Paolo’s Ristorante : Part 1


I used to wait tables back in the day.

Between the ages of 16 and 27, I paid my dues waitressing and bartending, before, during, and after college. Yes, I said after college. I went to art school, of course I had to wait tables after college, because I didn’t want to live in a shelter giving hand jobs and eating Ramen noodles.

Of all the restaurants I have worked, my most memorable was Paolo’s. It was a trendy chic Italian Ristorante. Not Restaurant, Ristorante. I had been out of college for approximately 1 year, and realized that I desperately needed to subsidize my shoddy income which was generated by the occasional mural or commissioned portrait of some suburbanite’s over privileged children.

I walked into Paolo’s with my BFA between my legs, filled out the depressing application, and was called back for an interview the next day. Interview. Waitressing interview, how super-duper awesome! Lucky me! My parents were elated with pride!

I was greeted by a stunningly beautiful hostess I would later come to know as Risa. She very Joan Crawfordly escorted me over to a little cafe table where I had my first encounter with Carlo Angelo. Carlo was the GM, impeccably dressed, navy blue blazer, crisp white shirt, and hair as black as oil. If loose, it would have fallen softly to his jaw line, but instead was meticulously slicked back, held in place by what I could only presume to be an inexplicably overpriced product that his boyfriend convinced him to purchase while antiquing one Sunday afternoon. His round tortoise-shell glasses, overly expressive hand gestures, and Cheshire like smile laid to rest all assumptions when he began to speak. His laugh was a comfortable as an old porch swing and sweeter than a cold glass of lemonade. His milkshake brought all the boys to the yard, and I loved him instantly.

Carlo and I chatted, in the professional manner one would expect from a job interview. He hired me on the spot, and it was the first and last time we ever spoke in any even remotely formal fashion ever again, circle snap.

As with any waitressing job, you were required to purchase the uniform, which they would oh-so-graciously deduct from your paycheck(s). At the staggering wage of $2.25 and hour,naturally you didn’t see a paycheck for 3 months. The uniform consisted of black pants, a black shirt with a mock collar that buttoned asymmetrically from your bellybutton to your left shoulder and adorned with a pink “Paolo’s” and teal “Ristorante.” While trying to look sophisticated, chic, and proud, it fell short by looking as if it were still desperately clinging to the leg of 1985 with fading fervor. This was topped off by a long white apron tied around your waist adorned with a wine key, black shoes, and hair that was slicked back in the required ponytail. It was mandatory that your shirt be pressed, notice I did not say ironed because that is too lax of a word…that shit had to be annoyingly pressed, which was an incredible nuisance when you were hungover from the night before and barely had time to scrape the crusted-on tomato sauce from the front with a little spit in time for your next shift. Of course we had to work so much that you needed at least two complete uniforms, and of course they were like $100 each, so of course we never saw a paycheck.

The first two weeks you were in training. I was given an enormous binder of information to study, learn, and be tested on before I could even be given the “responsibility” of following another server around like a huge fucking dork. You had to know every item on the menu, what ingredients were in it, and what those ingredients were and where they came from. You had to know everything behind the bar, every drink, and every bottle of wine. You had to know their prices, and what they paired well with. Seriously.

So I finally took, and passed my test and began the arduous task of “shadowing.” This is just a stupid term for following someone around like a lost puppy while looking like a complete douche without a shred of integrity. The silver lining in all of this, was the wine/food tasting and pairing day. I sat in a booth with Carlo Angelo and sampled no less than 15 wines and tastings of every single item on the menu. I was drunk and full, and so was Carlo. As we sat discussing how the (totally filled to the brim) glasses of Barolos and Barbarescas paired with the delicate flavors of crimini mushrooms and prosciutto, we totally gossiped about each and every person who worked there, and I curiously interrogated him on the sexual prowess of homosexuals. Our full bellies were cramped from laughter by the time we stumbled from the booth with burgundy stained teeth.

At Paolo’s, we were never allowed to write down any orders. No pen, no paper. I don’t care if you had a table of 10 ordering drinks and four course meals, you had to remember it long enough to run to the posi-touch computer screen and enter every complete order in the correct seating order so that the food runners would know where and when to bring and place them.

Like a complex game of Simple Simon, you then ran to a computer which was sometimes busy with another server. You either had to stand and wait, or run to another one before the order dissolved in your brain. You then had to put in your server number, table number, and in correct seat numbers, type in their individual orders that would then print out electronically to the bar and the line cooks. Every specific detail from medium-rare, to light vermouth lemon twist on the side. Every time someone at the table ordered anything else you would run back and do the same. After a while this got easier, where we would take orders from three separate tables before entering any of them, but in the beginning it was like a race to get it all in before you went blank. Needless to say, any distraction could completely wipe your memory clean, and you would be forced to do the most embarrassing thing possible, put your tail between your legs and go ask for their order all over again like an incompetent fuck.

Enter Tim Showalter, aka Sho.

Tim was a big guy, in his twenties like the rest of us, tall, bald, with intense blue eyes and big brown eyebrows. He was intelligent beyond measure, incredibly sarcastic, and loved mean-spirited fun as much as I did. His booming laugh and wide smile was his saving grace, that and the fact that he was funny as fuck, except when you were his target. That was just part of the deal with Sho, and in spite of all of his bullshit, we all loved him.

Tim had a way of bringing me to tears one minute, then making me double over with laughter the next. On numerous occasions I would be trucking around the corner to the servers station to input a massive order that I was barely able to remember, and he would breeze by with a handful of olive tapenade and smear it all over the screen, roaring with laughter as he disappeared back into the dining room. By the time I wiped it clean, I had forgotten just enough of the order to have to go back to the table and ask again, as he grinned proudly at me from one of his tables across the room. Sometimes this would make me cry a little out of sheer frustration, but make no mistake, it was hilarious when he did it to someone else.

To be continued...

18 replies

    • We did get a free shift meal, and a 50% discount off the entire check when we ate there, which meant we never had to pick up the check. winner winner chicken dinner.

  1. I hate when my waitress doesn’t write the orders down. I mean obviously the good ones can get away with that, but I never get that one. I also hate when guys wipe their olive tapenade all over me. It happens more than you’d think.

  2. With years of waiting tables under my belt, I have never understood the “not writing it down” thing. As the server walks away, I always thing, s/he’s gonna screw it up. And more often than not, they do.

    Fortunately, no place I ever worked at required it. But that whole work for about a month without getting any tips shit? Oh yeah. Been there. Done that. With a kid to feed at home, no less.

    On another note, what’s up with places that think the server sitting at the table to take the order is a good idea? I don’t want a buddy. I want food.

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