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"...besides love, independence of thought is the greatest gift an adult can give a child." - Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One

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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Denny's Chronicles - Tales From the Other Side of the Tray

I was reading Mommy Wants Vodka and baby on bored, and they both did recent entries about waiting tables. After I left rather long comments for both of them, I thought hey, this could be a blog post or twenty! As I am always happy to let someone else provide blog fodder, I'm taking a page from their books and writing a little about my own (short lived) experience on the other side of the tray.

I have had bouts of insomnia throughout my (somewhat) adult life. During one long stretch of sleepless weeks, I would head over to the local Denny's because it was the only place open in the wee hours. This Denny's was located off of 285, the Atlanta Perimeter, nestled between a hotel/convention center and another motel, and was usually good for a pot of coffee or three and some chatter with whoever was awake at that hour - sometimes the waitress, sometimes the dish washer or the manager, sometimes just the coffee pot. Half the time I'd bring a book, sit in the closed section, and read all night. They never minded, never gave me hell about taking up real-estate without ordering food (often I only had enough money for coffee and a tip), and I was there so often they let me get my own water and showed me how to work the coffee machine so I never had to wait for a refill...and occasionally I'd pour for anyone else in there, too, just to be helpful.

Every now and then, I'd bring a client in - I was (and still am, to an extent) a "fortune teller", and I figured working out of the Denny's was no worse than the goth club downtown I'd been working from (oh, that's a whole other set of stories). Sometimes I'd do readings for the staff, and the manager's girlfriend got in on the action too.

When the manager found out I was looking for part time, weekday employment (I was working races almost every weekend, and even though it was a volunteer gig and I had rent to pay, I wasn't giving it up), he offered me a spot on the overnight shift, eleven to seven. Why the heck not? I'd never waited tables, had no idea how to go about it, but come on...this was Denny's after midnight - how hard could it be?

Oh, right.

It might have been helpful if they'd trained me a little, or at least explained how to write down orders so the cook could understand them. What, he didn't know what a "gswds" (Grand Slam with Double Sausage) was? Come on! I got it...oh, wait, that would be because I wrote it down to begin with. Oops.

My first night was right before a three day even at the track, so I worked, went home, and headed up for my weekend of chasing cars. Woof. I'd made enough in tips to pay for my gas (it was about fifty-cents a gallon, back then. Those were the days!) so I was happy. I camped at the track, had a nice weekend, and showed up Monday night for my second go-around.

Hmm. It seems they weren't expecting me to return.

Why, pray tell?

Someone had left the drawer short by about (exactly) eighty dollars, my first night. The manager asked around, and Luther (yes, that's his real name, the asshole deserves being identified) told him I'd been cuffing twenties all night, and that he, Luther, had seen me at it.

Oh, really.

First of all, rebel that I am, I had my sleeves rolled up past my elbows all night(we were supposed to have them rolled down and buttoned, but I never did). Kind of hard to cuff a twenty when your cuffs aren't there. Also, I told the manager, if I was going to slip a little extra something in my pocket, a wrinkled old crack addict wasn't going to be the one catching me at it, and if he wanted to know who left the drawer short he should look out back where all the drug paraphernalia was scattered about and see who might be back there with it. And finally, if he really thought I'd taken the money, I would go empty out my meager bank account, give him what little I had, and we were done, because I never piss in my nest. I won't say I never stole anything, ever, but I certainly wouldn't bite the hand that feeds me - I have never been that monumentally stupid.

I started to walk out. The manager told me to wait, and explained that it had just looked odd - the drawer comes up short and I'm gone for three days. Umm, hello?? I told him I would be at the races all weekend! Hell, I offered him a guest pass! I should have taken the hint, really, and given it up as a bad idea right then and there.

Turns out, Luther was the one tipping himself from the till. From that night on, I refused to touch the register until they made it policy that one person a night had the key, so only that one person could ring up tickets and make change. And guess what? My drawer was never short so much as a cent, so up yours Luther, you drug using, lying, cheating, stealing jackass!!

Then there was the waitress who would wander into my section and grab my tips from the table...and on the nights she had the drawer, not only did it come up short, but somehow my charged tickets never left me a tip, either, and she could never seem to find the slips to show me that empty tip line. Oh, I hated working her nights. They wouldn't fire her because she was supposed to be this wonder-waitress form another store, on loan to show us how it's really done. She got mad when they wouldn't give her my tiny little six table section - it was the smoking section, and smokers are better tippers and usually lower maintenance, and she wanted it because it was an easier section and would make more money overnight than non-smoking. The manager wouldn't give it to her, though, because I had seniority in that store...by about two weeks...and he didn't like her, either. I'd tell you her name, but I can't remember it.

So we had Luther, the lying cheating, thieving asshole; we had the tip stealing uber-waitress bitch from hell; we had the manager who was never anywhere to be found because he was studying for a degree in anything that would get him the Hell out of Denny's; we had the cook whose name I wish I could remember because he was a freakin' genius in that kitchen; Tim the big sweet dishwasher who once told me he would kill anyone who gave me a hard time - and I believed him; and we had little old me, the worst waitress to ever darken Denny's door. The stage is set.

I want to end this first post with this - I had an extraordinarily weird crew to work with. Most of the people who wait tables, bus tables, and do the dirty work behind the scenes are decent, honest, hard-working people with families to feed, rent to pay, and bills to cover. I know this, and I want to make sure you do, too. I have experienced restaurant crews that were as tight as any military outfit, as close as any family, and as wonderful as you could hope to ask for - I just didn't get to work with them, because Fate decided I should be a bad Denny's waitress so I could write future blog entries. Thank you, Fate. I'll settle up later.


Mamma Schmoo said...

I have never worked as a waitress as I am as clumsy as they come but I have been the dirtbag working on the other side of the cash register at a convenience store....fun time!!

RachelW said...

Oh you take me right back to my first job, waiting on tables at a fifties style diner! Yes, like you, I do have stories to tell.... ;)

Kit said...

Never waited tables. I'd suck at it, I think. I did the art major standard and worked at frame shops. Not so many stories, there!

Becky said...

Hehehe. They NEVER train you to serve. Period. No idea why.

And shit, will you read MY fortune?

RachelW said...

Ya know, I was thinking about this... maybe it is best not to cross the counter at your favourite dive. You'll never see the place the same way again. If you ever go back. Don't shit where you eat, I think that's what I'm trying to say.

Kyddryn said...

Mama Schmoo, if I didn't have to make a living at it, and I could wait tables at a diner or small cafe, I might do it again. I am special-crazy that way, though.

Rachel, spill 'em!!

Kit, I did the framing thing, too...but that's a whole other can of worms...

Becky - you're somewhere up near Chicago, right?? Next time I'm up there, you betcha. I can do it online, but it's never quite as good as in person. Eww, that just sounds wrong, doesn't it??

foolery said...

I have a few restaurant stories to tell, too, so I am an especially appreciative reader. More! More!