About District RestauRANT

Cara Bumgardner is a graduate student at the George Washington University, pursuing a Masters of Science in Media & Public Affairs. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, she has a Masters degree in Criminology from this institution, as well. Moving to the District to earn her PhD in Criminology from the University of Maryland, she realized that her interests lay in politics and public relations. She retains her passion for criminal justice, however, and hopes to incorporate both fields into her ultimate career. For the moment, she is involved in various D.C. activities-- one of which is serving as a hostess at an Eastern Market restaurant on weekends.

#EATiquette

So when I first started this blog, I thought it would be a great place for people to come together and share their experiences in the restaurant industry, like Habermas’s ‘public sphere‘.

I was wrong.

What it turned into (and I’m okay with it) was a place for me to voice my frustrations… and for people to respond to them.

Fun for me. Kind of annoying and mundane for everyone else.

In fact, it’s eerily similar to how Wikipedia started out– with the Wikipolice deciding what was ‘discuss-able’ and what needed to be cut out.

So I decided that I needed a separate (but connected) sphere where people could actually vent their own frustrations. Not only because I love hearing the crazy stories of other people, but also because restaurant workers need a place to vent. We’re not allowed to do it at the restaurant (for fear a customer or manager will hear us), even though most of the time it’s the only thing we can think of during our entire shift.

And so emerged #EATiquette— a magical place full of memes and blog posts and articles and media meant to bring the restaurant worker community together full force– for a commiseration session (or two, or three) whenever our little fragile hearts desire.

There are a few things to note: While #EATiquette is completely open to posting by anyone, the platform Tumblr does not attribute names to the entries, so there’s really no holding anyone accountable to their posts. That said, this might incentivize some to contribute who otherwise might not… considering many posts are personal and can expose intense emotion at times.

Also, there seems to be no ‘Reply’ function on the platform, making it difficult to actually have a discussion. I attempted to begin a conversation or two on the site, but whether the Chat function actually works has yet to be seen.

Either way, it seems that the site has garnered a few followers, and at the very least a small base of contributors.

Enjoy diving into the mind of a restaurant worker– and be warned: We can get fiesty!

Wake up and smell the fresh air.

I’ve recently started working at another restaurant.

(No, I’m not sadomasochistic– I just need to pay RENT.)

Anyway, this place has an expansive outdoor patio area, consisting of twelve four-top tables. That’s in addition to the main dining area (with about 13 tables) and an upstairs (with about 15 more). The place isn’t usually packed, but given the great weather lately, people have been clamoring for the patio seats.

This would be fine, except for one detail: At THIS restaurant, average sitting time is an hour and a half.

And most people stay for well over two.

See, this isn’t a “family-friendly diner” or a cutesy little eatery. It’s pretty much a bar with fine-dining intertwined into the experience.

So here’s the fun part about being a hostess at a place like this: While the wait time for the restaurant is typically always “0 minutes”, the wait time for the patio runs between 45 minutes to an hour and a half. And for parties of six or more people, it could literally be a wait of “forever” (because we’d need to wait for two tables next to each other to get up so we could move the tables together— & we don’t hold tables for this purpose if someone else comes up asking for one)

So last night, a couple came in an requested the patio. There were three other parties on the list in front of them and no one outside had their check yet (although two girls had been sitting at their table for well over 3 hours by then)

(This is when they stumbled out, classy & drunk:)

 

I digress.

So, I told the couple it would be about 40 minutes until we could find them a table, but that we had really great tables upstairs by the window, which would be both cooler AND quicker (as they could be seated immediately)

After a brief period of deliberation, they decided to take the table upstairs. My manager led them up, while two more couples came in and put their names on the list for the patio.

About 10 minutes later, I saw the upstairs couple sitting at the bar and asked my manager why they weren’t upstairs. He informed me that they’d decided they wanted to wait after all.

Cue confusion.

I put them on the bottom of the waitlist, perplexed because, well, they had just given up a great table next to a window (AND the chance of even SEEING food in the next 2 hours) for… a patio seat?

HERE’S WHAT I DON’T UNDERSTAND: Why not just GO TO A RESTAURANT TO EAT FOOD– and then, when you’re done, WALK AROUND IN THE NICE WEATHER??!!!

Where the heck is the logic in waiting at a bar for 2 hours while the night becomes less agreeable, without the guarantee that you’ll even be seated outside after all?? You’re wasting your life away, people.

As it turns out, they sat at the bar for a little over an hour, staring me down in my periphery while I seated the tables in front of them at 40-minute intervals, until I finally went over and told them that no one was getting up outside and they’d probably be better off eating in the restaurant. They eagerly agreed, and I sat them inside. In the main dining room. Nowhere near a window.

So not only did they waste almost 2 hours of their lives WAITING, but they got the crummier table AND they lost out on precious outdoor time.

I just don’t get it. And honestly, I probably never will.

Servers Down?

This is fascinating and terrifying all at the same time.

So apparently a new gadget, called the Presto, is debuting around states like California and may very well redefine the way we eat out.

The Presto is a Kindle-like tablet with a touchscreen that lets customers order their meals and pay the bill– all without the need for a server.

Server response?

!@#%^$^%$!#$???!

What does this mean for the future of restaurant workers if they’re not longer needed??!

Some say these tablets could very well replace severs in the restaurant-place. Others have a more positive outlook, suggesting that perhaps this would benefit servers, since they’ll be able to spend less time and energy on menial tasks like dividing bills, running checks, and placing orders, and concentrate on more important parts of the process, like suggesting plates, providing information about drinks and meal options, and just giving an overall more in-depth experience to the customer.

Who knows? But I hope I’m well into my professional career before this happens. ‘Cause I’ve gotta make myself a LIVING.

One thing’s certain, though. This is VERY good news for people who dread human interaction of all kinds. Maybe this will get more people out of the house and into the dining experience?

You Snooze You Lose (Weight)

Tonight was an interesting night. I don’t usually work on Saturday nights, but I tried my hand at it tonight and boy was I disgusted by what I saw. The entire shift was pretty normal– wait times of no more than 25 minutes.

Until roughly 8:50 pm.

That’s when the calvary arrived.

I was baffled when people kept pouring in after 9pm because- PEOPLE! -don’t we all know that eating after 8pm is BAD. FOR. YOU.??!

By 10:15pm, THIS is what the restaurant looked like:

[Photo removed due to privacy issues– to protect restaurant]

 

And no, you did not read that wrong. I said “PM“.

My. Dear. Lord. Now I understand why our country is OBESE. Because you can’t even make the argument that “Oh, well these people are all drunk”–

[blank stare]

THATMAKESITEVENWORSE.

THAT means that not only are you sitting in my restaurant at nearly TOMORROW pm, but you’ve ALSO just returned from a night of ingesting who KNOWS how many calories– only to go home and sleep. No exercising, no allowing your body to digest. No rejuvenation. Because the only thing your body is going to be focused on for the next 8 hours is figuring out how to get rid of all of that SH-T.

Sick.

I know a lot of people have debated whether the whole “You shouldn’t eat after 8pm” rule is true, but a recent study has concluded that food ingested at night does, in fact contribute to a higher BMI than otherwise. So BAM. Now you have proof. The New York Times article describing the study explains the “late sleeper” syndrome, too, which takes into account how late people sleep in and what their actual sleeping habits are. There’s even a disease named after the habit of eating late at night called, appropriately, Night Eating Syndrome (NES). This is sad sad news, people.

There IS hope, though. It’s kind of the antithesis of the phenomenon described above. Recent studies suggest that getting a good night’s sleep may actually contribute to better eating habits. So let’s review then: Eating late at night leads to insomnia and overweight. Getting a good night’s rest leads to better overall health and wellness.

I wish I could have screamed these results at the customers tonight.

Instead, I just offered them a milkshake.

After all, it isn’t MY waistline they’re destroying.

Kick off your shoes.

So my shifts usually start at 3 pm on Sundays.

Today, I got in and got situated. My first step is to block off all of the tables so no one else can make a reservation online. If you really want to eat here, you can call the restaurant and I’ll see if I can fit you in. Otherwise, you can wait with the rest of the city. No offense. (And yes, we seriously do that– otherwise, we have people making reservations 5 minutes before they walk in. Have I mentioned that before? ‘Cause it’s true. And insanely rude.)

I digress.

My second step is to shift the seating chart system over to the “Dinner” setting. So basically the morning girls operate in the ‘Breakfast’ setting– which means they use one floor plan for the hours they work (and the morning reservations are added to their list), and then when I come in I use another floor plan (and my evening reservations are added to that one).

Kind of confusing. But all YOU have to know is that I manually input every occupied table in the “Dinner” floor plan when I get to work. That way, I can see all of my reservations and don’t have to keep clicking to a different setting.

So today, around 5:00 or so, I realized that one table was listed as having been there for over 2 hours.

 

I told their server I was appalled that they’d been there for so long. In fact, I told him “Omgosh, like over two hours!!!’

I picked up on a momentary quizzical look before he agreed and went to pick up food.

It wasn’t until later that I realized what that look was for.

When I saw 2:48, I did the math in my head quickly to see what time that meant they’d come in. Turns out it was 3pm. Then I thought: “Wait, *I* came in at 3pm… So this means that this time is just the amount that’s passed since I switched over the floor plans”…

On a hunch, I went back to the Breakfast floor plan.

Sure enough, what I found shocked me:

 

No WONDER their server had looked at me strangely. These girls hadn’t been sitting there for two hours. THEY’D BEEN THERE FOR OVER FIVE.

Ho.ly.God. I have NEVER seen someone sit in a restaurant for five hours straight. And they’d paid two hours before!! They were just chatting away, taking up one of their server’s FIVE tables. Meaning he’d lost about 6 tables worth of tips. !@%#$^!%@$#

Lesson: NEVER EVER EVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES SIT IN A RESTAURANT FOR OVER FIVE HOURS. Especially not at brunch (and then dinner) time. EVER.

I don’t even stay in my APARTMENT for more than 3 hours, unless I’m unconscious or deathly ill. There is NO reason to stay in a restaurant for that long.

Have some DECENCY, people! Geez!

 

Hang up.

Okay, so we’ve all seen those signs at fast food joints and coffee shops telling us to hang up before ordering?

If not:

There. Now you have.

It’s a pain in the ass to take someone’s order when their attention is divided between you and maintaining a conversation with the person at the other end of the line.

And this advice is not limited to fast food restaurants. It’s evidently become so much a trend that articles and blog posts are surfacing which urge customers to be considerate for once in their lives and HANG UP.

Nor is the advice limited to servers.

Hosts think it’s rude and annoying, too.

The other week, I had a girl come in on her phone, position herself next to my host stand, and….just. keep. talking.

Legit. She just had herself a nice little convo right there in front of me.

While other people were waiting to see me and a line was rapidly forming.

This is what’s going to happen when you do this to a host: We are going to walk around you, and then likely put you at the bottom of any list that emerges— You were rude to us, and no one ever trained us on how to take the high road. So have fun finding someone in your Contacts list who’s willing to keep you busy during your 53-minute wait.

Also, this isn’t limited to phone conversations.

Last week, a group of three people came in, PRESUMABLY to eat. I never found this out. They stood at the entrance to my stand for about 5 minutes just chatting away. The whole time, I just thought to myself, “Wonder if these people want to find out that the wait is 45 minutes.” When they FINALLY ceased talking, they looked at me quizzically & perturbed, as if *I* was the rude one for not INTERRUPTING them to find out if they wanted a seat. I was so annoyed that I just monotonously recited the wait time– and they huffed and puffed as they walked out the door.

Good riddance.

Seriously.

It’s not my job to force myself into your conversation to find out what you want. USE YOUR BIG-PEOPLE WORDS. Come to ME. Tell ME what you want. I do enough as it is. I don’t need a task that by default makes me rude.

So, moral of the story: Finish ALL conversations before you get to the host stand (or your table, if your server comes over to check on you). It’s rude and disrespectful to us; and if you’ll recall– we ARE human, after all.

Listen to yourself, man.

Two-part rant today, because I think it’s particularly important that everyone hear both parts.

PART I: Learn something new.

I know, I know. …Um, what? What does this have to do with restaurant gripes?

Everything.

This is what we in the restaurant industry do pretty much every shift. We learn something new. Granted, it’s usually something we immediately regret learning because it forever taints our worldview, but we learn.

This tidbit of advice also pertains to something else: Languages.

I know. Now you’re REALLY confused. What the heck does language have to do with anything restaurant-related??

Ask that of a Deaf person trying to enjoy a meal out.

As an avid signer and advocate of the Deaf community, I am adamant when it comes to being respectful of Deaf customers. And I don’t think I’m off base. I’ve said it before– I don’t care who you are or what kind of a day you’re having, EVERYONE deserves respect.

Let me offer an example.

Last night was an especially slow night. Those are the best because I can actually walk around and chat with customers. Well, towards the end of the evening, two girls came in, one signing and one wearing dark glasses and holding a white cane. The girl with the cane kept her hands over the other girl’s hands while the latter was signing. Immediately I realized that while the girl signing was Deaf, the girl with the cane was both Deaf and blind.

I offered them a table and the Deaf girl asked if they could have a table where they could sit next to each other, so they could talk. Luckily, I understood that she was telling me the only way they could do this was if the Deaf/blind girl (Nadia, as I later learned) could keep her hands on her friend’s.

Of course, I sat them at a table where they could do so.

I started taking their orders and we had a nice conversation about where I learned to sign, what they were doing in the city, drag kings (what?), and the fact that it was refreshing for them to have someone who actually interacted with them at their table. They told me that normally when they go out to eat, servers are incredibly rude to them because they’re Deaf. They told me that they wished people would realize that being Deaf doesn’t make them sub-human (just like, gasp!, being a server doesn’t make us the same). Having had many Deaf friends, I knew where they were coming from, although it’s hard for me to imagine anyone being rude to a Deaf person, considering their culture is so rich and intricate.

Since I’m the only staff member in the restaurant who signs, I usually tell the servers that I’m happy to take orders, answer questions, etc. if it makes it easier for them. Typically, though, I’m shocked at the response I get: “Oh my gosh, yes. Deaf people are so annoying.”

Whoa whoa WHOA. Miss Lippy. What I don’t understand is how someone can call a natural trait annoying? It’s not like they’re being Deaf to annoy you…?? I think we need to draw a clear distinction between ‘annoying’ qualities (e.g. Repeatedly changing an order, hovering over the hostess stand, demanding items one and a time, etc.) and uncontrollable features.

I can’t believe this has to actually come up in a post, but apparently it’s not as evident as I’d imagined.

Anyway, I’m going to save the “learn sign language” rant for later in the interest of time. But know that it’s important to learn something about other cultures. And it’s best when its done intentionally. We’ve all seen what happens when you just sort of “run into” other world views– NOT always pretty.

You might even learn something you never thought was possible.

PART II: Perspective.

About 20 minutes after the girls left, I was up at the host stand managing the seating charts. My manager was behind me checking on a table, when suddenly I heard the most annoying (no, seriously, annoying) voice of possibly my entire life. It sounded something like a mixture between Napoleon Dynamite and a cat in heat. But more nauseating.

The conversation, briefly, went a little something like this:

Kid: “When I called you said it would be FIFTEEN MINUTES and then when I got here I waited ANOTHER FIFTEEN MINUTES until my food came out!”

Manager: “I’m really sorry, sir, but your food was ready before you got here and by the time you came in, the fries were cold. I kept the food under the heat lamp so it would stay hot for you, but the fries weren’t up to our standards so I had them make a fresh batch for you. And you were only waiting five minutes. I saw you when you came in.”

Kid [checking iPhone and then waving it around frantically]: “I WAITED FIFTEEN MINUTES! LOOK! I CALLED AT 2032 AND GOT HERE AT 2056 AND MY FOOD JUST GOT HERE!!!”

Manager: “Sir, I’m trying to explain that I just wanted the food to be the best quality for you since it was ready earlier than expected.”

Kid continues to scream at my manager –in the MIDDLE of the restaurant, no less– about how she never even apologized (which she did) … mainly because he’d run out of things to yell about. He said he was going to write a letter to corporate (ooooh scary— we’re all BEST FRIENDS with “corporate” you idiot. Plus, I was standing right there and heard the whole stupid thing) and she would be punished for this atrocity.

Finally, she just said, “Thank you, sir, have a good night” and walked away.

This is what wanted to say to him:

“Sir, let’s take a walk. I want to introduce you to my friend Nadia, who is Deaf AND blind and who has a better attitude than anyone that’s ever come into the restaurant. She’s had to live her entire life without the ability to see OR hear (luckily for her, in this case, since your voice could probably make ANYone go Deaf) and yet she’s making it through with nothing but smiles and perseverance. You, my friend, are ungrateful.”

Of course, I have to be polite in these settings.

So I just ignored him as he left.

But I WILL leave you all with a little piece of advice: “Our lives are not determined by what happens to us, but by how we react to what happens; not by what life brings to us, but by the attitude we bring to life. A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events, and outcomes. It is a catalyst, a spark that creates extraordinary results.”

This is a lesson all of us, including me, but most especially THAT kid, need to learn if we are ever going to make the most of our time here.

I rant because I can’t understand why people just can’t get along. But I also realize that my rants contribute to that discord and that I have the power to effect positive change, too.

Learn something about someone else today.

More importantly, learn something about yourself.