Boisterous, done-up middle-age men wearing collared shirts and women in flowing maxi dresses dripping with bling. Six of them. For the most part all drinking vodka. Then this guy on the end of the table wearing flip-flops, jeans, and a T-shirt, asks for a beer.
I get the drinks and begin to take their order.
Everything is going fine, albeit with many modifications and substitutions and specificities, and the women keep interrupting one another to continue a conversation they’re having, but I’m getting it all down. Then, Mr. Flip Flop says, “I would like the steak, the kitchen needs to cut it into cubes and skewer it.”
I know that the chef would laugh in my face if I dared to propose this. We have a full dining room and the kitchen is tiny. No way will the chef stop what he’s doing to painstakingly cube and skewer a steak during the height of dinner service. “I’m sorry, sir. The kitchen is unable to do that. Perhaps you’d like to order something that is presliced, like the —”
“It’s the only way I’ll eat it. I only want it if they can cube and skewer it,” repeats the man. It’s as if I haven’t said a thing.
I begin to reiterate that this is a desire that he will never be able to fulfill in this particular restaurant.
“Why don’t you go ask the chef?” he snaps.
“Yes, sir. I’ll be right back.”
I walk into the kitchen, take a deep breath, and perform due process by hurriedly speaking the man’s request. The chef’s eyes go wide. “WHAT?” he yells. I go back to the table. The other men are waving at me vigorously. “Where did you go? You didn’t take my order yet!” says one of them.
“I had to go to the kitchen to ask the chef if he could accommodate the gentleman’s request,” I say, indicating Mr. Flip Flop. Does no one pay attention to anyone but themselves? The man seems appeased.
“I’m sorry, sir, but the chef says he is unable to cook the steak that way,” I say to Mr. Flip Flop.
He huffs and puffs and throws up his hands. “Well, jeez, they can’t cut up a steak? I’ll go back and ask him myself! Fine, I’ll have the Caesar salad. But I want it chopped twice. You think that it’s chopped enough? I want them to chop it again! Then chop it again after that.” If you couldn’t guess, the tone of Mr. Flip Flop’s voice is demanding, condescending, and nasty.
I take a deep breath. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this” (and truly, I am so very, very sorry it has to be me having the conversation with this idiot), “but the salad comes out one way — the lettuce is chopped already, and they are unable to chop it any more.”
At this point, “chopped” is beginning to sound like a foreign word — like when you say “sausage” over and over again until it loses its meaning and becomes nothing more than a collection of funny-sounding syllables.
He looks like he’s about to explode. “What is this? I couldn’t get my steak cubed and now I can’t get my salad chopped? I’ll only eat it if it’s chopped twice! You go back there and ask the chef —”
And now it’s my turn to cut him off. “I understand you want the salad to be very chopped, but I’m telling you it will only come out as it is already prepared.”
The man blusters. “Sir,” I say calmly, “I just don’t want you to order something you won’t be happy eating.” I inject my voice with as much saccharine as I can stomach.
Mr. Flip Flop looks up from the menu and into my eyes for the first time this evening. “You know,” he says. “You shouldn’t be so negative. Smile more. Think positive.” This would be good advice were it not for the aggressive tone of his voice.
“Does the chef like you?” he asks me.
Very deadpan I reply, “No, not at all.” I keep my voice and face expressionless. The man barks out a laugh and orders the Caesar salad as it comes.
At the end of the meal, after keeping water glasses full, the table silvered, making sure the food is to their liking, paying particular attention to Mr. Flip Flop, delivering four decafs and two hot teas, they tip me 20 percent and I roll my eyes in gratitude.