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Thursday, May 1, 2008

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

When I worked at Denny's, I had the overnight shift and usually worked the smoking section (smokers tipped better and were generally lower maintenance than non-smokers, so it was worth the constant respiratory distress I underwent, being allergic to cigarettes and all), but every now and then would cover some tables over in the larger non-smoking section, too. Usually when the other waitron was sleeping off his “lunch” on a booth bench in the back or we were short-handed (which happened a lot - even the wonder-waitress who liked to steal my tips was less reliable than a clock missing a cog)(please don't ask why a clock needs a cog...I'll feel even older). The non-smoking section was three times the size as smoking and had a few larger tables - big enough for ten or twelve people, if they were friendly.

We had a "banquet room", if you can call anything done at Denny's a banquet, but while I worked there the only thing that happened regularly in that room was the rolling of the silverware bundles - each server had to roll a certain number by the end of their shift or stay after to finish them. We worked on the honor system, but I think I was the only one who ever did all of them. I think this because I knew what a hundred bundles looked like, and no one else ever made a pile that size except the manager when he would hang out with me back there and talk racing while I rolled.

The big room also served as a napping place for one or more of us at any given time - nights could be terribly quiet, often only requiring one person to cover the whole floor, so if anyone was exceptionally tired they'd sneak off for a snooze. Some of the best (evil) fun I had was waking up another server when we got a crowd in. Muahahah...there are so many (evil) ways to go about that...

OK, so mostly I was nice, and would gently, quietly speak their name while placing a lovely hot cup of coffee on the table beside whatever padded bench they'd come to rest on...but every now and then...

There was probably also The Sex (thanks, Aunt Becky!) going on, too. Not me, mind you...at that juncture in my life, I couldn't have cared less about The Sex or men, but considering the rumpled state of a few folks exiting that room, one can only presume...eww.

Sometimes I would sit back in there and collect myself when I was angry, frazzled, or just bone tired. I was still suffering from the insomnia that landed me the job in the first place, and sometimes got only a few hours sleep a week. I'd read a few pages in whatever the current book was, drink some water (I didn't drink coffee when I worked...I didn't need my few poor wits to be any more scattered than usual), maybe eat a bite of French Silk Pie (who needs The Sex when there's French Silk Pie?? Even Denny's couldn't screw that up - they ordered it from a bakery) and then get on with my night.

That room was also where we counted our tips and filled out the claim form every night, so it was a hotbed of criminal activity - not one of us ever claimed full tips for taxes. We needed our cash more than the IRS did.

I liked my shift - it wasn't where the big money was (that would be the breakfast shift) - but it was all I could handle. Those morning waitresses impressed the hell out of me...I still don't know how anyone handles the rush that comes to a breakfast joint in the morning. The few folks I had to serve before seven were enough to make me glad to beat feet out of there when my relief came.

Our Denny's was situated off the 285 Atlanta bypass, on an access road - either Savoy or Cotillion (I always got them mixed up - they paralleled the highway). At the time I worked there, there was a hotel/convention center and a few businesses in the immediate vicinity, and some neighborhoods not too far away. It was considered part of the Dunwoody area - Dunwoody being an upscale, Georgia version of one step removed from Beverly Hills. Our Beverly Hills would be Buckhead, I think. Dunwoody is where the newly rich folks build homes. They're very well off, but not mega-rich, and they build big, flashy homes and drive expensive, flashy cars. Dunwoody is where all those executives move in and out as companies shift them from place to place...in fact, there was more than one corporate house scattered about when I lived there. I wasn't rich, by the way, just lucky to have an apartment in the shitboxes just across the highway from Dunwoody proper. I loved that apartment...

One night, I had a group of folks over from the convention center next door - ten or twelve well dressed, professional looking people (the men in suits with ties, the woman in dresses, low heels, pearls). They were polite, ordered quickly and without fuss. They didn't run me ragged, demanding extra lemon for their water, hotter water for their hot tea, pickles, catsup, napkins, or any of the usual high-maintenance crap. I thought it was going nicely, right up until it was time to pay the tab. They paid it, exactly. No tip. They proudly proclaimed that they were part of the bible convention next door, and for my tip they were going to pray for me. To give me something to hang onto besides cash, they were leaving me a pamphlet about how I needed salvation and how they could lead me there.

Y'all, I wasn't openly pagan at the time - I wore my pentacle inside my shirt and it's not like you could tell by looking at me, so these people were assuming that I was a sinner and that they were the ones to save me. In those days I didn't swear, I dressed ultra-low key or conservatively, and barely made eye contact with anyone. I may have been a mess internally, but I tried very hard not to let that show at work...people don't want a side of conflict mixed with misery with their scrambled eggs or Delidinger,*and I knew it.

I had to walk away or I would have wiped the smug, self-righteous looks right off their faces with a bent butter knife. I really, really wanted to tell them that they could go pray at the phone company and see if it paid my bill, or perhaps at the leasing office at my apartment complex and see if it covered rent. I also wanted to ask them if they were at all familiar with the phrase “theft of services”, and what exactly led them to believe my soul needed praying for anyway? but I just went back into the kitchen and then into the banquet room and waited until they left.

Can you imagine, they were crestfallen that I didn't dance for joy and embrace their necks for praying for my soul instead of paying for my service? They actually complained to the manager - not about my service (which wasn't bad at all, that night) but rather about my distinct lack of appreciation for their generosity. Barf.

I don't know how he kept a straight face as he listened with false sympathy to their plaint that I wasn't grateful to them for seeing to the needs of my tarnished soul. If he'd comped any part of their meal, I would have dumped a fresh pot of coffee in his lap...and I'm not a violent person!!

It wasn't just the tip they didn't leave me that ticked me off- it was the tips I didn't get from the tables I wasn't covering because I was seeing to their large group. It was the tip I'd have to claim even though I didn't get it, and the taxes I would have to pay despite never having the money.

The next night, when a similar group came in (with two of the people from the previous night), I let someone else have the table - the wonder waitress who liked to steal tips. What? She was Baptist, I figured she'd appreciate their "tip" better than I would. I had her best interests at heart. Really.

*If you never had a Delidinger, I'm sorry...it was possibly the best thing Denny's ever made (besides French Silk Pie, and they didn't actually make that), and I nearly cried when they discontinued it.


Aunt Becky said...

The Bible thumpers are the worst to wait on. Like I needed THEM to tell me what was wrong with ME or something.

My blood boils remembering that stuff.

Kyddryn said...

I never minded talking shop with folks, and enjoyed more than a few terrific conversations with people of many faiths...it was their presumption that I needed it that irked me (remember, they didn't know I wasn't Christian at the time)...and why is it always the waitress who gets that? Does anyone try to pay the plumber with a prayer?? Or the doctor? No...it's always the waitress! Sigh.

Bob Cleveland said...


I'm sorry I never stopped in there. I love talking to waitresses and waiters. I like to know if it's full time, are they students, do they have kids. I was a person and I'm still one, aside from being a Christian, and I just enjoy talking to people.

And there are jerks in and out of church. Real ones.

foolery said...

I guess they've never heard of the Spitting In The Food option, ha ha.

No, that's disgusting -- I certainly never did that. But I'd like to think I will exact my revenge on my own jerkwad customers by writing about them in my blog. There are a couple of waitress and retail stories in me, and revenge is a Denny's sandwich best served cold.