I Need to Start Drinking

Seriously.

A few days before I started this blog, I was finishing up my job training. I was doing pretty well. In fact, I was impressing people with how freaking AWESOME I was at being a server. And then I spilled a drink down a woman’s back. As I knelt on the floor and picked up the (now empty) glass, I fought tears and thought, ‘It can’t get any worse than this.’

Then today happened.

First of all, let me just say that adulthood is giving me the worst mood swings. Last night I laid in my bed and cried. Why? I don’t know. The whole randomly crying thing is not new to me; I’ve been doing it almost my entire life. But it’s been happening with alarming frequency of late. And then this morning, I was driving to work thinking, ‘I’m happy. This is good. Life is good.’ But then I got to work and… well, that’s where the story begins.

Before each shift, we get handed a floor plan with our tables highlighted. I was relieved to see that they were going easy on me on my first non-student, non-training night: I had a table of two and then a party of fifteen. No problem.

I mentioned before that I used to be a tour guide in a cavern. Though it’s unusual for that kind of job, we were tipped quite frequently. I got pretty good at being able to tell who was going to tip me and who wasn’t. General rule of thumb: jerks never tip. The people whose kids would be climbing all over fragile rock structures and those who would talk (or worse, make out) during my speeches wouldn’t put a dime in the basket. But the people who paid attention and chatted with me as we waited our turn would turn out their pockets for me. It’s pretty much the same in a restaurant, and I got two great tables tonight. Somehow, that makes all of this that much worse.

Something important to know about me, probably for this entire blog, is that I am terrible with numbers. As in, I’m on a third grade level terrible. Yes, I graduated from high school and college, and both times I had a respectable GPA, but if there are numbers involved in something I’m doing, you can forget it. I have dyscalculia, and it was my worst fear whenever working a job that I would be asked to be a cashier or anything else involving numbers. Like, cold sweat, begging-them-not-to-make-me-do-it fear. I was told there was no math involved in this job. “It’s all on the computer!” my co-workers confidently told me. And, silly, naive me, I believed them. Here’s the truth: there’s no math involved in being a waitress like there’s no math in the astronomy class I took last summer. If I need to use my calculator every day, THERE IS MATH INVOLVED. My deficiency in arithmetic is so advanced that I can’t remember the simplest thing like table numbers. Yes, I had two measly tables tonight. But since the numbers were only one digit different, I had to pull out my table map (which my dyscalculia makes nearly impossible to read anyway. I stare at it for a very long time and have to turn it every which way and stand in a certain direction to be able to read it) and check which table I was charging with which drink. Awful.

Anyway. Since we have a self-serve buffet on our ship, my job is technically just bussing and cocktail serving. Sounds simple, right? Right. Unless you’re me. Oh, no, I’m a fabulous busser. Give me an empty tray and table full of dirty dishes and I will CLEAR THAT TABLE LIKE YOU’VE NEVER SEEN IT BE CLEARED BEFORE. You will be amazed. But then comes the cocktail part.

Here’s the thing: I don’t drink alcohol. Yes, I am twenty-two and have never had a drink of any kind. The why of this is a long story and not important for this tale.What is important is how many times tonight I wished I had spent my college years drinking instead of doing… whatever it was I did for four years. Because I know absolutely nothing about alcohol. Like, even less than I thought I knew. I’m pretty much okay to serve beer, since a) I know the names and b) even if I didn’t, they’re printed right on the bottle. But when it comes to the fancy stuff- wine, cocktails, etc.- I am totally clueless. The worst part came when my party of fifteen ordered two glasses of different white wine and red wine. I had studied these. I made flashcards. I could rattle off the names. But guess what? Knowing names doesn’t matter when they’re poured into glasses and look EXACTLY THE SAME. To the trained eye, one white wine apparently looks more yellow. To me… no. The red wine is worse, because even to the trained eye, they look the same. I asked our very nice bartender what the difference was. He told me. By the time I’d lifted the tray off the bar, I’d forgotten.

I took the tray holding all of the drinks, these wines included, to the table of fifteen. They weren’t there, having gallivanted outside to the decks. At first, I was like, ‘Great! They won’t see my confusion!’ But no people means no one to be like, “I got the cabernet! Which is that one, because I drink it all the time!” One of my co-workers was like, “Just put the drinks in a line in the middle of the table. They’ll sort it out.” I didn’t want to do this- it seemed a little like abandoning them there- but my other table had arrived, so I had to so something, and quickly. I put the drinks down and went to tend to my table of two. When I came back to the party table, they were as confused as I was. “Which one is which?” they asked. ‘We can’t tell the difference.” “I- uh- um- well, the one is more yellow- um… apparently.” The conversation went on like this for a long time, and I could tell they were getting irritated. Who could blame them? I’m not really a nervous sweat-er, but I was starting to at that point. Finally, the head of the party was like, “Could you just go down your list and we’ll figure it out from there.” But that just led to more questions, more confusion, more sweating and a bit of hyperventilating by me.

At this point, a fellow server walked by. “Everything okay?” he asked. I hyperventilated some more and stared really hard at my scrawled drink list and didn’t answer because I knew if I did, I would cry. I started crying anyway. I’m a crier. I cry over everything. But I try not to do it in public; it’s embarrassing and, in this case, completely unprofessional. Who wants their waitress crying? Thankfully, instead of throwing their drinks in my face, the party was actually very nice to me and said they’d figure it out.

For the rest of the night, this table was amazing to me. They kept assuring me I was doing a good job, even when I kept forgetting who ordered coffee, ripped a tea bag open into a cup of hot water, getting the tea all over the place, and was super late in getting them a new tablecloth when they asked for it. Instead of commenting on all of this, they thanked me profusely for bringing them their drinks on the deck and after seeing me wend my way through the dancing crowd with a trayful of hot drinks, told me I moved like a dancer. Readers, it is now my life goal to be like these people. They were sent from heaven to be my servees.

The only part of this story that I can pick out as funny (and only because it made me want to scream, “OKAY, WHO IS FILMING MY LIFE FOR A SITCOM?!”) was toward the end of the cruise. The head of the party, who was still convinced she had made me cry, was talking to me as I cleared a few empty glasses off the table. “Don’t worry,” she said. “When one of my friends started a bartending job, she didn’t-” It was at this point in her story that I decided to take a Listening to Story stance, and as I did this, the wine glass on my tray fell on the floor and shattered.

Because of the awesomeness of my tables, I was feeling better (if a little teary and sweaty) for the rest of the serving time. I always need something to feel guilty about, so sometimes I would replay the whole first incident in my head and start crying again, but I tried to that out of view of anyone. And my fellow servers are amazing people. They kept checking on me and helping me out and in general being fantastic people toward me. I didn’t exactly expect them to be mean to me after all of this, but I also need to not cry over everything, so I wouldn’t have faulted any of them for being like, “Okay, seriously, get your act together. You’re an adult”(especially since many of them are younger than me.)

Everything was pretty hunky-dory until it was time to figure out payments and tips and blahblahblahmathmathmath. There are so many different things I need to do to figure out one cheque, and getting it wrong is kind of awful because customers don’t like to be overcharged and the business doesn’t like it when prices aren’t paid in full. After surviving that ordeal (with help from co-workers again), I had to take out fifteen percent of my tips to give to the bartender and ten percent to give to the server assistant. I think when I was told this, I actually blanched, because the girl who was helping me gently took my pen and paper away from me and did it herself. Then there was a moment of confusion and possible (but not actual) mix-up with the one paid for with a credit card and I had so many bills with so many numbers on them in my hands and my manager was asking me questions about other numbers and then that’s when I started crying again.

I find my inability to do math, despite it not being my fault, humiliating. Gone are the days when I can hide behind project partners and Google and tutors and extra time on tests or even just laughing about it. Now I’m an adult in the real world and I need to be able to at least divide with decimal points on my own. After I left, I sent a text to my mom: I can’t be a real person. Can’t I just go back to kindergarten?

But I’m here. I’m writing this. So I’m alive- barely. I got lucky tonight, having two angelic tables (who, I should add, tipped me incredibly. WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?!) I probably won’t be so lucky next time.

The moral of this story is, of course, that I need to start drinking, if not to learn about different alcohols, then to use that alcohol to forget nights like this.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kayla
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 23:53:55

    Serving gets better! It was rough for me at first too but the best thing you can do is smile and apologize! Try moving the glasses on the tray to map out the table so even if you don’t remember what the alcohol is, you know that the first person on one side gets this glass and so on!

    Reply

    • Rachel
      Jun 12, 2012 @ 01:41:43

      I think I need to do that; it might take a bit of finagling since I don’t make the drinks, but as I said, the bartender is very nice, so I’m sure he’ll help me πŸ™‚

      Reply

  2. Grant
    Jun 12, 2012 @ 20:15:03

    So… I have ideas on how you can keep the tables and drinks straight. I’ve never been a server, so I don’t know if it would work 100%, but here you go anyways.

    For tables: presumably you have a pad to write down orders. Before the shift begins, once you’ve been given the tables, write on the top of the pad the number and a distinguishing characteristic of where it is, or how big it is. Like Table 12 – Far table, Table 8, near corner, Table 6, seats large party. You can add something about the people sitting there as you’re taking their order. So the list at the top of you pad would end up something like Table 12 – far table, family, Table 8, near corner, anniversary, Table 6, seats large party, college students.

    Now for drinks: When setting them on your tray, do one of two things: either keep them clockwise in the order you took the drink orders from the table (So the first person’s drink, then to the right of it the second person’s drink, then the third’s), or keep them clockwise in alphabetical order. So chardonnay, then coke, then cosmopolitan, then jack and coke, then sprite, etc. So then you can figure out which drink it is… if it’s after the pinot grigio, then based on the list of drinks you have, it must be the pinot noir, not the savignon blanc.

    Hope that helps.

    Reply

    • Rachel
      Jun 12, 2012 @ 20:19:27

      Why thank you πŸ™‚ The whole setting the drinks in a certain order thing seems to be the general advice, so there must be something to it!

      Regarding table numbers, I was told I can put things like “317LrgGrp” or “319Anniv,” which was wasn’t doing before. Until we got the system they use now, the guests couldn’t see what we labelled their party so the classifications were more… colorful.

      Reply

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