Waiter Confidential: Trouble Shooting Gallery

During service, stuff happens: Drinks spill, wine corks break, and food can have a hard time finding its way to hungry people.

Nobody's perfect. And there's certainly no shame in confessing occasional instances of clumsiness and/or confusion. A simple apology -- or any aplomb demonstrated through problem solving -- can offer an elegant statement on professionalism.

Still, it's hard to own up to any faults.

For me, the cardinal sin of service is forgetfulness, and I've gone to great lengths to avoid confessing it. Years ago, at a fine, French bistro at the Biltmore, my mind went blank while tending to a VIP two-top. For the life of me, I couldn't recall a gentleman's order mere seconds after taking it.

"Make sure everything's perfect there," Manager whispered into my ear from behind, as I stood panicking at a POS terminal.

"They've just ordered," I muttered back, praying I wouldn't be asked to repeat it.

Manager moved on. I just stood there, tilting with the windmills of my feeble mind. I figured I had about thirty seconds to figure things out before manager might suspect a problem. Feeling sweat start to bead on my forehead, I fought hard for a memory. Failing that, I thought fast for a solution.

"Sir, I'm afraid we've run out of your selection," I lied to the gentleman.

"You've run out of my selection?" I repeated the please-God-don't-make-me-have-to-say-it prayer.

"Yes, sir," I stuck to my bluff.

"Well, what would you suggest then?" I felt like fate was toying with we me now. If I recommended something specific, I'd run the risk of suggesting the very thing the gentleman initially ordered.

"Have what I'm having, Dave," Mr. Dining Companion intervened. "The cassoulet's excellent."

"I couldn't disagree, sir," I chimed in all too eagerly. The gentleman went with the suggestion. But I wasn't out of the woods just yet. After lunch, my VIPs shook hands with Chef on their way out.

"I trust you enjoyed, gentlemen?" I overheard Chef inquire as I reset my station.

"As always, Chef," they answered. I eavesdropped as the three men briefly chatted, listening concerned for comments on service and, specifically, of course, any mention of the mystery dish lost to my short term memory issues (damn you, cannabis!).

Thankfully, they never mentioned a word. But that's not to say I skated through the whole situation.

"So, everything went well?" Manager asked me as I turned in my shift paperwork.

"Yeah, the gentlemen seemed to enjoy everything they ate." That was a true enough answer, I felt.

"Were there any issues?" Manager pressed a little.

"They didn't mention anything to me or Chef." I thought it prudent to continue on the sin of omission tack.

And I was already one foot out of the office when Manager dropped his pointed comment.

"I was behind you when you took the order," he blurted. "It was lamb shank. And a pleasure watching you work -- and squirm."

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