Everyday, we are faced with decisions that can alter the course of our lives. Do I take the N train or do I walk the extra block to the F train? Do I use the money in my checking account to pay my electricity bill or do I go buy an iPad? Tequila or vodka with dinner? (The answer to the last question is all too often "both.") In the restaurant industry, we are also given the task of deciding things and sometimes it's not easy to know what the best choice will be. Should I take table 7's order now or should I run the drinks to table 14 first? Do I hide my coffee cup of chardonnay behind the bread warmer or on the shelf next to the to-go boxes? Do I ignore that crying baby or do I hand it a steak knife and hope for the best? All of these are important decisions but one event happens in the course of every server's life that becomes not just any decision but a moral one.
It was a very busy night at the restaurant. I was the only server and we had no busser or food runner meaning I was doing it all except for making the drinks. It must have been a slow night on television and that coupled with the abnormally warm weather for early March made for a slammed night. Every time I turned around, there was another party waiting at the door to be seated. Tables were dirty and I was a mad man. I actually really like it when it's that way. I tend to do better in a pressure situation. My smile goes into hyper-drive and I wait tables like a well-oiled machine. The food was coming out quickly and the customers were all satisfied. Maybe they had to wait a little longer than usual, but I have found if you at least reach out to that customer and let them know that you know they are there, it makes it okay. "Hi folks. I'm a bit busy but gimme a minute and I'll be right back with a water pitcher and I will take your order," I said over and over again. Repeatedly, I heard comments like 'I can't believe you're the only one here, you're amazing!" and "You are doing such a great job and your hair is gorgeous." I relish in those compliments as long as they back them up with 20% tips.
At one point, I had food in the window, tables to clear, a guy needs a beer, waters to fill, she needs her bill, orders to take, coffee to make, people to seat ready to eat. Madness! And then:
"Excuse me. Can you wrap this steak up for me? Thanks."
"Absolutely, ma'am. I will be right back." I took the plate from her hand and ran to the back sidestand where we keep the to-go boxes and my coffee cup of chardonnay. While holding the plate, I bent over to pick up a box from the shelf and I watched the half-eaten steak slide slowly from the plate and onto the floor, that although was just mopped by myself a couple of hours earlier, was certainly not clean enough to eat off of. This is what we call a moral decision.
Do I take the steak from the floor citing the "three-second rule" and put it in the to-go box and carry it back to the woman or do I go to the chef and explain that I need another well-done steak but I only need half of it and I need it ten minutes ago? Who will know if I put the dirty steak in the box? As long as I brush off any dust bunnies and/or crumbs, nobody. The chef will be pissed off if I ask him to make another steak, especially in the middle of a rush like this. He'll make me pay for it and that ain't gonna happen. Will the lady get sick if she eats the dirty steak? Maybe it's for her dog anyway. Maybe the chef will be understanding, but that seems highly unlikely. What to do, what to do?? I picked up the dirty meat and placed it gently into the to-go box and closed the lid. Should I give it to her? Maybe I can just tell her what happened and then offer her a dessert on the house instead. Or maybe she'll say it doesn't matter because it's for her step-daughter's lunch tomorrow. Maybe I go to tell her and she gets totally pissed off at me and makes a big scene and I could have avoided the whole thing by giving her the floor meat. I looked over at the chef who was yelling at another cook about how he had just wasted two pieces of bacon by over-cooking them. I looked at the lady who was laughing at the joke of her friend and finishing her third glass of wine. I looked at my coffee cup of chardonnay and took a swig. I closed the lid of the box and wrote on top of it, "Enjoy!" Maybe I'll just tell her it fell on the floor and I will get her another glass of wine. But then I'll have to tell my boss that I need a glass of wine comped and this is the man who won't even let me have french fries. I placed the to-go box into a bag and finished off my chardonnay. This was a moral dilemma.
I am not going to reveal what I did because if you are a regular reader, you can figure it out. But what I want to know is what would you do?
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