I softly whimper into my pillow. It’s that time in the morning that the majority sleeps through. I’m not sure why it’s me that’s awake lying here in a sea of pillows still slightly buzzed from the evening prior. Memories from childhood cascade through the brain to add to the self-guilt of it all. What would my mother think? I decide next week will be one of lemon water and good behavior. I write a seven-day checklist to post on my fridge– exercise! H2O! sleep! Is it for dignity– a good life– or a forfeit to what’s considered proper? Will I actualize these plans once the hangover passes?
I’m 28 and I work as a server at a restaurant. It’s not where I imagined myself five years ago, or where I imagine myself forever, but for two years since moving to Toronto I’ve paid rent by serving health foodies gourmet veg dishes, fresh juice, and all the wine. It’s a great time with great coworkers, but here is an occupation that does drive you to drink.
At this particular restaurant, the primary demographic of customers, or “custys” as we call them, is somewhat of a walking cliché; a niche, if we’re being polite.
People are consistent in coming through our doors wearing overpriced loungewear and an elevated sense of self-satisfaction. They are a combination of type-A professionals, people who don’t need to work for a living, yogis, and undergrads living like high rollers on mom’s credit card. Those who can afford to throw down twenty grand on spiritual gurus in India l-o-v-e us– you saw that movie Eat, Pray, Love, right? We’re the back-to-reality follow-up. What I might call “entitled,” they might call “enlightened.”
Though the menu is vegan, about 85% of our clientele is not vegan, nor do they care to be informed on what the diet fully entails. That’s okay, it’s nice to see people dipping their toes into a new, well-meaning cuisine; however, when you’re working 4-5-6 nights of the week, the shenanigans of fluffy feathered health nuts with surface-level proficiency will wear on mental motors.
These are people educated enough not to want to put garbage in their body, but not interested enough to explore sights beyond their own self-worth and alkaline levels. After two years, I’m still shocked on how blissfully blah some are okay with being when it comes to acquiring information beyond buzzwords and newspaper trends. Sometimes I feel we ain’t nothin’ but a bandwagon.
The cliché custys are funny ones– servers are privy to a unique glimpse into the animal kingdom. These people aren’t so much funny in the way you’d get on together in real life, but funny in the way where you’re just not sure how they make it in the real world.
When the table of PR girls ask for “real milk” for their coffee, I provide a lax “You mean cow’s milk?” reply. I’m met with strained facial muscles and a confused awkward silence. I have no ill will to non-veggers, and I realize I may come off as a little sassy, but I can’t help but feel some amount of responsibility to instill just a wee mental note for later. And besides, didn’t the whole “Drink Milk” campaign get outted 10 years ago? I like to think they’ll go home and utilize Google. (I promise I’ll never bring the sass outside of these walls– nobody likes a know-it-all. And when people are genuinely curious and kind about the menu, I will give them all the respect. I’ve had some pretty precious moments with first-time custy exchanges.)
Three seats down, the tiny yoga instructor with the groping boyfriend is about to begin the usual circle of demands that will keep me buffering from the bar to their table for the next 40 minutes. They tip well, so I’ll be sure to grab that extra side of Himalayan sea salt somewhat promptly. A woman at the table of twelve writes a list of her allergies in which I must present to the kitchen. Her naturopath says she can’t eat the color red. She and I go through the menu in full and she’s not really getting it. She asks about cross-contamination with fish. Sigh.
It’s around this time when I start fantasizing about the glass of red I’ll enjoy an hour from now. There’s something about busying around at the wake of night chatting up strangers, dancing between orders, cash, the kitchen and the door that makes going home to sleep immediately afterwards next to impossible. This adrenaline rush requires remedy.
My coworkers and I almost always gather post-close to unwind after a hard night’s work. Though the bulk of our clientele remains somewhat of a running joke, we do make the point to acknowledge the righteous folks who were awesome to serve. The good people make it worth it. Still, the big picture and the defeatist in me thinks people who dine out-of-home are the ones who should be required to take that silly Smart Serve test.
However, this stint as a lowly minion is a reminder to we servers to check ourselves– keep it real, ya know? Who knew an $8.90/hour job could be such a lesson in humility– a non-institutionalized education in humanities.
Sometimes there are many nightcaps / too many nightcaps after work. Shit gets black. I realize the incline of booze intake I’ve experienced since starting serving and bite my lip. Our mornings are not exactly in demand, and there’s a certain means of survival involved when you’re subjecting yourself to all walks of the general public every day of the week. In the first season of the television show of Bored To Death, George Christopher (Ted Danson) says to Jonathan, “Men face reality. That’s why they drink,” while sipping chardonnay in a bathroom stall at a party. We servers– even those of us in the health food bizz (shhhh)– can relate. It’s not so much a means of facing reality, but more of a buffering process.
Custys come and go– and so does our sanity– but when you get to work alongside artists, actors, writers, graffiti kings, and future entrepreneurs, it’s the close-knit camaraderie between coworkers that’s the real saviour. A few drinks are simply the celebration. And with this, I conclude: the circle of [a server’s] life.
Iris Wolfe is a writer from the East Coast living in Toronto. She’s into Scandinavian sensibilities, migrating towards cosy perches with red wine prospects, and using her estranged psychology degree as a touchstone. (or sometimes not) She’s often found biking, writing short stories, or wiggling around in the comfort of her own home. People are usually surprised to discover her affinity for good hip hop.