Red Faced At Red Lobster

What I need you to do is take everything you think you know about working in a restaurant, tear it up, stomp on it, set it on fire, and throw it out the window into a pool of gasoline. Wait, I should clarify that I don’t mean this literally, lest I be accused of inciting mayhem. But figuratively speaking, do all that, and you can mentally approximate a Saturday night in Red Lobster Carle Place.

Red Lobster was…wow. It was something else on a grand epic scale. Restaurants are always pretty intense, but Red Lobster took things to a whole other level. First of all, they made the restaurant bigger but they only moved the headstones, because the kitchen itself was never expanded. You had X number of tables in “The New Room,” which incidentally was 40 miles from the kitchen, and therefore more servers, more guests, etc. But the kitchen was the same size – way too small now!

So getting through the Red Lobster kitchen on a Saturday night was the equivalent of maneuvering your way through a packed club, only here you couldn’t drink alcohol, were probably in a screaming fight with another server, and had to somehow manage to get your drink from Garfield, who always looked *surprised* to get drink tickets. I remedied this by tipping him 10 dollars each night. Worth every penny, as those around me were mystified at my drinks’ being ready within the hour.

Getting the food was also a tough order of business. Not unlike Boulder Creek last summer when cold side went on strike, at Red Lobster, you could not get your appetizers. No. Every now and then if he felt magnanimous, Duckie could get motivated to throw some zucchini or mozzarella sticks in the fryer, but anything else and you were SOL. Lobster stuffed mushrooms either came out in 2 minutes and looked beautiful, or, after much weeping and gnashing of teeth, they’d arrive half an hour later, tiny little burnt balls swimming in a pool of grease. Not yours to decide. And God help you if you were a new server and Red Lobster was making one of its balls-of-steel attempts to sell Lobster Pizza appetizers. Awesome in theory. And every now and then on a slow Wednesday afternoon when Eulyses was cooking, you’d see a golden-brown stack of lobstery goodness waiting for you in the window within 20 minutes and breathe a deep sigh of relief, because try as you might, you could not talk your guests out of ordering it. That’s something you learn during your first week of training: Whatever you do, do NOT sell the lobster pizza. Because for every 20-minute pizza of perfection, you had 14 charred messes that began falling apart the second you got them an hour after crying to Maxi that you needed your appetizer because the dinners were up, and HELP, and good Lord, those pizzas were a nightmare.

The conundrum was, you had to kind of hope that your guests would order appetizers despite the hassle, because the Cheddar Bay biscuits were never ready and you literally had to elbow others out of the way in order to grab from the fresh, half-raw/burnt-to-a-crisp batch. So if guests didn’t order an appetizer, they’d be sitting there with no food for an hour while the kitchen ran out of tartar sauce, cocktail sauce, drawn butter, and blue cheese dressing all at once, then collapsed on itself like a dying star ™Jan.

Every now and then the A.C. (expo, FQI, same thing FYI har har) would have a moment of clarity, and a meal or two would arrive in the dining room with minimal errors. If Sandy was A.C., the ball would stay rolling and that was totally worth getting called a “dirty server” all night long.

But more often than not, the night was pure, unadulterated chaos.

One such Saturday night, the place was particularly packed. Back then, there were few booths, so if you worked on the lower level of the main dining room, getting across the floor was like a battle scene. Duck, cover, weave, ignore the glares all around you as guests wondered where their food was. Just get to the other side, and get out alive.

You know how sometimes in restaurants, different groups of workers go through phases of rebelliousness? Like the previously mentioned Cold Side Strike of ’07, or the “Hair ties? We don’t need no stinking hair ties!” Take-Back-the-Night Rally currently taking place at Boulder. Well, the Red Lobster hosts had been playing “Hide the Silverware” for a good month at this point. You see, the hosts are supposed to seat guests with silverware, because that just makes sense in the grand scheme of things, efficiency-wise. On a Saturday night, having to get silverware as a server with the place being so packed threw quite the wrench into your barely maintained sanity.

I don’t really need a wrench, you know?

After my 27th trip to the podium that night, I tried to be whimsical, but my panic was palpable.

“Who do I need to sleep with around here to get silverware on my tables???” I cried in desperation.

Everyone laughed, but I’d been *noticed.* They saw me. They being two of my male managers, who could barely keep from cracking up as they pulled me aside later that night, as the restaurant emptied and the former battlefield was littered with long-forgotten crab shells and other assorted filth, because no, we had no bussers. God, those weekend nights at Red Lobster were hard!

So the last thing I needed at the end of a Saturday was to get counseled about sexual harassment and why I shouldn’t do it. But that’s where I found myself, being laughed at by one manager who was mad cool, and another who was cool but had a crush on me and complained that I never beeped him.

See, we’d had a meeting that very day about the severity of sexual harassment. A meeting that was beautifully mocked even as it went on, with Steve saying that he only worked there for the sexual harassment, and Lo getting up, shaking her body, and declaring that “All of this, is for him,” about another coworker.

You can see why I wouldn’t expect to be the one getting in trouble for such a thing, but there I was. My managers told me they had to say they talked to me just to cover their own backs, because I offered to exchange sex for stainless steel in front of a lot of people who could claim being unfairly singled out, should they get in trouble in the future.

Whatever the reason, once my face finally went from beet-red to bright pink, I was already realizing just how awesome it was that I of all people, Miss Judi Freaking Sunshine, at Red Lobster, where only the strongest survive, was being singled out as a potential threat, even if it was just a formality. Especially when both my managers said that they’d always have silverware for me wink wink, and I knew the Natural Order Of Inappropriateness had been restored.

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10 Responses to Red Faced At Red Lobster

  1. Josh says:

    This is frighteningly true of any restaurant on a Saturday that is too big for its own good – I love this essay! “…but they only moved the headstones, because the kitchen itself was never expanded…” – classic!

    “Cheddar Bay biscuits were never ready and you literally had to elbow others out of the way in order to grab from the fresh, half-raw/burnt-to-a-crisp batch. ” I go through this every night regarding the corn bread and cheddar biscuits (hmm) at JLR (full expansion of restaurant name coming soon!). Sometimes people get their bread ahead of time and try to hide it somewhere, carefully wrapped. Some just hope for the best (me). There is always a debate as to who exactly should be telling the pastry chef to make more fucking bread – the manager’s who are talking to themselves, the server who sees it last, the bussers who hate everyone or the pastry chefs themselves who clearly KNOW when we’re busy and to make more but just like to make everyone freak the hell out. Some just freak out (also me).

    The nights where you run out of cups, silverware, and side dressings are the nights designed by Satan. That is where all hopes of giving a good experience to your guests go out the window…but somehow the night ends (though you have stressed yourself out to an unhealthy level) and you get to go home..with some money in your pocket. Then you go home and write an awesome blog about the madness that is a folksy themed, moderately priced, large, warmly lit dining establishment.

    Thanks for the repost of this one, even better now that I’m living it!

  2. Brittni says:

    Sexual Harasser is such a boring term. I prefer inappropriate opportunist, myself.

  3. First off, everything I learned about working in restaurants is from you. So does your first paragraph still apply?

    And your old posts are still entertaining. Even though I’ve read most of them!

  4. Pingback: 10 Awesome Memories From Waitressing at Red Lobster | judisunshine

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