I have learned that there isn’t enough Xanax in the universe to help make the blood money of Christmas time in the service industry entirely tolerable.
Six weeks of the year, I lose myself. Socially, mentally, emotionally. My friends know not to call to ask me to hang out on a Saturday – I probably worked a thirteen-hour shift and have to work another one Sunday. My mom and sister know not to expect me home for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, I spend it with the wait staff drinking Coronas in the kitchen after that shift. Bank of America probably thinks I sell crack because of the uptick in my deposits. It’s a six-week phenomenon that I both dread and look forward to, mainly because it means I can book vacations for January and June that will renew my sense of sanity.
But we call it blood money for a reason. Working so close to Times Square, I see what is arguably the worst of humanity in so many ways. Those nutjobs who shop at Walmart on Black Friday, get arrested for punching an old women over a TV and then get released on bail? Yeah, those people usually end up at my place demanding drinks and food. People who don’t tip, people who aren’t patient, people who are condescending. People who make Christmas time a stressful time. I have left the floor/bar twice in four years to go cry in the coat check because people have been so downright terrible to me over things like the table being too small or mac and cheese being not hot enough. Both of which are clearly my fault (I built the table, I made the mac and cheese. Duh).
With that being said, I also see a lot of good. I also see a lot of green and in many ways, I have learned to become desensitized to the tragedy of people who aren’t just Grinches at Christmas, but full-blown Satans. But for all the new bartenders, waitresses and servers out there who are padding the back of the coat check so they have somewhere to hide when a woman who looks like Honey Boo Boos mother berates you for six minutes straight because the well done steak she ordered took an hour to come out (like you told her it would) on a busy Friday night, I got this.
Here are ten ways to help keep your bartender/server from going insane this Christmas.
10. Muddled drinks are like dial-up Internet.
Christmas time means high volume. High volume means longer wait times. This has nothing to do with my efficiency as a server or bartender. It’s like traffic. It simply exists because more people are present. So when you order a muddled cucumber watermelon margarita, or a muddled blackberry Elderflower mojito, or something extremely intricate off the drink menu (which we actually take off the tables on Saturdays and Sundays), please don’t be surprised if it takes a while. Do yourself and us a favor – order a glass of wine, a beer, a two-mix drink like Jack and Coke or vodka soda, hell, even a martini. But something like a basil cucumber jalepeno infused margarita with salt that requires a trip to the kitchen for an ingredient, or a drink with 37 different ingredients on opposite ends of the bar when the bar is four deep, please just don’t. Or if you do, don’t expect to receive it anytime before your first course/Christmas day.
9. Verbal tips can’t buy Christmas gifts. Or groceries.
Look, a lot of people just don’t agree with me on this one. The last piece I did (http://www.brobible.com/life/article/10-things-bartenders-hate), a lot of people thought a 20% minimum tip was outrageous. Lunacy. But in New York, not only is it the new (and rightfully so) minimum, it is the LEAST you can do when you watch someone bust their ass on Christmas. I cannot speak for every bartender or server. I’m sure there are some shitty ones out there. But knowing I served 17 full dinner tables at a time without a busboy or help last year throughout the night on Christmas Eve and Christmas day – people without reservations, people who didn’t speak a word of English, people who were tired and cold and grumpy – with close to impeccable service, I cannot as a server risk that someone is going to be a cheap fuck and not pay me for the work I am doing. And believe it or not, I cannot simply hope and pray that you’re a good person who will do the right thing because so many people just don’t. I do not give up my holidays with my family in order to work for free or for the pleasure of your company while at my table. And I know you like the power of being able to make or break me, but understand my tips ARE my salary. I make less than minimum wage on the books, and sure, that isn’t your fault, but it IS your responsibility as the customer to make up that difference. A tip is not a reward, like so many people think it is. It is a salary, it is my paycheck, it is what you pay for the service you are being rendered. Yeah, America is weird and it's shitty thatthe customer gets to dictate their own pricing for service, but that's how it goes and just because you have the ability to fuck me over on a tip doesn't mean it is okay to do so. Your verbal tips of “you’re so sweet” and “have a great Christmas!” do not pay my rent or utilities. So yes, on holidays, or nights that draw big crowds of European tourists during holiday season, please do not be surprised or insulted if the gratuity is suggested/included. It can get crazy, chaotic and tables get turned quickly. Unless I really sucked, and I mean like, REALLY sucked, you can’t not tip me because you didn’t like the way your drink tasted, or how long the food took, or how loud the bar was. Complain to the manager, request items be taken off the bill, but don’t punish the server or bartender for things out of his or her control. I do not work for free in general, but I CERTAINLY do not work for free on Christmas.
8. I was an English major, not a math major. Please don’t make me divide $172.98 by 15.
Look, I get it. No one wants to pay for things they didn’t eat or didn’t drink. Rarely will someone just step up and front an entire bill if it’s not on a corporate card. But f you are coming into dinner with seventeen other people and want to spit the check between everyone, don’t put down seventeen cards, some cash and a gift certificate for an unknown amount. Splitting the check is always fine when it’s in cash, because I don’t have to run forty cards and print a dozen checks and locate seventeen different check presenters within the restaurant. You organize with your group who owes what and then you hand me the cash. Nice easy transaction, everybody;s happy! But if one person is giving me twenty-two in cash and the rest on their card, and some people are paying on a card but only for two drinks and an appetizer, and then fifteen other people are doing cards and one person is doing cash and leaving the tip, and one person is using a gift certificate, I will be standing at the register from now until rapture waiting for that shit to get done if I don't slit my wrists first. When it’s busy in a bar or restaurant, don’t ask the servers or bartenders to split a check more than five ways (that could even be pushing it), especially if the bill is less than a hundred bucks. It’s confusing, it’s math, it’s frustrating, and it’s an excessive amount of work for what usually results in very little in return. Be kind. Step up and pay for the whole thing and request cash from your buds at a later time, or collect cash at the table and pay the whole bill that way.
7. Kids don’t belong in a bar, despite festive decorations.
I don’t like kids. I don't have kids. But if I did, I would not have my kids in a bar. Little kids who require sippy cups and leashes and crayons and a ton of toys to keep from screaming their heads off do not belong in the same space a group from UBS is having their Christmas party getting wasted checking out the waitress’s ass. I am a bartender. It hurts my soul to make hot chocolate, to pour milk, and to be asked for Apple Juice, Root Beer and Coke Zero (seriously, what restaurant carries Coke Zero?). We serve Jack, not Juicey Juice. We have College Gameday on the TVs, not the Wiggles or Nick Jr. I get that it’s cold, I get that you’re tired and you just want to sit down because your kids are driving you insane, but kids simply do not belong in a bar, period. Don’t be surprised when a bartender or server in the bar area gets flustered justthinking about cleaning up after a four year old who is eating chicken fingers with ketchup on a Saturday in December. There is nothing worse than cleaning a table where a child has gone to town on some kind o food and gotten 90% of it on the table and chairs instead of in their mouth.
6. If you don’t have reservations, don’t yell at me for not having a table.
For the life of me, I will never understand why someone would go wander around New York City in the middle of December and not make a reservation somewhere. This is the busiest time of year for the city, simply getting from my apartment on the Upper East Side to my job in midtown during December requires Xanax and excessive therapy. So when you come into a busy restaurant, please don’t get angry with the hostess when she tells you there is nothing available until 8:30 or 9 o’clock. You are not Queen Elizabeth, you are not Brad Pitt. Do not act like it’s an insult if we say we can’t accommodate you and your brood of seven on a whim at 6 o’clock on aSaturday before Christmas. Be smart, make a reservation and plan ahead for yourself. Or, do the right thing and throw the hostess a 20 and say a prayer. But don’t walk in acting like the world of restaurants stops because you’re visiting from Florida and your kids are hungry and you just saw the Rockettes.
5. Don’t show up at 9:55 when the kitchen closes at 10.
Frank Sinatra convinced the whole God damn world that New York is the city that never sleeps. Sleeping is one of my favorite hobbies, actually, and I am a New Yorker born and raised. There are loads of bars and restaurants open until four AM or even all night – but most aren’t. Our kitchen normally closes at 10:30 in preparation to start closing at 11 (unless it is INSANELY busy late). And during the season, we open earlier which means we are there anywhere from ten to twelve hours. It’s a long shift, on our feet, carrying things, running around… showing up five minutes before the kitchen closes isn’t okay, for anyone. One, you will be sitting in an empty restaurant. Two, we will be staring at you mentally willing you to finish. No down time for your coffee, no offer of dessert. We want you out because more than likely it doesn't pay for us to keep the kitchen open for just you and your girlfriend. Three, let us go home. Seriously. Unless you are spending at least 200 bucks and leaving a forty dollar tip (and even then, I’d choose sanity over the extra forty), your seven dollar tip on a split Caesar salad and two diet cokes isn’t work an extra hour of pain in my legs or an extra set of bags under my eyes. We work long days. We have specific hours for specific reasons. Keeping waiters and bartenders at work because you refuse to find a spot that is open during the hours you wish to dine and drink is cruel and unusual punishment. There are ten million bars and restaurants in New York City – please find one that is open.
4. Be the light in every bartender or waiter’s terrible day/season.
Dude, I can’t lie. I spend 10 months out of the year panicking about the six weeks of holiday season. It’s like a gross one-night stand – comes way too fast, leaves way too slow. A lot of the days I work in December, I question the human race’s civility and ability to be anything other than greedy, selfish assholes. But then there are people who just simply remember that there’s a lot more to Christmas than a prix fix menu and the Radio City Christmas Show. Two years ago, I has just ended things in pretty brutal fashion with a guy I was crazy about on the night before Christmas Eve. I was up until five in the morning dealing with it, up at eight for my shift at ten, I was all but spent by five. An older couple came in and sat at one of my tables. The man had a bad leg. They were going to see a show. The woman asked me as kindly and modestly as possible if I wouldn’t mind not rushing them, even though she knew we were desperate to turn tables. I said no problem and spent an hour or so making it look like they were eating and drinking more than they were. They asked why I was working on Christmas Eve. I told them my mom did her own thing, as did my sister. They asked if I was married to which I jokingly told them in fact I had just been dumped a few hours previous. As I said it, tears welled up in my eyes. That feeling of being overtired, homesick, heart broken and frustrated by where I was standing at that very moment got me. I was holding three plates, smiled and excused myself. When the couple finally left, I was packing food for another table to take out. The woman came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around, surprised, assuming I had forgotten something. She gave me an additional twenty dollars, and hugged me. Like, the kind of hug your grandma gives you She said, “everything will work out just fine for you. This will be a better year. I promise.”
I was so touched by her moment of kindness I was stopped in my tracks and went to the bathroom and cried. In all the chaos, you forget people Do know you’re a human too, despite the pile of plates you’re carrying and the lemon seeds in your hair. I have never forgotten the woman’s face and if she walked through the doors tomorrow I would be thrilled. I have had several other customers similar to her, but none that ever really moved me the way she did. She gave me hope in an industry where I see some of the worst of people’s true personalities.
3. Please and thank you, still enjoyed by all.
The fact that so many adults have issues with this terrifies me. I learned early as a child that if you didn’t say please and thank you, you got smacked on the back of the head. I get that to most people we are just background noise, creatures that present food to eat, but the reality – deny it all you like – is that we are humans too with feelings and lives and we are working our asses off and that deserves respect, not condemnation. I am your server, not your servant. So when you throw the “put that there” or the “get me this” or “make me another” or “clear this table”, just make the effort to throw a “please” in there. Remind your kids, too, while you’re at it. There are enough shitty people in the world, would be nice if you didn’t raise a few more.
2. I don’t own it, therefore I don’t price it.
I get it. New York is expensive. Trust me, I live here year round. But I do not own the bar, I do not own the restaurant, and I do not set the prices. Our owner does. Bitch all you want, complain all you want, but whether you go to a TGIFriday’s or Capital Grill in midtown Manhattan, you’re paying between eight and eleven dollars for that beer and between twelve and seventeen dollars for that fancy drink. Don’t like the prices? Even worse, don’t like the prices so you bail on tipping? Go Christmas in Kentucky. I don’t know what to tell you.
1. Donate to our Kickstarters!
Like how I worked that one in? Look, I know a lot of people like Kyle Smith all think we’re crack heads with flair who never graduated college and can’t count past ten, but the truth is, some of the smartest people I know have gone through this business. Am I one of them? Eh. But I am not dumb, by my any means. I have goals and dreams and ambitions. I like to think in some realm of the universe, I’m a talented writer (my agent likes to think that too). This project is close to my heart and is basically the story of this part of my life. It’s relatable, funny and for those of you who have never had the pleasure of wishing you wouldn’t get fired if you spit in someone’s mac and cheese otherwise you’d totally do it (aka worked a service industry job, its informative. My buddies and I have been busting ass to get this done and we want to put out the best show possible. So do us a solid. In light of the giving nature of this holiday season – a nature I rarely witness anymore thanks to crazy people who think the spirit of Christmas is found somewhere between Black Friday deals and multiple hot toddy’s – please donate to our project so we can have something to look forward to at the end of this miserable, money making month. Even a dollar helps honestly, so anything you can give (or if you can share with people more capable of donating) is greatly appreciated and won’t be forgotten any time soon.
CLICK HERE to donate to Stef's kick-ass Kickstarter for “Front of House,” a web series anyone who's ever worked in a restaurant can relate to.