I was standing in the entrance of Olive Garden Sunday night when I had a sudden realization. It went something like this: David, this is probably one of the stupidest ideas you’ve ever had.
Of course, this bothered me because my subconscious-self had just used the word “stupidest” despite knowing full and well that the superlative form of “stupid” is, in fact, “unintelligentest.”
The other thing that really bothered me is that I knew my subconscious-self was right.
My girlfriend, Shelby, and I were waiting for one of the estimated two available tables in all the restaurants of Wichita.
As you know (if you pay any attention to the floral wire service ads on television), Sunday was Valentine’s Day. And in accordance, every single person and half of the deceased voters in Florida decided to eat out.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have that epiphany until after Shelby and I had been standing in the waiting area for over an hour.
I really should have known better.
I’ve been waiting tables for about four years now, and if I’ve learned anything, it’s that the worst time to try to eat out is when the rest of the world is trying to eat out, too.
There’s something about a holiday like this that makes people go a little crazy. Most people—myself included—can comprehend the fact that eating establishments of any kind are going to become zoos when the fine print appears on the calendar.
And yet, despite this knowledge we all decide to go out anyway. And then we end up standing in line, like we knew we would. And then we start to get a little agitated, like we knew we would. And then we start getting angry after standing in line for a half hour, like we knew we would. And then we get really ticked when people who showed up AFTER we did are getting seated first, like we knew we would. And then when we finally do get seated, we’re not hungry anymore because we’re still so hopping mad about the injustice caused by a wait staff that is so incompetent that it can’t seat its customers in the order that they walked in the door!
Truthfully, I should have seen all of this coming. The night before, I worked the Valentine’s crowd at Country Lakes Cafe in Marion.
Thankfully, Country Lakes decided to set up a reservation system and a fixed menu, which made the evening about 10 times more organized than it could have been.
Yet, despite the prearranged schedule, a full restaurant is still a handful. I started the night by first overflowing the coffee pot and then the water pitcher. (Sorry, Barb.)
And then the customers came.
Since we were serving a five-course meal, I was responsible for keeping track of the progress that each of my tables were making: first hors d’oeuvres, then soup, salad, meat and dessert.
There really is a science to making sure that everything is coordinated right.
And as any of my high school science teachers will tell you, I’ve always been bad at science.
At one point in the evening, I went to a table that had finished its meat and asked if they were ready for dessert. After a brief moment of perturbed glances, one of the men pointed to where a fourth person had been seated and said, “She had to leave. We’ve been waiting.”
After profusely apologizing (most waiters learn to be suck-ups real quick), I got the remaining three people their desserts.
Other than that, the evening went fairly smoothly.
And I kept all the logistics of a Valentine’s Day restaurant crowd in the back of my mind as I stood in line at Olive Garden the next evening, because I really should have seen it coming.
Now, experiencing the rush from the customer’s point of view, I realized we waiters really aren’t as omnipotent as we like to think we are. And I yet I realized that by getting hot under the collar, I was being a judgmental customer, too.
So I suppose that, as a whole, every person at a restaurant on Valentine’s Day is the stupidest.