You'd better hope that's oregano on those breadsticks

Welcome to In the Weeds. Kyle deserves a day off -- so he'll be back to blow off some steam. I've been in the food service industry for eighteen years, back and front of the house. Waiting tables is one of those jobs that make you want to gnaw on the end of a shotgun. Here's just one of the reasons why.

Don't screw with the people who bring you food. That scene in Fight Club where Tyler Durden pisses in the soup tureen is only hilarious when you aren't on the receiving end of a bowl of uri-noodle soup. Think it can't happen to your food? Read on.

Back when I was 22, I waited tables at a popular chain restaurant and bar that we'll call "Mondays." This place was busy during the week and hellishly packed on weekends. Diners were mostly polite, respectful, good tippers and relatively drama-free, except on Fridays and Saturdays between the hours of 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Coincidentally, the kitchen crashed during just about every weekend dinner rush, and this meant that the dining room was full, the window was empty and the bar was stuck dealing with the overflow of aggravated customers who bombarded the bartenders with appetizer orders on top of their normal logjam of drink orders.

I am Jenn's pounding headache.

On a particular Saturday night, the place was another fiesta of failure: Ticket times were averaging 45 minutes, the managers were either back in the kitchen cooking or trotting through the dining room getting ripped from asshole to appetite by throngs of hungry tables demanding to know where the hell their chicken fingers and fries were. I was doing my damndest to keep my tables from turning on me, but it was apparent by about 8:30 p.m. that they weren't making the distinction between my excellent service and the cooks' inability to produce their food.

It's an ugly but real dichotomy that when servers work their hardest, they get tipped the least -- because many customers base their tipping (or not tipping) on factors other than the service.

I am Jenn's empty wallet.

On this night, I would have felt sorrier for myself if I hadn't walked past the bar a few times. It was ugly. Throngs of families with kids were diverted to the tiny bar tables, and the bar regulars were obviously put out because their watering hole was overrun with screaming infants; the usually amiable and stress-immune bartender "Bill" was taking an audible verbal beating from a mom with a cranky toddler latched onto her hip who was ticked because she needed her spinach dip appetizer to placate her squalling brood. She continued to berate him because she didn't understand why the city/state liquor laws prohibited Bill from placing a highchair at the bar.

I am Jenn's disgust with humanity.

Bill was the nicest, most patient guy in the place, and I'd never heard him cuss or seen him angry in the couple of years I had worked with him. So watching him tear through the kitchen like his ass was on fire was a genuine surprise. I trailed him into the back production area, hoping to offer him a few kind words to help him ease down, just like he'd done for me many times. But before I had a chance to open my mouth, he'd yanked the breadstick warmer open, lifted his leg, poised for a split second, then plunged his foot into the bread bin. He smeared his filthy, barmat-infused boot from one end of the pan to the other, then gave the middle a good stomp. He stared at me, grinning, and said, "That will teach 'em!" while he gathered up a fistful of breadsticks, thrust them into a basket, and went straight back to the bar.

I am Jenn's gag reflex.

I peered into the bin and saw the mounds of crushed bread, now speckled with dirty crud-nuggets -- a few of them with perfect little gray tread patterns decorating the tops. Since nobody else had seen Bill's bread vandalism, I could have walked away and let the dining room full of screaming jerks eat those tasty treats while I laughed my kiwis off.

I am Jenn's moral dilemma.

I really, really wanted to. But instead, I silently dumped the bread in the garbage and took the pan to the dishroom. My cynicism only went so far, and the thought of a couple of decent, nice customers getting the gombu flu from boot-bacteria was enough for me to grow a small, Chia-conscience. But Bill's stunt did more than gross me the fuck out -- it instantly made me never, ever, ever want to rip someone a new exit hole if they had access to anything I would be eating or drinking.

I am Jenn's legitimate point.

If a good-natured guy like Bill could lose it and befoul a few dozen breadsticks, then who knows how many more passive-aggressive food-service employees are capable of worse with less provocation? Don't get me wrong -- this kind of stunt is disgusting, illegal and would never be condoned by management in any restaurant, but managers can't watch everyone all the time. Servers understand all too well that when guests aren't getting seated or getting their food fast enough, they are going to be displeased. It's expected, and even within a customer's right, to voice displeasure -- but behavior like shouting, swearing or name-calling will not get you a table any faster, nor make your supper magically appear in a glittering poof of smoke.

Screwing with your server doesn't justify your server screwing with your food, but it doesn't just happen in the movies.


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