Friday, July 2, 2010

Sleeping with the customers

I just received my first blog comment and, oddly enough, it mentioned the very thing I came here to write about today: Waiter nightmares. I'm sure most waiters have experienced them, and even former waiters like me still have them from time to time. I used to work with a waitress who would sleepwalk while she dreamed about still being on the floor. Her roommate found her in the kitchen once at about four in the morning with the refrigerator door open muttering, "Table 18 needs mustard." Another waitress friend of mine told me she dreamed she had taken jobs at two restaurants about 6 blocks away from each other and was scheduled to work the same shift at both of them. She said she was running down Colorado Boulevard with trays full of food 'cos she had accidentally hung tickets for the wrong restaurant on the other one's wheel.

One of my most vivid nightmares was of the classic "I'm the only one working and there are way too many customers" variety. A little background to this one: In the days before brewed decaf coffee (I can still hear that shrewish screech, "Do you have BREEEEWWWED decaf?" when it finally did come available) we used to serve instant Sanka packets with small thermal pots of hot water. They were the same ones we used for hot tea and no matter how many times we ran them through the dishwasher, the plastic always held onto a sort of mixed tea/Sanka odor. The pots held about a cup and half of water that they didn't really keep hot and were likely to leak all over the table and the customer when they tried to pour from them. There were also only about 8 Sanka pots for a restaurant with seating for 400. "I'll have Sanka" was enough to make me feel like I was having a stroke.

In my nightmare, I'm in the service area and I can hear a low rumbling that is building to a frightening volume. When I walk out into the dining room, it has become an endless sea of toothless women with white curly permanents, banging little plastic pots on the table and chanting, "SANKA! SANKA! SANKA!" (except it sounds like "RWANKA! RWANKA! RWANKA!") A mob in polyester pant suits. They are angry, and I'm the only one working. That's all there is to it, but every time I dreamed it, I would wake up trembling.

Another one I had pretty frequently was where my station kept expanding. Working in a pancake house, you already have an ungodly number of tables, and if you're on a graveyard weekday shift, you will probably have the entire restaurant to yourself at some point. In this dream, there are construction workers building booths and knocking out the walls of the restaurant. I'm taking orders as fast as I can, but every time I come out with plates, the building has gotten longer until I can't even see the end of my station. I don't even think of quitting, but I know it's just a matter of time before the customers turn on me and pick my bones.

The one I still have from time to time is just about pure humiliation. I am working in a restaurant where I have no idea what is on the menu - sometimes when I look at the menus they're blank - and nobody will tell me. Customers are demanding their food, but I don't have any clue what they ordered, and every time I try to deliver food, the people are missing. The customers become more and more hostile and somehow I think the whole thing is my fault, even though I've never even seen this restaurant before and I have no idea why I'm working in it.

Even as bad as the dreams could be, the reality was usually worse, but I've never been more proud of the work I did than when I waited tables. Many times, I wasn't proud of the restaurant I worked at, but I knew that it took a lot to be a good waiter and the work was far more demanding than most people believed. It felt good to know I had earned every penny of what I made.


  1. Hey congrats on the new site, I just added you to my blogroll!

    Blair @

  2. Thanks, Blair. You're the first person to do that. I hope I can think of things to write.

  3. I have teacher dreams where I *cannot* get my kids settled down, and before that I had lifeguard dreams that I had to jump in to rescue someone but before I got him out somebody else was drowning. I can only imagine how bad waiter dreams must be!