With the amount of drama that occurs in any given restaurant, it’s only fitting that so many waiters are aspiring actors. Not so many in my restaurant, per se, but it is a general observation of the industry. Yet the more I think about it, I realize that we servers and tenders of the bar aren’t aspiring actors as much as we are actors. A particular evening is what brought this observation to my undivided attention.
Lights, camera, ACTION! Enter Bartendress.
What night it was, is erroneous in this tale. However, it is to be noted that as a bartender, one is constantly on stage. Where a waiter has a wait-station to adjourn to, a bartender has no escape. From the moment I set foot in the bar, I am in the spotlight. In fact, it is absolutely impossible to not be in my case, as even with my back toward the customer would the mirrors reflect my expressions. I must remain in character until the last customer leaves. Constant acting.
But it’s more than simply acting; it’s improv. Although my script may start the same each shift, the plot is always different and there is never just one. Where a server may have a six table section and interactions with the bar and the kitchen- giving them a total of eight plots- I have an eight table section in addition to a 12 person capacity at the bar and interactions with both servers and the kitchen. Do the math.
On this particular night, one plot did not thicken until the dessert course.
I had been waiting on two men and a woman at the bar all evening. It started with just the two men who were pleasant as can be. They were from the midwest and were in town on business.
“We’re waiting on a third, but I don’t think she’ll be coming until later,” one man announced.
“Very well then. Are we waiting for her to have a drink or dine?” I asked.
“Oh goodness no, we’re starving!” exclaimed the other man.
I proceed to take their drink and dinner orders and submit them to the kitchen. As I dropped my order in the basket I caught a conversation occuring behind the line.
“Hey, Bartendress!” yelled the saute cook. “Bartendress” being my Christian name as far as the kitchen is concerned. “Did you see that episode of ‘Battlestar Gallactica’ last night?”
Acting like I knew what they were talking about, I nodded and smiled and walked back into the bar to find that a couple had sat beside the two mid-westerners. I greeted them with the same opening dialogue, chatting briefly with them about the weather. Once again, acting like it had deviated from dry and sunny in the past 300 days. Lovely as the weather was did they keep to themselves most of the night, watching me.
Time went on and new tables came and left. My mid-westerners had finished their entrees when the woman they had been waiting for, arrived.
Enter the villain.
I scanned the bar and found a vacant bar stool. Walking around the bend of the bar, I could here them talking.
“You guys already ate? Way to wait for me,” she complained.
“Well, yeah- it’s nearly 9:30p.m.,” replied one man.
“Yeah, we were starvin’! But the kitchen is still open- I’ll bet you could order somethin’ if yer hungry,” offered the other.
I walked up behind the woman with a bar stool in hand. As she turned, I smiled and picked up the bar stool offering her a seat.
“Would you like to sit down, ma’am?” I asked.
She whipped around and looked at the stool, then looked right through me. She turned back around to the two men.
“Don’t you want to move to a table?” she groaned.
The two men looked at each other, then looked at their nightcaps, looked at me and then looked at her.
“Well, we’re pretty comfortable right here-” said one.
“Fine,” she sighed and with0ut turning her head, reached her hands backward and pulled the bar stool out of my hands.
You’re welcome, began my soliliquy.
I walked back around the bar to find that my quiet, observant couple was still watching me. Reaching for a dinner menu, I turned and looked at the woman who had jimmied her way between the two men like a meat cleaver between two shanks. As I leaned in to hand her the menu, she jerked her hand up in the most condesending, dismissive way.
The two men looked at me, their cheeks flushed with embarassment.
“So, I understand you are traveling with these two gentleman on business?” I started the conversation.
“Yeah,” she huffed.
“Yeah, we’re all traveling together. We’ve got meetings with some developers this week,” elaborated one man.
“This week?” I asked, emphasizing the amount of time: a week. “A full week?”
“Yup, we’re here all week together on business,” concluded the other. Poor bastards I thought to myself. I smiled and looked to the woman.
“May I offer you something to drink?” assuming that she would follow the suit of her co-workers and have a nightcap. Instead, she proceeded to add a metric ton of cornstarch to an already thickened plot. Let it be noted that what she proceeded to order, I would proceed to write down as there was no way I’d ever remember such an obtuse combination of words. My memory is at capacity for bullshit drinks such as an “Incredible Hulk” or a “Scooby Snack”. But this drink order did not contain any sort of spirit, so it was notably foreign to me. The villain opened her mouth, and as I thought she would proceed to order what came naturally to her- a pint of blood from an innocent child- she instead ordered this:
“Yes, a skinny-dry-zebra-cappuccino-” she blurted in a staccato fashion.
“Sounds delicious! What is that?” I ask, bewildered.
“What do you mean ‘what is that?’ ” she snarled. The two men’s cheeks now red with embarassment.
This woman is as pleasant as a bludgeoning- I thought.
“I didn’t understand a word you said, other than the word ‘dry’ and ‘cappuccino’,” I replied.
“Really? Isn’t this a restaurant?!” she laughed while seeking humor approval from the two men. They laughed nervously realizing they were traveling with that person…all week.
“You are absolutely right, this is a restaurant!” I replied with great enthusiasm.
“Well someone should have trained you better,” she chuckled, “but how much could she know? Those who can’t do, serve!” This time, her laugh was not accompanied by the two men as they had now sunken into their seats. My observers fell silent as they were now eavesdropping.
The villain was not only rude, but condesending, inconsiderate, insatiable and I’ll say it- a total bitch. I felt terrible for the two men whom clearly had no idea what they had signed up for. A business trip thousands of miles from home, with no place to hide for the next week. I could see their minds racing with how to avoid dining with this woman. One man looked at me like a puppy who had just pissed on a Persian rug. A look that said, “I’m so sorry. I’m just a puppy, I don’t have control over these kids of things.”
The other man’s flushed face had evolved from embarassed to angry, clearly biting his tongue to prevent himself from escorting her out by the ear like a Sicilian grandmother. They had just discovered that they were traveling with a menace to all things pleasant. My observations came to a screeching halt when I was literally snapped out of it.
Ladies and gentleman, we have a snapper.
Yes, mein fuhrer? I thought, as I looked at her with a smile plastered on to my face.
The sound of her snap caused every conversation to cease, every head to turn, every utensil to drop and somehow even managed to unplug the ipod from its auxilary chord. The bar was silent and all eyes were on me. I have a patience rivaled only by Ghandi’s, until someone snaps at me. Realizing that the two men had to deal with this not only all week, but back at the office too- I decided to give them a bit of a show. I looked at her, smiled and leaned in.
“I am a bartender, not a barista. So, if you explain to me how an emaciated African equine mammal from the Serengheti, plays into an Italian espresso drink with foamed milk- I’d be more than happy to merge Zoology and caffeine culture into a mug for you, ma’am.”
Her pupils narrowed into vertical slits at the exact moment that her tongue forked behind her now very apparent long canines. She adjusted her posture which only made her preexisting cobra hood-like hair, more ominous. Proceeding to hiss, I mean explain, to me that her four-legged cappuccino was in fact a dry cappuccino (exclusively espresso with foam on top), made with non-fat milk and equal parts dark chocolate and vanilla syrup.
When did coffee get so complicated? Consider me, enlightened.
I nodded to her explanation, and proceeded to tell her that out of this opus of all things superfluous, I could only arrange for a traditional dry cappuccino made with organic whole milk.
“How does a restaurant not have non-fat milk?” she barked, as she was now a barking cobra.
“Well, we’re just a restaurant and I’m only a server, ma’am, so what I can offer you is what we have. What we have is organic whole milk and wonderful locally roasted espresso. Unfortunately, that is all I can offer,” I responded with a big smile. “And you know, the difference between whole milk and skimmed is a mere 3%. You could indulge this once, perhaps?”
The two men sitting beside her trembled as they tried to contain their laughter. My eavesdroppers began chatting so as to not be so obviously giggling.
“Yeah, live on the wild side!” suggested one man.
“We’ll just take the check,” she hissed, a bit softer this time.
I turned to the computer to print their check and was halted by the other man.
“Actually, I’m not done yet- I’d like to stay,” he said.
“Yeah, me too. I want to finish my drink and then go back to the hotel,” agreed the other.
“Well, I’m leaving,” announced the woman, uncoiling and slithering out of her bar stool.
“Would you like me to call you a cab, ma’am? I’d be more than happy to,” I offered, descrating her with kindness.
“I’ll walk,” she replied her cheeks now the ones rosied with embarrassment.
The two men waved as she exited the bar. They clinked their glasses to a wild week ahead and apologized for her behavior. Eventually, they finished their drinks and I called them a cab. I waved goodbye and assured them that I had endured far worse in the past. They promised to come in before they left under the condition that the woman behaved herself. I smiled and wished them luck on their week.
I made my rounds to the other plots brewing about the bar, when I was flagged down by my eavesdroppers.
“Are you an actress?” asked one of them.
Surprised at the question, I giggled and responded. “What makes you say that?”
“You were just so quick witted with that woman! Any other server I know would have just freezed up,” explained the other.
Once again, all eyes were on me as so many others clearly had the same question. I looked at my full bar looking back at me, the waiter in the well awaiting their drink order and four curious eyes from the appetizer station in the kitchen, peering over. The limelight was on me, and had been since I clocked in. I looked back at my eavesdroppers who were anxiously awaiting an answer.
“Yes, I am an actress,” I responded. Their eyes grew wide with excitement. “I act tonight, tomorrow night…” and proceeded to list off my entire schedule. The bar exploded into laughter.