Fresh Eyes: A recovering Triadian server

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-1by Rebecca Henderson

Hello. My name is Rebecca, and I am a recovering Triad inhabitant. It has been 13 months since I last lived in the Triad. I’m here today to talk about my experience with a drug called “foodservice.”

A number of years ago, I graduated during some of the less economically “robust” years with a BFA in extended media. When people ask me what that means, I like to explain it as, “I got a PhD in waiting tables.”

My first paid job in Greensboro was for a high-end catering company. This realm of foodservice is a special brand; think the special-ops of shrimp cocktails. At the risk of appearing brash I must say: I was one hell of a soldier. This disposition put me in the crosshairs of events where “time tray-pass according to arrival of baby tigers” were actual instructions. I’ve had my oversized delivery van X-rayed by national security. There was once an incident involving stilts.

But despite the glitz and glamour of wearing a black button-down and slacks until 3 a.m., there is nothing quite like getting stiffed by 300 people all at once. I understand that is the very nature of catering, but it still doesn’t feel right. A year or so later when work got slim and I couldn’t afford to turn the gas on, I went out in search of greener pastures. To all those still on active catering duty, I salute you.

My next gig would land me in a hip, up-and-coming downtown restaurant, which in Waitress Hollywood is like being suddenly cast in a summer blockbuster. Though the money was easy enough it had the loyalty of a stray cat, and despite my best intentions, most nights I ultimately ended up wandering to the corner bar. Alcohol was definitely one of the darker sides of waiting tables. When I got off late at night, my cash tips didn’t get the chance to scorch my pocket much less burn a hole before I needed a strong drink.

I have developed a theory that members of the Triad service industry are basically passing around the same 10- and 20-dollar bills. Overtipping fellow industry workers in a smaller city is more or less just a short-term loan; normally you get it back within seven days with interest. It’s like a “Thank you!” shouting match. Unfortunately, you don’t just get to always serve servers.

I have two words for you. Sunday brunch. The groups of people who attend brunch by all accounts should be in the best mood of their lives: They have either recently affirmed their salvation through holy teachings or slept in until noon. Regardless of this, their disposition is much more aligned with the Cuban Missile Crisis than choosing an omelet. The fact that some kind of brunch etiquette was not divinely passed down in a specific commandment or holy verse makes me question organized religion altogether.

Every waitress has a pressure point: mine was milk. Parents who come in and request milk off-menu for their child really irk me. Are you under the impression I am holding back a secret milk stash? Would you also like a loaf of bread and a dozen eggs to go?

Many successful servers are like racehorses: young, handsome and fast, and once they go lame they are put out to pasture. I’ve worked for incredible and caring people, but I knew when it was time for me to hang up my horseshoes. I’ve had every shred of luck and the great fortune to work with local businesses in the Triad. Most people do not. Please remember that your tip is not a reflection of your mood or the restaurant: It is your waitstaff’s survival.

By the time I left Greensboro I had been figuratively pulling myself up by my bootstraps for so long they were around my neck. After working on an injured knee for months, I went to see a specialist, and the verdict was in: I had worn multiple tears in my meniscus. Until last year, “meniscus” was something I could not spell, much less identify, on what I could only assume would be a map of Ancient Greece. To translate: My knee was broke real good, and it needed a cutty-open kind of fix.

This July marked one year clean of the foodservice industry and I am a happier and healthier person because of it. I work in design and have used my experience in foodservice, as well as other disastrous aspects of my life, as material for writing comedy. Stand-up wasn’t as hard as I expected, but then again I had already survived many rooms full of strangers with unrealistic expectations of my performance ability. At least now I don’t have to take their drink order, too.

Recently I overheard a fellow comedian remark, “Tough crowd tonight.” Clearly he’s never waited on the milk-crazed brunchers. But tips are always appreciated.

Rebecca Henderson is a designer and constant assault of positive female energy currently trying to figure out how to change her privacy settings.