1. The day the huge metal chandelier crashed onto Table 25.
OMG. Hahahahahah 😀 It was a lunch shift, and there was a round table for large parties on the main dining room floor. One day we heard this astonishing CRASH in the dining room, and it was the chandelier that hung right over said round table. This HUGE iron monstrosity — whomp! The people in the booths next to that table were like, whoa. Thank God no one was sitting there.
2. “Carol of the Bells.”
One Monday night I was singing in the kitchen, as I tended to do while working, much to many’s displeasure, and this time, it was “Carol of the Bells.” People started joining in one by one, until literally every server was singing, and it was elaborate. Harmonies, and mimicked bells, and by the end we were all singing at the top of our lungs, while guests were right next to us in the dining room. My manager came in and it was like, oh no, we’re gonna get yelled at. She dramatically paused, then started clapping and said, “That was great!”
3. Go home, crackers!
Like most restaurants, Red Lobster had an 86 board. Most nights, we were out of like, 27 things. One evening, we were only 86 one thing: crackers. My coworker Ossam came in and said he had an announcement: Steve and Judi had to go home right now. I was like, oh no, what did I do now; was this about My Attitude? And very seriously, he said, “We are 86 crackers, and you two just don’t belong.” (Steve and I were the only Caucasian servers working that day.) Restaurants are awesome because they are litigious nightmares waiting to happen. That is so much more comfortable to me than offices with fake laughter and awkward smiles. Or in the case of my last job, deathly silence, but don’t get me started.
4. The sexual harassment meeting
Oh, Darden. Red Lobster’s headquarters is located in Orlando and they send out the corniest meeting agendas. Our restaurant, despite all the yelling and screaming at each other, was actually very respectful. And the meeting was like an after school special, which was hilarious in the hands of servers being forced to interact at 9 a.m. on a Saturday. At one point, a woman stood up and started talking about how she knew all of us wanted a piece of that, but all of this *body shake* belongs to him (another server). In general, the meeting devolved into total anarchy, and it was glorious.
5. Celebrity guest stars
One time, I was waiting on these unusually humongous dudes. They were very nice, and turned out to be Jets! The football team, not the gang from “West Side Story.” Salt, sans Pepa, came in one time with her family, and another time my friend started crying because Nas was there. I didn’t know who this Nas fellow was, but I was really psyched for my friend’s joy and made a mental note to expand my musical horizons beyond show tunes and Amy Grant.
It was the end of one of my first Saturday nights, and it all happened so fast, I don’t even remember how it went down exactly. But somehow a party of 10 walked in and the closer, the last person on the floor at the end of the night, who was a strong server, talked me into taking it. The other closer was horrified, and asked me, why in the world do you (a still-terrible server) have a large party at this hour? (At the end of the night, the restaurant is a lot harder to work in, as everything is being shut down and put away.) And her consensus was that I got scammed. Scammed?! This restaurant business was a whole new Machiavellian world! Apparently, it would have been a lot of work for a small tab, because it was two women and eight children. We didn’t have busboys, either, and that is a lot of cleanup, with kids. But then I felt terrible for this party, because I was a really bad server, and they were unwanted, to boot. And when you’re a little kid, going out to eat with a bunch of other kids is really exciting; at least it was for me! So even though I barely knew what I was doing, I tried to do my best for them, and the other closer and guys in the kitchen felt bad for me, having been preyed upon by A Scammer, so it went okay. At the end of the meal, my manager told me my table wanted to see me, and I’m like oh no, what went wrong? I went out to the dining room, and the kids started chanting my name and had drawn me a picture! They said they all had a great time. Obviously, I cried. Then on top of all that, they left me a $75 tip, which was like, 100 percent of the bill.
When I first started at Red Lobster, the night service bartender (the one who makes drinks in the kitchen, for servers’ tables, rather than the one who interacts with guests (some do both)) was this stoic dude who was not feeling the servers’ urgency and bore the distinction of being the one person in the kitchen who never looked completely insane at any given time. He got to your drink when he got to your drink. And that could be a hilariously long time. One night, Garfield gave me a look and said, “You forgot to tip the bartender.” I was all like oh I didn’t know that, and felt terrible. So I gave him 10 dollars. Then I told someone I had no idea, I would have been tipping him all along and felt bad, and they were like, “You don’t have to tip him; he gets paid well per hour.” But the next night, damn if I didn’t get my drinks on point, in a normal amount of time like you’d expect if you knew nothing about Red Lobster. Other servers were like, “You don’t have to, but why not? He works hard and servers are assholes.” That made more sense to me. And I appreciated his entrepreneurial spirit.
8. Mediators need not apply.
One lunch shift, two servers in their ‘30s were fighting. Although I was only 20, I was very wise, and piped in with some “peace, love, and understanding” shenanigans. They like, immediately dropped their problem with each other, and turned to me. One woman said, “Stay out of this!” and the other said, “Shut UP!” It stung a bit, but the awesomeness of the exchange won out for me, even in the moment.
9. The disastrous appetizers
I think that most reading this who have worked at Red Lobster know what I am talking about when I say: Lobster Quesadilla. Lobster Pizza. Lobster Stuffed Mushrooms. Any appetizer starting with “Lobster” was a terrifying prospect for any server, Lobster Fondue being the vague Switzerland in this general equation. Because sometimes, and always if Eulyses was cooking, those appetizers would be gorgeous and delicious and, if paced right by the server, come out in a timely manner in the appropriate way that you would expect to receive your appetizer if you’ve been out to eat before, anywhere, ever.
Those times were rare. And the casualties were great. Only we still tried to give them to our tables, because cooks get really mad when you give the food back and would be like, what the hell, your appetizer, the dinner is coming! Bail out! Bail out! And you’re like, what do you MEAN my dinner, I’m still waiting for blue cheese dressing for the salad, and it was like, “No time! NO TIME!!!” and so you would smile brightly and throw around a lot of chives and sour cream and hope for the best, and the crestfallen looks on guests’ face upon receiving their charred messes could be a real bummer after awhile, and you’d never understand how exactly it happens, scientifically speaking, that sometimes the lobster stuffed mushrooms are glorious puffed clouds of wondrous delight and cheesy goodness, and other times they’re tiny little embarrassed balls charred to a crisp, with oily blackened cheese everywhere.
I always breathed a sigh of relief when people ordered the mozzarella sticks. They came out fast; no one was bitter about having to cook them, and they remained at a consistent 14-count IIRC, none of the Howard Johnson’s-esque messing around, taking away a chicken finger here, or a shrimp there and hoping no one will notice. “Why did I only get five mushrooms instead of six!” Not cool.
10. “What do you mean, you’re out of lobster? Your name is Red Lobster!”
***Update: After posting a link to this on Facebook, my friend and former Red Lobster coworker Steve posted the best follow-up comment EVER!!! A couple of these were stories I thought no one would even believe, a couple I forgot, and a couple I didn’t know. So here you go, Internet: the worthwhile Easter egg to my Red Lobster blog 😀
Outstanding. How could I forget about the crashing
chandelier?? I’d like to add the guest who mooned another guest for blowing his
nose too much (before your time I believe), the wedding party where the groom
(in a mink coat) tried to dine and ditch, the parking lot stabbing (where Matt
hid in a garbage can) and Arlene arriving to work in biker shorts…oh yeah and
the guest who screamed out, “Where’s my biscuits?” at the top of her lungs.