Friday, March 25, 2011

Non-Fiction Friday: I Didn't Cry When

Written by Guest Blogger Caroline Helper

I never thought I was a cryer until I worked in a restaurant. I was working at a very la-di-dah restaurant in a wealthy neighborhood in Los Angeles that was known for its beautiful back patio, high prices, and excellent food.

The general manager was a temperamental Brit, a little rough around the edges yet even more charming for it. When he turned it on, he emanated the kind of easy charisma that made you want nothing more than to be the source of his smile. Of course the accent didn’t hurt and his tendency towards swift and unexpected changes of mood made him seem a little dangerous, which, of course, never hurts either.

The Chef was even more mercurial. He could transform from a slick-as-oil cool-stoner into a raging beast faster than even the most beleagured PMS sufferers and provoked by far less.

One very busy evening he stopped running his kitchen for a few minutes to launch a tirade against me, in front of the majority of the staff, for carrying an armful of toilet paper rolls through the kitchen (a route that involved a quick 5-foot dash to the ladies room and which I took in lieu of through the dining room). That little incident did not make me cry.

Nor did I cry the time the GM insisted I go to the drugstore to buy some deodorant on a swelteringly hot August afternoon.

I didn’t cry when the brand new printer in the office jammed and Chef blamed it on me, banned me from touching the machine, and berated me for being stupid while questioning my attendance at a four-year university that happened to rival his alma mater.

I didn’t cry when an unhappy guest took to Yelp to air her complaints against yours truly. I didn’t cry when the GM made me stand in his office as he read aloud the review that bemoaned my attempts to accommodate the author’s seating preferences by showing her and her date three different tables on a busy summer night. I did not cry while I tried to point out that the review made the author sound like a spoiled Goldilocks (this table was too cold, this table was too quiet, this table was too far, and on and on).

I didn’t cry when one night, all of a sudden, the GM decided a shirt I had on was not right. I did not cry as I stood in front of the entire wait staff at their pre-shift meeting and was told that a shirt I’d worn many nights previously without comment, was suddenly inappropriate and in poor taste (it was a gauzy button down in a black and white print that I wore over a camisol).

I finally cried when, on an unusually busy night, I was yelled at for doing the cocktail server’s job. The hostess stand was in the front of the restaurant, where there was also a long bar and lounge area. I was on my own at the end of the night, when the bar scene suddenly picked up and swelled so large that the singular cocktail server was swept under – servicing her tables as best she could on her own. She was a friend and I liked to help her out when I could on busy nights – taking drink and food orders for tables that she couldn’t get to. Just in front of the hostess stand was a couch of ladies who frantically beckoned me to their table and brought their empty cocktail glasses to my attention.

The women, acting betrayed exasperated and beyond annoyed, claimed they had been waiting for their server to come by “for like an hour” (it had been more like 15 minutes since she’d placed the now-empty glasses in front of them) and demanded that I bring them some new drinks. Of course Chef had happened to walk up to the hostess stand just as the women waved me over, as he had a habit of doing towards the end of the night, when the kitchen was shutting down. He watched as I explained to the ladies, with my back to him and a smile on my face, that the cocktail server is on her own and sometimes it takes her a minute to come back around but I would be happy to put in their order and what would they like.

As I walked back towards the bar to put in the orders, Chef grabbed me and asked me to recount the goings-on between me and the guests. I didn’t cry when he called me a liar in my version of events – from where he was standing I had been unendingly unaccommodating even as I tried to make my way towards appeasing the miffed guests.

I didn’t cry when, as chef was verbally abusing me at the front door, in front of guests, a couple walked up and asked for a table. I told them I’d go have a table set up and turned to stop at the bar to place the ladies’ drink order (still not put in on account of Chef’s tirade) on my way back to setting the table. This time Chef stopped me to demand why I’d lied again –this time to the guest at the front. Why on earth would I tell them I was setting their table and then go to the bar instead? Multi-tasking was not the right answer. And when I finally dropped the drinks off at the thirsty ladies’ table, 15 minutes later, and they demanded to speak to a manager, I didn’t cry then, either.

I finally cried when I was called in for a meeting with the GM and Chef. I cried as I accused them of verbal abuse, I cried as I demanded an apology, and I cried as I refused to accept blame for doing some else’s job, and I cried as I defended myself against being called a liar. I cried after the meeting was over, behind the restaurant I shook with loud wailing sobs that wouldn’t stop coming. 

For more of Caroline's writing follow her at OR on Twitter @ForgetBurgundy


  1. I'm glad you stood up for yourself in the end. Sounds like they were angry people with no conscience — LOSERS!! Good job for holding back the tears for as long as you did! Not easy.

  2. As a fellow kindred spirit in the service world, my heart goes out to you in this retelling. Few people really understand the juggling act that is working in a restaurant, and it's important to share these stories for everyone to learn from. My only question is: did you leave the job?!

  3. I cried too. I cried after they demoted me because they hired someone new they figured could do my job better after working hard and putting up with similar temperaments. After it proved to not happen as promised, they instantly turned on her as they did to you, running her out of the restaurant as well.

  4. In response to the question of whether I left... I worked in that restaurant for a year. For the first, I'd say, 7 or 8 months though there were humiliating incidents sprinkled, more of the time is remembered for the friendships I made with other employees, post-shift glasses of (expensive) wine with staff, GM and Chef and a having fun at work. The last 3 or 4 months is when it started to get really bad but I was leaving to move to NYC at the end of the summer anyways, so I figured I'd just stick it out and save. It wasn't until they hired a girl who was to be my replacement that I realized I was being pushed out early. The new girl was a very annoying brown-noser they initially loved for it who turned out to drive them all crazy before she left prematurely, too.