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March 8, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST
You’ve listened as the waitress recounts her harrowing life story. At times, you’ve told your own tragic tales to the bartender, who might not really listen. Sometimes you befriend the jovial restaurant owner who lets you sample works in progress and special wines. Sad as it is, stereotypes exist for a reason, and knowing what to expect of certain restaurant personalities can help you strategize to make the most of your night out.
She arrives over-caffeinated and ready to go, go, GO! She’s well-coiffed, and her makeup coordinates with her jewelry, which matches her uniform. Before you’ve even had time to remove your jacket, she’s there. “Hello! I’m Julie? I’ll be your server tonight?” Her voice gets higher at the end of each sentence, so everything sounds like a question. “What can I get you to drink? Which one would I recommend? The shiraz is really good?” Then she’s off. Her walk is a hybrid between a strut and a skip, and she’s fast. She might spill your martini, and she might get flustered when the rush period hits, but she’s the only one who will keep providing service with a smile.
You’ll recognize the new guy by his expression. His mouth is slightly agape, like a fish pulled from the sea, and he has the eyes of a lost puppy. He’ll be a waiter someday, but for now he’s doing time as the busboy. Asking him for a fork will send the poor soul on an epic, 30-minute quest. The servers bark orders to him and demand he refill waters and clear dirty plates. Oh, how he covets a crisp new apron of his very own. He’ll jump at the chance to prove himself, so if you mistake him for your server and ask for some cheesecake, he’ll bring it. Or he’ll try. If he has not yet been acquainted with the dessert cooler, he might be lost in the kitchen forever.
She languidly swaggers to your table with bovine speed, announcing her presence with a loud SMAAACK of her gum, spraying a bit of Juicy Fruit-scented spittle. She looks at you from beneath electric-blue eyelids and fumbles in her apron for her notebook. She only finds an old receipt, so she flips it over and writes on the back. She won’t mess up your order because you will repeat it to her three times, twice after she doesn’t hear you the first time and again after she uses the order sheet to throw out her gum. Your food will arrive cold, and when you point it out, she’ll stick her finger in it and declare, “Seems all right to me.” If you then ask her to take it back to the kitchen, she’ll protest, “It’s what you ordered, ain’t it?” Do yourself a favor, and cut your losses. Go home, and order a pizza.
He’s a philosophy major, but his passion is postrealist haikus. He’s been an undergraduate for about six years now. Graduation looms on the horizon, but like a terrier snapping bugs out of the air, things in his peripheral vision distract him. He must catch them, chew on them awhile and then spit them out before going after another. He’s generally knowledgeable about the menu and can lecture on the environmental conditions of the little bay in Maine from which your scallops were harvested. But he’s got dreams beyond the service industry. He’s too educated to be serving salads. He speaks three dead languages, for Pete’s sake. No, waiting tables is not his true calling, but unfortunately, it will be his reality for years to come.
Yeah, she’s been waiting tables for upward of 15 years, and she does not have time for your crap. You’ll get your salad when you get it, and don’t you dare wave that empty wine glass at her. She’ll get to you when she gets to you. And who do you think you are, anyway? Yeah, you would drink white zinfandel, wouldn’t you? She’ll snatch your empty glass and stomp off, shoving other servers out of her way as she heads off not toward the bar but to the employee exit. It’s time for her smoke break. Why don’t you just sip on your ice water? You did, after all, have the audacity to ask for water with lemon. You better make the most of that frickin’ lemon.
There’s no telling where she came from. It’s possible that the day the restaurant was built, she appeared out of the blue. The oil in the fry pit parted, and she rose to the surface in a five-gallon pot, like a plump Venus surfing on her seashell. The angels sang as she stepped from her vessel, donned her white apron and started peeling carrots in slow, deliberate strokes. Years later, she remains in the kitchen and sings softly to herself. But there’s something supernatural about her. No matter how fast the orders come, she moves at the same plodding pace. It never takes her more than 10 minutes to finish a dish.
He’s slick. Tall, dark, handsome and very possibly European. He’s the only one who can ask a table of middle-aged women “How are you beautiful young ladies doing tonight?” and seem sincere. Watching him work so gracefully can be better than viewing the Russian ballet. Cocktail napkins alight upon the table like fluttering butterflies. His arms move with serpentine fluidity as he uncorks the wine, which sounds with an especially satisfying pop. Even if you’re sitting in a vinyl booth eating chicken and drinking Bud Light, he makes you feel like you’re in an exclusive hot spot. You sign your credit card receipt with a flourish and walk proudly out of the restaurant. Who knew a $17 meal could make you feel like a million bucks?