Depending on whether the pastor is long winded today, the big tables should be here shortly after noon. We’ve been here since 10 a.m., and back-of-house has been here since 7. We gather outside the kitchen and listen to the general manager hoarsely yell out the specials while chaos echoes on the other side of those double-doors. Anxiety-inducing, high tension sounds permeate: the banging pots and pans, the clink of glasses being stacked at the drink wells, a harsh voice berating somebody — possibly themselves — for not setting a timer. Every single employee on duty, including the underage hostesses and the married managers that creep on them at every opportunity, are extremely hungover.
Welcome to Sunday brunch.
Literally everyone who prepares and serves you Sunday Brunch is having the worst day of their life, every time. Not one of them wants to be there. Don’t believe me? I’ve had co-workers OD in the parking lot because they didn’t want to deal with Sunday customers sober. Once, I found a new server laid out in the men’s bathroom while customers were piling through the front door to get their muffins and mimosas. There may be a future article about how certain restaurants with high turnover keep servers poor, whose less-than-discerning hiring process fail to show that you might just get what you pay for, but this ain’t it. Good jobs were rare in those days, go figure; I needed a job.
When someone first starts out in the restaurant industry, there are a plethora of experiences that show them how the world works. It’s a microcosm of society with all the hits playing on a constant loop.
Hierarchies, petty politics and literally all the “isms” are on full display in a restaurant or bar from colleagues and customers alike. All play very important roles in the radicalization and education of today’s youth. Much like the Hogwarts sorting hat, at a young age you find yourself in front of a prospective employer who will deem you fit for “front” or “back” of house. Once placed, the job has the ability to affect the direction of one’s life. A big part of that education is being forced to work a Sunday brunch shift.
At 11 a.m., the doors open and the “Let’s beat the churchgoers”-crowd piles in. Coffee, lots of it. “How do to
you like your eggs?” begins to repeat in my head like a meditative mantra. I hurriedly scribble food orders and seat numbers. A complex system developed for the restaurant industry is taught to all new servers to keep track of complicated orders. It’s called “Don’t fuck it up.” This method applies to tables and the back of house equally. One is always unsatisfied and the other is always angry. The server is always the target of one.
Back of house, basically kitchen staff, carries some resentment towards front — waiters and bartenders, more or less — for many reasons. Tips vs. no tips, server’s discussion of said tips on the line, longer hours, burns, scalds, cuts, dull blades, even duller blades, life in a revolving sauna/arctic cubicle, claustrophobia, cornstarch remedies and lack thereof, yelling, more yelling, etc. Servers have only one: “Oh my god, I put in this order five minutes ago, why isn’t out yet?” However, there is one place where both houses come together: In their mutual contempt for the Difficult Customer. This is never more true than a Sunday brunch shift; I can’t stress this enough. Just after noon, we start to get the big tables. Churches are starting to let out. Refills are ordered — barked — while I’m still filling the tables’ first cups of coffee. We run out of high chairs. Steak and eggs, well done. More bread. Dishes are starting to be sent back at neighboring tables. This isn’t because there is something wrong with the meal; it’s a notorious power move used by narcissists and sociopaths for the benefit of the other people at their table. A loose child screeches. It’s not even 1 p.m. yet.
I don’t know what makes them so demanding and difficult. Is this the only day they go out? Do they feel that since they’re dressed up, they should act the part? Was all that grace used up at the sermon?
Time flies. I’m on the front. The scalding coffee isn’t hot enough for the lady in the huge hat so I throw it in an already occupied microwave for a minute. I collect grievances about people who I vow to write about a decade later. My largest and most unforgiving complaint is the Bible tract disguised as a 20, left in the checkbook at the table. I can’t tell you the pure rage of busting ass for a table of needy yokels from whatever dogpatch neighborhood they spawned from just to receive a vaguely racist and homophobic Bazooka Joe comic about how Jesus is my tip; he never paid my bills.
Any beef and harsh words between front and back is squashed after the shift over hastily smoked cigarettes by the garbage bins out back. At the end of the one day where the customer is more demanding, more extra, and completely bereft of any societal normalities, we bond. After all, like our manager — who will fire us at a whim — says, “We’re family here.”
Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.
We believe that reporting can save the world.
The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.
All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.