Waitress Week: Cherry-Flavored

May 5, 2009

I started working at Houston’s Restaurant during my stint in LA in 1997.  With no experience but in possession of an eagerness to please even the rudest of customers (ahem “guests,” excuse me), they hired me as a hostess.

I enjoyed being a hostess, even though it meant working with hosts like Derek, who took great pride in telling each and every customer to fuck off as they left the restaurant, with the guests none the wiser.

It went like this: 

Derek:  “Have a good night!  Fuckyouforcoming!”

Guests:  “Mm, uh-huh, thanks!”

Me:  CRINGING

After proving my worth as a hostess, I was invited to train as a server, escaping Derek and his invitations to “underwear parties.”  (“The underwear doesn’t usually stay on long,” leered Derek.)

Waitressing scared the hell out of me.  Houston’s was an uber-corporate machine, so there was always an EXACT RIGHT WAY to do everything.  Before doing anything, we were trained to always internally check the Five Priorities:  Guest Request (“I need more ketchup!”), First Round (“What would you like to drink?”), Run (food to tables), Bus (dirty plates from tables), Roll (silverware in napkins).  You’ll notice that “take guests’ food order and enter it into computer” isn’t anywhere on that list.  Houston’s is a strange, rather fascist environment. 

After rigorous training and corporate brainwashing, I was ready to begin but terrified.  I was especially afraid of taking drink orders, since I’m not exactly a font of liquorly knowledge.  At that point in my life, I didn’t venture far beyond wine spritzers, so even though I spent hours pouring over all the brands of liquor we served, I still wasn’t sure I’d be able to answer if someone asked me what kinds of vodka we offered.   To top if off, they sat me down in front of an 80’s-era video (viewing required by law) which described the horrors of alcohol-imbibement and the terror that would rain down upon me if I should serve alcohol to someone underage or already drunk.  

My first night, I was such a nervous wreck that they started me with just one table.   I managed to make 50 bucks, pretty decent for only one table, and I didn’t break anything or embarass myself.  The next night they gave me one more, and finally on my third day I had three tables and felt a little more confident.

Just as the dinner rush was starting, I swooped by a seven-top that had just been seated.   It wasn’t my table, but as Houston’s doctrine dictates, I couldn’t just pass it by to tend to my own table, lest I face flogging after the shift ended.  These people needed drinks dammit! and it was my corporate duty as a sworn member of the Republic of Houston’s to quench their thirst.

So I walked up and greeted them, asking what they’d like to drink.

They were kind of an odd group – five young guys with overly-moussed hair, one big fat man, and a corporate-looking dude in a suit.  I went around the table, carefully writing down their drink orders – mostly sodas for the younger guys, scotch and soda for the fat man (thank God he didn’t ask me what kinds of scotch we carried), beer for the suit.  Then I got to the last guy, a blond baby-faced kid.  He ordered Coke and grenadine.

I froze.  What the hell was grenadine?  Some kind of rum?  It really sounded like some sort of alcohol, and the kid looked even younger than me.  So I asked to see his ID.

The entire table burst into laughter.  Mean laughter.

I didn’t know what to do, so I smiled stupidly and laughed along.  But – but – the VIDEO!  What was grenadine?  Was I supposed to KNOWINGLY serve an underage kid alcohol?  Was this some sort of Houston’s set-up – a test to see if I’d really stick to the rules, or fold under pressure?  Was I being hazed?  Does this kid have some sort of aging disorder and he’s actually 52?

The fat man spoke up.  “You don’t need to see his ID, sweetheart.  You can go now.”

I slunk back to the waitstation and rang in the drink order to the bartender.  Bruce walked up and asked why his table was cackling at me.

“Bruce – what’s coke and grenadine?” I whispered.

“It’s Coke with cherry-flavored syrup,” he said. 

I prompty turned the color of  a maraschino cherry. 

“What did you do?”

I confessed and Bruce slapped his forehead as our manager screamed for food runners.

“First round!” I dutifully called back.

“Dealing with an idiot!”  Bruce called.  That was not one of the Houston’s approved excuses for not running food, but when the manager saw that Bruce was talking to me, he nodded in sympathy.

Bruce rushed off to deliver drinks and try to win back his table while I very carefully avoided that area of the restaurant for the next hour.  After they left, I approached Bruce.

“Everything go okay with your 7-top?” I asked meekly.

“Yeah, they were fine,” Bruce said.  “Don’t worry about it.”

Whew.  No flogging, thank God.

“They were some kind of band or something,” Bruce continued.

“Really?  Who?” I asked.

“I don’t know – ‘In Style?’  Something like that.”

I nodded and went about my business, and after many months of faithful service, I finally lived down the Grenadine Incident and was accepted as a loyal, contributing member of the Houston’s Republic.  I could name our top-shelf liquors with ease (Grey Goose, Sapphire, Chivas, Patron), and sometimes I could even suggest a cocktail – perhaps a Salty Dog, sir? 

About a year later, ‘N Sync hit the big time, and as I scraped dirty plates into the trash one night while the dishwasher hummed “Bye Bye Bye,” I finally, suddenly realized that on that fateful night during my first week as a waitress at Houston’s, Justin Timberlake had asked me for a cherry Coke, and I had asked for his ID.

Dear Justin: 

I know you’ve probably moved on to $10,000 bottles of champagne, but in case you’re feeling nostalgic one day – please, please Justin – just say “cherry Coke.”  Thanks.

Love,

Mama

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3 Responses to “Waitress Week: Cherry-Flavored”

  1. Wordslinger for Hire Says:

    When I started reading this I asked myself the question, “What kind of a tool doesn’t just ask for a cherry coke?”

    Now I know… a Justin Timberlake kind of tool.

    Thanks for the laugh.

    (I once waited on “Tex” Earnhardt and he only had a baked potato and a salad… at a steakhouse… apparently “Tex” does not eat steak… my world was shattered- not nearly as fun a story)

  2. kristi Says:

    HA HAA HAAA! Seriously, Dude, it’s a CHERRY COKE.

  3. pam b Says:

    hahahh thats hilarious.. i mean i can see why he might order say a 7up and grenadine (instead of a shirley temple).. but not much shame in asking for a cherry coke LOL


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