He looked like a Travis. The young man who served us at Applebee’s did everything a waiter could to make his customers feel welcome. He made eye contact and small talk, offered suggestions about which menu items were his favorites. Overall, he was a much better waiter than I ever was, which I admit isn’t saying much. Only he had this weird habit of calling every female customer “sweetheart.” I know it wasn’t just me and my daughter because we also heard him address the two elderly women in the booth across from us with the same greeting. Male diners were “My Man.”
If I were 19, I probably would have thought he was cute.
“Your food is almost ready, My Man!”
“Can I get you another water, sweetheart?”
As he walked away from our table, my husband muttered under his breath that it would be OK if the kid dropped the Bosom Buddy routine.
“I knew you would be mad about him saying that,” Annabelle, 8, said to her father.
“Well, it’s one thing to call an 8-year-old girl sweetheart, but not somebody’s wife,” was his response.
We had only ended up at Applebee’s on a Tuesday night because I’d been in a class all day and Dan was home with the kids. Even though he took them bowling in the middle of the day, by the time I got home, they were all so bored that each had started self-medicating with ridiculously dull You Tube videos. It sounds asinine, but look, it was hot out.
As soon as I walked through the doors and put my bags down, Dan began telling me how he’d found a typo in a magazine. Then he wanted to show it to me. They had misspelled obsolete as “absolete.” Could I believe it?
He got a bit angry that I wasn’t interested.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bother you,” he said, as I glanced over the headlines in the newspaper that I hadn’t had a chance to read that morning.
Then he wanted to tell me about how he’d watched a video in which a man was cutting down a tree from the wrong side.
I knew that if I did not get my family out of the house soon, violence would almost certainly erupt before bedtime.
So we went to Applebee’s, which was pretty much packed. Everything in our town is always that way nowadays, even on a Tuesday night.
Every single member of the wait staff looked eligible to be one of my or Dan’s former students, but thankfully, none were. (We love when we go out to eat and do not see anyone we know. That is our absolute favorite.)
Even though the youngsters running the restaurant were handling the demands on them with dignity and grace, Dan and I made a plan to start patronizing all of the most desolate establishments in our region, just so we can avoid crowds. We are going to start eating at restaurants where octogenarians in bowties work one day a month as accordionists. These are going to be “our” places.
Dan, the kids, and I sat discussing the atmosphere at Applebee’s after Travis had delivered our food.
“Well,” I said, “I probably would have started crying already if I was working here tonight.”
Dan and I both discovered during our college years that we weren’t good at waiting tables. He spent one night on the floor of a restaurant in the town where he went to college and immediately asked to be transferred back to the kitchen, where he worked as a cook and dishwasher for many happy years thereafter.
It was pretty much the same for me. My friend had gotten me a job as a bartender and sometimes waitress at a haunted historic inn when I was 21. I almost had to wait on Newt Gingrich one night, but he must have had a change of plans, for which I was grateful. I did eventually learn to pour a mean Manhattan, but the owner of the inn still encouraged our boss to fire me from time to time because of my terrible personality. She wouldn’t do it, however, because even though I was a sullen thing, I was dependable, and the old men who were regulars at the bar liked talking to me. They liked how I was a serious brunette and my friend was a bubbly blond. We were foil characters for them.
One of the waitresses at the inn, a tall blond who was an honest-to-goodness adult, probably in her 30s, told us that you can’t move around in a hurry when you wait tables. It makes the customers feel rushed. I understood the crystalline truth in this as she said it, yet I could never bring myself to really be the embodiment of slow southern hospitality. I remember once this couple asked to take my picture at the bar just because I was a real, live southern woman. Strange as it seemed, it was kind of flattering, considering I’ve also met people from out of town who sighed with disappointment when I didn’t produce much of an accent.
So I didn’t mind the college-aged waiter calling me sweetheart, even though it was a bit awkward. I have been called worse.
After dinner, we piled our leftovers into a little styrofoam box and headed out. As we left, I noticed a Now Hiring sign, for hosts, kitchen staff, and waiters.