thank yous to share with those who’d given her actual gifts.

But here’s what I do know: I did a pretty good job stepping up for her wedding, and I am fortunate that she was incredibly understanding and the antithesis of Bridezilla when I introduced myself as her third coordinator three days before the most important day of her life.

Coming on the heels of my experience of a lifetime, I am humbled that I could ensure one day could come close to being the same for her.

Deep breath. The rest shall be revealed, right?

Restaurant Gal @ 10:37 pm
Filed under: First course andGuests andManagers
I’ll Have Another, Please

Posted on Wednesday 9 May 2012

I’d love to have another opportunity to visit the rolling hills surrounding Louisville, Kentucky, Derby Week or not. The gentility and hospitality of everyone we met matches the area’s beauty, and I could not help but say a thousand times or more, “I’m not in SoFla anymore.”

I’d love to have another chance to spend more time exploring The Bourbon Trail, to learn more about the history of the area and the spirit, and to personally dip a few more Maker’s Mark bottles.


I’d love to have another hour upon hour to spend on the backside of Churchill Downs watching the superstar ponies get their sudsy baths and see Derby contender Hansen roll around in the sandy soil looking for all the world like a giant, white, happy puppy. As it was, I snapped my Oaks Derby favorite Oaks Lily during her exercise run on Thursday. Sadly, she was scratched by Friday.


I’d love to talk more with Graham Motion, trainer of last year’s Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, who could not have been more gracious when he allowed us to snap a photo with him during a quiet Thursday moment on the backside of Churchill Downs. When we saw him post Derby in the Owner’s Lounge, a spot in which we became regulars thanks to our fantastic hosts, we nodded to each other and he waved as I said, “Nice to see you again.” That I was in that lounge for even a second is but one tiny aspect of how special this time was.

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I’d love to have another minute or 20 to chat with Louisville sports legend Coach Denny Crum, but I’m happy enough with his labeling me “the rose between us” as we posed for a backside photo seconds before he was interviewed by local TV news reporters.


I’d love to have another look at the Kroger grocery store ladies working on the blanket of roses worn by the winning Derby horse. Who knew they set up shop at a local Louisville supermarket and sewed the roses–one by one by hand–for anyone and everyone to watch?


I’d love to have another time and place to wear the pretty pink hat my great guy bought me at the Taste of the Oaks fundraiser on Thursday night. Pink is the color all wear for the Oaks races on Friday to honor all cancer survivors of all ages.

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I’d so much like to have another chance to not feel so shy about wearing a hat and to have bought something bigger and more festive than my cobalt-blue fascinator that I wore on Derby Day itself. Still, it was British-made (a bargain on Ebay), so at least I fit in quite well.

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I’d give a lot to have another opportunity to actually talk to Secretariat jockey Ron Turcotte. While killing time between Friday races, we happened upon him near the Kentucky Derby Museum. He was sitting behind a table surrounded by memorabilia of the Triple Crown winner’s made-for-the-movies fame, but we were the only ones standing in front of the table.

“Is this the last one, Ron?” asked someone.

“Yes,” he said.

“Last what?” we asked.

“Last chance for him to sign something,” someone replied.

We bought a photograph, paid 20 additional dollars, and watched as a racing legend signed a personal autograph to my great guy and me, adding “With love.”

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I’d love to have another few hours to people and celebrity watch in the owner’s lounge at Churchill Downs, and I am so grateful to our hosts for giving us carte blanche passes there for both Friday and Saturday. By the end of the Derby events, I felt quite attached to the fantasy of owning a racehorse, and thus latched on to my favorite Derby pony Daddy Long Legs, because what’s not to love about that name. I know, he came in last, if he even crossed the finish line at all. As I took this photo, I noted he was shiny with sweat and walking the biggest walk of his life without his pony pal alongside him–the only horse to walk that long walk alone.

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I’d gladly welcome another do-over chance to visit our favorite betting window located next to the crudely labeled and largely and forever empty I.R.S. window that we could only dream of having to visit, to make sure my great guy put “I’ll Have Another” on our long list of bets for race 11.


We’d won much on the races leading up to the Derby race, and we placed all of those winnings on a dozen or so horses that somehow–let’s blame the juleps–excluded number 19. And we call ourselves bartenders…even if the “another” referred to a cookie.

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I’d give just about anything to have another five days to spend with restaurant guests who became friends, who opened their homes and hearts to my great guy and me and treated us as family, who also welcomed RG Son and his girlfriend, and who gave each of us a truly unmatchable experience of a lifetime.


Restaurant Gal @ 1:18 am
Filed under: First course andGuests
Kentucky Dreamin’

Posted on Saturday 5 May 2012

I am one lucky gal to have landed at the Kentucky Derby! Photos and stories to follow soon when I return to SoFla.

Restaurant Gal @ 10:38 am
Filed under: First course
Hell on Wheels

Posted on Sunday 15 April 2012

The first time I served Maureen, it was on my second day on the floor at my current job, and I was warned: “She’ll run you and send back everything, and she doesn’t tip.”

Apparently, everyone with whom I worked had served Maureen many times; no one with whom I worked could stand to serve Maureen, ever; and everyone was smirking their relief and delight that the new girl–me–was now stuck with Maureen on this night.

“It’s like she thinks she can behave badly just because of her handicap,” someone muttered. “Good luck with her.”

Maureen wheeled her bulky chair toward a deuce, ignoring the host who ignored her as well, and somehow managed to move the restaurant’s chair out of the way before I could help her. Once she was settled, I approached her table. “Hi there. How are you this…” I started with would have been my usual introduction and an offer of a drink.

“Who are you?” Maureen interrupted in a demanding voice so pitchy and shrill that it rendered my own voice silent for a few seconds more than was comfortable.

I despise introducing myself by name to a table in any manner that smacks of “Hi, my name is RG and I’ll be your server this evening.” Frankly, when I am out to dinner as a customer, I’d rather not know the name of my server than be forced to acknowledge it when prompted by that annoying style dreamed up years ago in a random corporate store that every other store in the world decided was worth mimicking in all it’s hackneyed insincerity. I’ll tell you my name if you ask. I’ll tell you my name if I sense you are going to ask. I’ll tell you my name if I have an extra 67 seconds before I head over to the service bar to grab your drinks, because nine times out of ten you will ask what RG stands for and what on earth prompted my parents to name me that, and really, is that the name on my birth certificate? During these 67 seconds you will render me in the weeds as I am double and triple seated and you are still clamoring for an explanation of my name that you don’t really need to know at all, unless I fail to pay attention to you when you need more booze or food or need to pay me for both.

“I’ve never seen you before. So, who are you?” Maureen whined, loud enough so that all the tables around her who had previously averted their glances and politely paid attention to everything but her now pointedly paid very much attention to me standing before her. Yeah, who the heck are you? they all seemed to silently ask me. Introduce yourself to the lady, since you never did to us! they all seemed to demand.

Okay, okay. Okay.

“My name is RG,” I smiled in the forced way I do when I’d rather scowl and frown. It is a hideous smile that fools no one except the occasional store shopper that has to note in his/her notes that I did, in fact, smile. 🙂 Yep, that smile.

“And…?” she sarcastically trilled, moving her clenched hands in a half circle as she stared at me, her eyes bigger and darker and more intimidatingly and impossibly penetrating than they had been two seconds ago.


“I just started here,” I said quickly, making a motion with my book and glancing over at another table, a cue most customers understand to mean chit chat time is over; your order now, please?

“And this is your section tonight? So you have to serve me?” she asked, clearly disappointed. “Isn’t that nice girl here who always takes care of me?”

Maureen could only mean one of my favorite coworkers who reminds me of RG Daughter and who everyone mistakes for me or me for her or figures we HAVE to be related. I feel complimented when this happens, as it does at least three to four times a shift when we work together, because she is beautiful and sweet and really could be my kid, given her young age. She had trained me the week before, so I knew Maureen had to mean Lindsay.

“No, sorry. Lindsay is off tonight,” I explained.

“Lindsay! That’s her!” exclaimed Maureen, her attitude softening a tiny bit. “She knows just how I like everything.”

“I’ll do my best,” I told her. “Are you ready to order, or do you need a few minutes?”

Maureen pouted up at me, placing her clenched hands on the table. She sighed.

“Bring me a diet Sprite with another small glass of regular Sprite on the side. Lindsay knows how to mix them together for me, but since I’ve never seen you before, just bring them in separate glasses.”

And so it began. Appetizer sent back for “better sauce” and “more cooking!” Entree refused because “it doesn’t look like it usually does.” More Sprite. No! More diet Sprite! Coffee, please, and strong. This isn’t strong enough! Use two packs of coffee when you make me a new pot; that’s what they always do for me.


“No cream. And no real sugar with the coffee, just two pink packs with one half of the blue one. You can stir them in, please.”

Which was when I noticed her hands had remained clenched the entire meal. I wasn’t really sure how she had previously managed to use the fork to eat what she’d finally agreed was suitable enough.

I dutifully prepared her strong coffee and stirred in her customized sweetener concoction.

Later, I groaned at the $1.72 tip added on to her credit card.

“Hey, be thankful she tipped you at all,” mumbled a co-worker.

As the weeks at my new job evolved into months, I served Maureen roughly five more times. She remained unhappy with everything, and her scrawled gratuity never deviated a cent from $1.72. On most occasions, Maureen stuck me in the weeds with her incessant demands.

On a particularly busy weekday night, Maureen appeared precisely at a moment when the host was seating a couple at what I now recognized was her favorite deuce. Nothing else was available except a four-top in my section. Crap.

“May I sit there?” she asked, pointing to the four-top. The host was long gone.

I don’t think I hesitated, but maybe I did, before I said, “Hey Maureen. Sure, the table’s yours.”

“But I don’t want to sit there if he’s serving me,” she frowned, pointing to one of the newer servers. “I want you.”

Me? You despise me.

“It’s my section, Maureen,” I told her, adjusting the table and moving chairs out of the way so she could comfortably place her own just so. “You’re stuck with me.”

Without waiting for her order, I brought her the two kinds of Sprite, the extra straws she always asked for, and the extra plate she inevitably requested but never used.

“Thank you,” she said as I placed the items before her. “You know me now, don’t you,” she almost, but not quite, smiled. “That’s why I asked for you.”


I served her usual appetizer, remembering to tell the kitchen to overcook it so she wouldn’t send it back. I typed in a huge modification message to the kitchen, which I knew would make the line cooks shriek at me when I picked it up, but I wanted to make sure the entree “looked like it always does.” I had a big section on this busy night and weeds were not an option.

“I want something else,” Maureen said when I brought out her entree.

Do not send this back, I thought, knowing that doing so would give the term “Hell’s Kitchen” new meaning if I returned the plate to the line.

Maureen sensed my impatience and reluctance. “No, no, this is fine,” she said, gesturing to the entree. “But I want something else.”


Wait, something else?

“Okay, what’s that?” I asked, curious. Maureen never deviated from her predictable order.

“I want a baked potato,” she said, then motioned me closer to her with her clenched left hand. “But you have to cut it up for me, and not out here, and I’ll need extra butter,” she whispered.

My manager saw me smearing unwrapped butters atop the hacked-to-pieces baked potato.

“What are you doing?” he asked, clearly annoyed. “We’re slammed out there and you’re cutting up someone’s food for them? No. Take it as is. Go!”

“But it’s for…”

“I know who it’s for, and I know you don’t have time to do this any more than I have time to tell you this! She can handle that as it is.”

As it was, I had already rendered the potato easily edible for Maureen. As it had been, the potato would have been an embarrassing nightmare for her. As it turned out, she took one bite of the thing that had surely cost me precious points I’d barely accumulated with my tough manager and declared it “cold.”

“Never mind,” she scolded me, clearly exasperated. “Never mind.”

No good deed….

On a slow night two days later, in wheeled Maureen to her favorite deuce. She was wearing a royal blue blouse that fully complimented her clear pale skin and large dark eyes. She looked lovely, actually.

“That is a great color on you,” I said as I placed her Sprites before her.

She looked up at me, puzzled by my comment. “Thank you,” she said without emotion. A second passed. “You know,” she began, looking directly at me, “If you pour me three quarters diet Sprite and add three long shots of regular Sprite from the fountain, it should be right.”

“Okay, let me pour you one and let’s see,” I said. Which I did. And it was “right.” I cleared the other two glasses.

I brought out her burned appetizer. I served her the usual modified entree. She returned nothing.

“I’ll try that potato, again,” she said, hopefully.

I rung it in, dashed back to the kitchen to cut it up, adding three pieces of unwrapped butter. My manager, who seems to be in ten places at once and always where I am, noted the potato as I rounded the corner to the dining room.

“Only when you’re not busy,” he said, nodding to my plated potato handiwork. But he didn’t seem irritated by it tonight.

“I don’t want any coffee tonight,” Maureen said as I cleared her empty plates. “But you don’t need this table right now, do you?”

I glanced around at my empty section. “No, Maureen,” I smiled. “Stay put as long as you like.”

Maureen half smiled up at me, her clenched fists in her lap. “Thank you. I’m just not ready to go back to the apartment, yet.”

A subtle turning point in our server-customer relationship occurred then, and not because of the potato, and not because of the perfectly poured Sprite, and certainly not because of my compliment about her blouse. No, the point turned when I realized I had just gotten a very limited glimpse into a corner of Maureen’s predictable world.

Going out to eat here meant time away from what had to feel like confining,albeit comfortably familiar, walls there. The more we rushed her, the more the food wasn’t “right,” because the complaints and the send-backs bought her more time to watch the families, the singles and the couples. Being here gave her time to absorb the ever-changing energy that a restaurant’s tableau provides, to save it up in a way, and take it with her when she has all the time in the world to be within her apartment’s walls.

I now purposely slow down my service for Maureen. She still periodically whines at me, even sending food back upon occasion. She still tips $1.72, no matter the tab. But mostly she sits quietly at her table, watching. Periodically we engage in small talk about the weather, about how busy or slow it is, about how do I do what I do and keep it all straight when it’s busy, and don’t my feet hurt all the time?

I surprised her yesterday when, in the midst of unexpected season’s-about-over-but-not-today madness, I plunked myself down in the chair across from her and said, “How about I just sit here with you and pretend I’m not working. Wanna do some shots?”

The table across from us smiled in a slightly patronizing way, because, you know, I was being so nice to hang out with the lady in the wheelchair.

Maureen giggled, a sound I had never heard from her. “Sure!”

“Alas, I can’t afford to be fired today,” I said. “But pretend to have one on me.”

Maureen giggled again. The table across from us, still staring and smiling, awkwardly signaled to me for their check. Righto, back to work.

This is not a story about RG the good-hearted, sickeningly sweet server who won over the Scrooge-like wheelchair-bound customer. Nor is it a story with a lesson about looking beyond a person’s outward negative demeanor and finding a gem. No, this is a simple story about simply and barely getting to know one of my regular customers, a customer about whom I still know very little at all, except that she needs time. Time, I got. Time, I can give her.

Restaurant Gal @ 1:57 pm
Filed under: Guests
First Time Here!

Posted on Tuesday 20 March 2012

They were a handsome family of four. They brought along a handsome friend to complete their party of five, one short of a six-top tag. They triggered my internal server alarm when the wide-smiling father gushed:

“It’s our first time here!”

“Welcome,” I said, matching his smile.

“Do we get anything for that?” the father smiled, even wider.

“We’re glad you found us,” I smiled back, ignoring his question.

“We have a tour pass for one of those boats in the harbor, so don’t we get a free meal?” the father asked, his smile now carefully morphing into a perplexed frown.

“No, we don’t offer those kinds of discounts” I smiled, even wider. “Can I take a drink order while you look over the menu?”

“Is it free refills?” asked the father, no longer smiling.

“Yes, for sodas,” I answered, smiling harder so I wouldn’t grit my teeth.

“Lemonade for me and my son, if you have it. Coke for my wife. Water for the baby.”

“Certainly,” I said. “And for you?” I asked the handsome friend.

“Water with two lemons and an iced tea,” he replied, staring hard at me as if daring me about an as-yet unspoken challenge. “And give us a round of virgin frozen strawberry smoothies.”

It was the day after St. Patrick’s Day, my section had quickly filled, and I was exhausted and spent from a 13-hour blood-letting shift from the day before. I left the table to fill their drink order. Trouble, I knew with utter certainty, was the only service outcome with this group.

Of course the son’s lemonade didn’t have enough ice in it. Of course the friend needed more than two lemons for his water. Of course the strawberry smoothies didn’t “taste right” and all were sent back, all at different times.

After grilling me about virtually everything on our extensive menu and constantly asking me, “How much do they pay you to say that sandwich is good?”, of course they ordered enough food for a party of ten–five appetizers followed by the seven most expensive entrees. Their tab climbed to more than $150 in a matter of seconds at a place known for extremely reasonable prices, with no alcohol involved.


“Refill!” the mother demanded, waving her three-quarters-full Coke glass in the the air as I passed by their table with a full tray of food destined for another table.

“This and this, too,” said the handsome friend, pointing to his half-full water and the son’s barely-touched lemonade, when I returned with the mother’s Coke.

So much trouble.

Extra sauce for the wings, another steak because this one is fatty, more fries with the two sandwiches because “these aren’t enough.” And my favorite, “Are you telling me this is the normal size of your mahi filets? Gimme another dinner, this one’s too small.”

Refill. Refill. Refill. Trouble. Trouble. Trouble.

And all the while trying to keep up with my patient, six other happy tables.

More trouble than it would ever be worth.

“RG!” barked my stern but very fair and immensely competent manager, waving a printed-out check at me. “Table 82.” The trouble table.

I glanced at the check, wondering why she had printed it out. Then I saw it–an auto grat of 18 percent tacked on to the total. “I am making an exception on this one,” she added. Because she knew trouble when she saw it through the frantic and frustrated pace of her otherwise usually pleasant server.

“Thanks,” I sighed to her. “They’ve been…”

“I know!” she barked once more. “Just drop the check and move on with your other tables.”

But when there’s trouble from the start, trouble has only just gotten started.

“Miss,” smiled the handsome friend a few minutes after I had dropped the check. “Here is enough cash to cover the check amount, minus the gratuity, which I insist be taken off the total. And bring back all the change. Please.”

I directly looked him in the eye. I directly spoke to him through my look that I knew exactly their game; knew their pretense of gosh-golly new folks to area that don’t get out much; knew what lowly, common trash they were.

He understood every bit of my look, even welcomed it, which caused him to smile quite broadly, once again.

“I have to take it off, RG. I’m sorry,” said my manager. “Sometimes shit happens. You’ll make it up on another table.”

Except I would have to tip out the busser, the bartender and the food runner on that $176.23 in sales that I knew would result in a tip of exactly zero percent.

“Shake it off!” barked my manager an hour later. She could tell I was still seething. “They are not worth your trouble thinking about it any longer!”

Two days later, I am still reliving that table, wishing I had given them terrible service or at least politely called them out about the tip. And then again, it’s not really about the tip. It’s about them and their carefully orchestrated complaints in order to get unwarranted comps, their baseless demands to run a server ragged and blame her for any and everything, their disguises of smiling countenances as they know exactly what they do.

Not worth my trouble? Of course not. I just wish the entire episode would quit troubling me. And troubling me.

Restaurant Gal @ 2:03 pm
Filed under: Guests andManagers
Gosh, Moving Sure is Fun!

Posted on Monday 5 March 2012


Two small pieces of shelving hardware, without which the very necessary third shelf in my glass-front cabinet is rendered useless, which makes unpacking a bin containing the glass-front cabinet’s decorative contents unlikely for the foreseeable future.


One silver hoop earring from my favorite pair, tucked under the bed-frame leg and discovered on moving day after months of searching for it.


One plush monkey named “Baby” that when gripped just the right way by Rouletta and the deft use of her remaining teeth, plays an annoying little song that makes Rouletta very pleased and proud of herself. Now, she and Miss Angel are having alpa dog tiffs over a plush blue dolphin that plays the exact same annoying song, but isn’t, if you ask Rouletta, the same at all.


Vacuum cleaner bags for a vacuum cleaner I no longer own.


An insulated cookie sheet that I used when trying out gluten-free cookie recipes for cookies that look great once baked, but that never taste as great as they look, prompting me to face this stark reality–Toll House cookies made with a tapioca/corn/potato “all-purpose” flour mixture are merely a weird-texture substitute for the real deal.


A pink dog leash I bought at CVS en route to Fort Myers Beach six months ago when I discovered I had left home with only one leash for two dogs. I very carefully left this leash in my car so I would always have an extra one “just in case,” and never saw it again until I shoved aside the beach chairs that permanently live in the trunk of my car, and, voila–a tangled pink leash in the back left corner.


A folding two-step step stool that was sturdy and the perfect height for my five-foot-four self to comfortably reach anything in cabinets situated at the perfect height for the six-foot-tall male who installed them.


Placemats I KNEW I had packed in one specific bin, but couldn’t find to use at dinner for my great guy’s family who chose five days before we moved as a perfect time to visit from out of town. To my great guy’s family’s credit, they cooked the meal, cleaned up afterward, and cheerfully commented more than once that the table looked “just fine” when I set it using paper towels for both napkins and mats.


One night’s sleep in its entirety when my new neighbors, with whom we share only a very small segment of concrete wall that is, unfortunately, a small segment of the master bedroom wall, chose our move-in day as their move-in day, and who felt a compulsive need to pound nails into our shared concrete wall all night long in order to hang 1,235 of their prized pictures.


A beautiful new fenced yard, a two-block walk to the beach, and a grudging acceptance that although we are in a smaller space that seems impossible to organize in between in-season work shifts, eventually the predictable, yet always disconcerting, lost sense of “home” will be found again.

Restaurant Gal @ 3:50 pm
Filed under: First course
Sweetheart Tales

Posted on Thursday 16 February 2012

Bye bye Valentine’s Day. Good riddance to your way-too-ramped-up symbolism that sends us frantically flailing about in retail hell and foists upon us the yearly notion that no matter how wonderful our relationship with our significant other, all hopes and dreams will be dashed if we fail to go out on this specific date for “a nice romantic dinner.”

Since I work at a more casual restaurant, I figured Valentine’s Day madness would be somewhat mitigated by our lack of white table cloths and anything on the menu featuring an over-priced “surf” this or a “turf” that. Not that we don’t offer steaks and seafood, it’s just that I sell as many burgers and mahi sandwiches as I do ribeyes and shrimp skewers.

For the first two hours of my shift, I was encouraged by evenly paced seatings and even thankful for the random roses brought in by our bar regulars. Maybe Valentine’s Day dinner could be something other than two-hour waits for reserved tables, kitchens crashing and even the best servers woefully and predictably falling short of meeting a guest’s turbo-charged February 14 expectations.

In a way–a very tiny, miniscule way–it was.

Sweetest Table: The elderly couple who happily sat at a so-so table, who laughed at a joke about this being their first date before they mentioned that February marked their 62nd wedding anniversary, and who toasted each other with one small draft beer (him) and a glass of pink champagne (her) and held hands across the table.

Sweetest Sweethearts: The high school couple who was dressed up like it was their prom night, who didn’t try to order booze, who ordered apps and main courses and didn’t complain when the apps took forever and the main courses took a thousand times longer than they should have, and who tipped a little more than 20 percent and said, “Thank you for everything; it was great.”

Sweetest Gratuity: The 20 extra dollars over the 18 percent auto grat I put on a table of 8 men in town on business who ran me like crazy for whatever the guy seated next to them had asked for two minutes ago; who made snide comments throughout their meal about weak drinks, a wobbly table, thin soup, my slow service, my too-fast service; who seemed so unhappy with me and the entire experience that I was sure they’d refuse to pay the 18 percent auto grat, much less add to it. As they left, one man pulled me aside and thanked me for being a good sport with them because he knew they were huge pains, and then he gave me another 10 dollars.

Sweetest Moment: Arriving home with a decent amount of cash in my pocket to find my trying-not-to-come-down-with-the-flu great guy snoozing on the sofa with a sleeping dog on each side of him, the remote still in his hand and ESPN blaring. I had to smile, because I wanted for nothing on this Valentine’s Day 2012.

Restaurant Gal @ 12:19 pm
Filed under: Guests
No Such Thing as a ‘Little’ Flu

Posted on Thursday 9 February 2012

Do you know that ad? I do, quite well. Whoever created the Allstate “Mayhem”-type character to represent the flu season has it down pat–the words “little” and “flu” do not belong together.

I have spent the better part of the past month on my sofa fighting two colds and what I thought was a third, telling everyone my allergies were acting up and vowing I would shake it off because, “How in Hell can I be sick again?!”

I do not get sick. Okay, that’s a lie. I came down with the dreaded bird or pig or whatever animal flu it was that we were all so terrified of a few years ago but have forgotten about now, when I lived in the Keys. I have never been so ill in my life, and I literally could not move for four days. When I finally managed to get to a doctor’s office at my boss’s insistence, the staff made me put on a mask and sit in a corner away from everyone. When the nurse and doctor examined me, they too donned masks and gloves and disposable paper “coats.” Yeah, that was a comforting moment. The best they could do medically for me at that point, however, was prescribe codeine cough medicine.

“Codeine doesn’t really help a cough, you know,” came the muffled laugh from my masked doctor. “It just knocks you completely out so you can’t cough. Your friends will be jealous.” Ah, medical care in the Keys.

That I succommed to that insane celebrity virus, becoming ill for the first time in many years, was a bizarre blip on my clear medical-history radar, a quirk that temporarily upended what is otherwise a superb, nay, perfect immune system. Or was, until January and February 2012.

The first cold I caught not long into the new year was merely a sneezing four-day nuisance. I work with a staff of mostly 20-somethings that is always complaining about this sniffle or that tummy ache or that “migrane” headache in such an unoriginal yet supremely earnest effort to disguise a hangover, that I think they actually believe they have contracted these ailments from sources other than their pals Jose, Jack, Jim and Johnny.

“Oh, I have that cold, too!” chirped one of the cute girls with whom I actually like working. “My taste buds are all off because I can’t breathe, and my head is killing me,” she said.


“It’s already better since yesterday, so I guess it’s just a little cold,” she added.

Very likely.

Ten days later, I felt the tell-tale tickle in the back of my throat and a kind of congestion that was a harbinger of more than allergies run amok. Are you kidding? Another cold?

“Yeah, it’s going around. I feel like crap,” moaned a guy with whom I don’t love working but have to tolerate because what else can you do with a co-worker who always has to be cut first because he’s late for his other job, or his wife needs the car seat for the baby and it’s in his car and she has to be at work in 45 minutes, and he’s so sorry to leave us with all the side work again–he’ll do it all next shift.

Uh huh.

“I was up all night with the baby,” he continued, sniffing for emphasis. “She’s got it, too. I gotta get out of here early today so I can get some sleep, finally.”

Of course.

Okay, maybe he did have a cold, because I sure came down with one, and this one was a bit more virulent than the one before. I felt bad enough to lay around my house when I wasn’t working, but not bad enough to call out. I drank juice and vowed I would wash my hands more and hug people less, even though I certainly hadn’t been hugging my co-workers, but I knew what I meant–get strong and tough again! Two colds in three weeks? No, no, no. I don’t do multiple colds in years, much less weeks.

You can kid yourself into believing this will the last cold forever, or at least a decade, as you stock up on DayQuil and NyQuil and wish you hadn’t tossed out Dr. Codeine when you moved back from the Keys.

“I’m really sick,” sighed a girl a mere week after I finally felt well enough to go for a run, a girl who has chronic underlying health issues for real, but who never calls out, even though a cold would make her feel a billion times worse than it would any of us.

“Oh, yeah, that cold sucks. I just got over it,” I told her with utter certainty and confidence. “Plan on four days of misery and then it’s done.”

“I hope so,” she said. “I really feel like crap.”

When she called me the next morning to cover for her lunch shift, and she didn’t show up to work the following three shifts, I admit, I was a tad worried about her.

“She’s fine,” said my manager. “She’s out of town for a few days with her family.”

Huh? Okay, I guess.

Two days later, the co-worker with whom I like working shuffled in five minutes late, her skin tone the color of dust. Good lord.

“I’m really sick,” she said, her voice raspy and weak. “But I never feel like I can call out here, you know, because, well…” she didn’t finish that servers’ lament that usually ends with “because they might take me off the schedule” or “I can’t afford to call out again” and so on.

“Can you take all the tables?” she said, sounding breathless. “If you get busy, I’ll try to help.”

No problem. Good money for me!

Until it got crazy busy. Until my manager yelled at me for hogging tables despite his directing my co-worker to the office to “sleep it off for a half hour.” Until my co-worker said she was taking a cab to the ER because she couldn’t catch her breath and her chest was killing her every time she inhaled or exhaled. Until I felt an odd aching sensation in my wrists and ankles when it finally slowed down, which I attributed to having run a restaurant marathon the past four hours.

Until I woke up the next day aching all over and feeling like an elephant was sitting on my chest and my head was about to explode. Even then, I refused to accept my symptoms. I swilled DayQuil. I made and ate two bowls of chicken soup. I scrounged a couple of years-old packets of Emergen-C from a random kitchen cupboard and hauled my sorry self to work. Because I couldn’t call out….

As luck would have it, if there’s anything lucky about being sick, I was off the next two-and-a-half days. So was my great guy, something that never happens. I tried to rally by slurping the now-familiar DayQuil-chicken soup-Emergen-C cocktail, and it sort-of helped for a few hours.

“This one’s a really bad cold bug, maybe even a little flu or something,” I sniffled to my great guy. “I gotta go home.” And with that, I slept for the next 48 hours, awaking only to move from the bed to the sofa and back to bed.

And every ten minutes, it seemed, the ad would come on, taunting and mocking me: “There’s no such thing as a ‘little’ flu.”

I slogged into work after two days, still achy and miserable, but what the hell. Everyone else at work, from management to the front of the house to the back was sick as those dogs who claim flu shots don’t work and they only make you sicker, and they weren’t calling out.

“I have four packets of Emergen-C,” I told my two co-workers. “Help yourselves.”

As an aside, I don’t know what ingredients are in Emergen-C that are not listed on the label, but wow, does it work to infuse you with super-hero-like energy when you really have the strength of a newborn kitten, and give you a temporary sense of wellness you won’t feel for real for five more days. It is now my drink of choice during every shift, because I’ll be damned if I’ll get sick again.

I have instructed the 20-somethings to drink the stuff every shift as well. “Maybe with all the vitamins and whatever, we can stay well for a few months, you know?” I cajoled them.

“Yeah, I already drink that all the time,” said the girl who seemingly started the flu binge, even though my flu-laden manager blamed it on the “snowbirds bringing their frickin’ northern viruses with their sunscreen.”

“I still got sick,” she pointed out. Okay, but she’s sick all the time, anyway.

I am holding out hope that this was the last of it for me for a while. I am trusting the Emergen-C to continue to work its magic as I promise myself, my dogs and my great guy that I will consume heaping servings of fruits and veggies every day and get off the sick bus once and for all.

As for getting a flu shot next year…we’ll see. Because I never get sick, you know?

Restaurant Gal @ 10:25 am
Filed under: Beloved Co-workers andFirst course
“And I’m Free, Free Fallin’…” –Tom Petty

Posted on Thursday 26 January 2012

When I look back at RG 2007, I am struck by two things: the volume of good writing and the telling writing itself. When one commenter spoke of the dark tone of my posts early in the year, and how she hoped it wasn’t foretelling, she knew what I didn’t at that point–that one of the greatest changes of my life was about to take place. And yes,my writing foretold it all.

My favorite posts are those written in the first six months. They include the following:

Best post, maybe: It’s Always Been Right There

The story I think about to this day: If You Only Had One Wish

Most poignant for so many reasons: Love Letter

Poignant and telling: And Suddenly She Was Gone

Still gives me goose bumps: Last Days

Simply, a personal favorite: Through the Roof

From July 2007 on, I wrote mostly about leaving everyone and everything I’d known as an adult and making the big solo move to SoFla. I shared many comparisons and thoughts about differences with D.C. I also explored the painful exercise of starting over as a single girl who felt little more wisdom and maturity than that of a teenager. In many respects, those posts were the toughest to re-read.

Enjoy the first half of the year’s posts highlighted above. Read on, if you can bear it, and know that while my writing then may not have been my best, it became my best friend and confidant. Without such an outlet, who knows where the free fall might have landed me.

Restaurant Gal @ 8:22 pm
Filed under: First course