Saturday, October 29, 2005

Tale of Horror ("Make it stop!!")

Ever since the World Series started, Nick and Tony's had been slow. It was slow on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights this week. On Wednesday night, to counter the lack of customers, I took on the bar area, a 12-table section, the largest one. I figured if there were few customers, at least I could make some money by being in the bar area for those who wanted to to watch the game.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t slow at all. In spite of the World Series game and rain, the place filled up. I had three tables, then five, then eight. I asked the hostess to stop seating my section, but the people kept coming and all servers in all sections were getting slammed. It was packed. Now I had nine tables, now ten. Ten full tables with people who wanted bottles of wine, drinks, appetizers, starter salads and cups of soup in addition to ordering meals. More drinks, more bottles, more people. I couldn’t believe it. I would never have taken the largest number of tables if I’d known it would be like this! This was too much for me. Why were so many people out on such a wet Wednesday night? The Sox were supposed to win the World Series. What the hell were they doing away from their tv sets?

No amount of bewilderment helped the situation and I tried to remain calm. Cups of soup, starter salads, more drinks, more people being seated, more drinks, another bottle of wine. The panic began to build. I felt myself starting to shake on the inside. Enter the orders for a table of five, try to keep in mind that I have to serve three of them salads before I can order their entrees, enter the orders for another table of five, try to talk to the couple who was seated 10 minutes ago and have been waiting all this time. No, I can’t get to them because table 602 stops me and demands another beer. Oh god. Now I was dog paddling, barely able to keep up, but falling behind fast. Oh god oh god oh god.

How do I keep from becoming emotional at times like that? I am ruled by my emotions; there’s no turning them off as it seems others do. I just get scared. How do I manage that fear?

When the impatient old man at table 602 told me he had received the wrong steak, I had to tell the manager as soon as possible. He said he had asked for a 14 oz. filet, but I had heard a 14 oz. NY strip. When I managed to wade across the crowded restaurant and tell the manager, she reminded me that I’d made this mistake before. I had forgotten, but yeah, I guess I had. She made changes to the bill so Mr. 602 wouldn’t get charged for the steak, but I felt her displeasure and it contributed to my freak out. I just fall apart when I think an authority figure is unhappy with me.

I hated my stomach churning fear response. I knew I had nothing to be afraid of -- it was an honest mistake in a very difficult situation and I wouldn’t get fired for it -- and yet my panic increased a few notches at having to bother the manager. She was under pressure too (the people just kept coming in, it was incredible), and I tried to imagine her position, but I just couldn’t. It was time to return to my ten tables and try to remember who was due a round of salads, who needed more drinks and which tables were clear because they hadn’t been served yet and which were clear because they’d already finished eating.

Now things got confusing. About 40 minutes later when table 501 was paying, one gentleman pointed at the bill and told me that the manager had already spoken to him and discounted him the price of his steak because he’d received the wrong one. I thought, “What? Did the manager get the wrong table? I thought 602 got the wrong steak.” I remembered ordering him a 14 oz. NY strip, so I asked him, “Did you order a filet?” He said yes. So I just said, “Oh, okay,” and I nodded and took the bill.

Did I make the same mistake at two different tables? Does that make a grand total of three steaks I’ve @#$-ed up that can’t be charged for? Would I be fired? Would I be summoned before the general manager? How much trouble was I in?

I couldn’t get it out of my mind even as I tried to focus on who was waiting for food and who was waiting for a check and oh please let that not be another new table. I could feel my main defense mechanism -- a slowing down and going numb -- starting to kick in but I didn’t have time for it. Slowing down and going numb would NOT work in this situation! I forced myself to keep going.

Each time I asked someone, “Will there be anything else for you tonight?” I longed to hear them say “No” so I could drop the check and be done with them, but tonight everyone wanted coffee, dessert, cordial drinks, espresso, more drinks, more wine, cappuccino. Oh, the damned cappuccino! I suck at making the milk foam for those cappuccinos, so of course table 602 wanted three of them. Incredible. This was the point at which Courtney, a server with fewer tables who was all caught up on her section, was able help me. Thank GOD Courtney took over the most recent new table to be seated in my section. The milk foam took me forever. I must have spent 15 minutes on those damn cappuccinos and freely hated the three men at 602 by the time I dropped them off. They were the most piss-poor cappuccinos, too, but it was the best I could do and I hoped it would keep them from ordering more. Later I had to ask the manager to fix two more mistakes I entered into our computer system and by the time I approached her to ask advice about dealing with a customer, she didn’t have any time at all for me.

Finally around 10:00 p.m. the people began to thin out. Several tables left and no new ones replaced them. Later I realized this was because Nick and Tony’s closes on Wednesdays at 10:00 p.m. thank god. I had forgotten there would be an end. But there was no relief for me because by now I was fully in the fear of being in trouble and losing my job and anticipating this Talk we were now going to have. My worries weren’t lessened by the bartender’s soothing words (“Everyone goes through this. No, you won’t lose your job.”) or even the White Sox finally locking their World Series win. We all stopped to watch the final moments of the game at a few minutes after 11:00 p.m., we cheered and clapped, but my stomach remained heavy with knowing I’d have to face the manager when I clocked out.

But then I didn’t have to. When I went back to the manager’s office to clock out, she directed me to the bartender, who apparently clocks people out on some weeknights, and she made no reference to me being in trouble or wanting to talk to me about my performance. Later, when I hit the restroom right before I left, I saw her again. As we washed our hands, she just smiled at me and said, “I can’t believe they won!” I said, “Yeah.”

What the hell? Was all forgotten? I know there were plenty of things going on/going wrong that night with so many people. In all, my two steaks cost a total of $52. Maybe my problems didn’t stack up so high compared to everything else? (??)

So I guess things worked out okay, but I am left with the following: how do I manage my panic under pressure? How do I manage my gut-crawling response to what looks to me like punishing anger? How do I not let my ever-present emotions shut down my ability to think and function?

Tonight will be another crazy busy night, but the same nightmare will not happen again because I will get there early and secure a section with LESS THAN 12 GODDAMNED TABLES. I had twelve tables on Wednesday night. That should never have happened. Tonight I will make #$%-damn, @!&*-ing sure I get a section with no more than six.

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