June 22, 2012
In high school, I had a part-time job working at a seafood restaurant. Its name was Peg Leg's and it was located on A1A, the oceanfront highway that runs the eastern spine of Florida.
Over the course of a few years there, I worked my way around the place, starting at the station for mucking out the bins used to bus tables. It was sloppy work but accomplished at a somewhat easy, if efficient, pace. "Promotions" put me out front with customers as I cleaned tables and then, eventually, set me on the cooking line where I took and filled orders. My specialty was working the fryer and I sent many sliced mushrooms and zucchini to spectacularly sizzling depths.
It was a busy restaurant, so nights in the kitchen were often hot, chaotic affairs characterized by lots of shouting between us kitchen staff and the waitresses. We had our own shorthand lingo and thrived on our mental dexterity when it came to handling multiple and complex orders.
That was all a long time ago but it came crashing back to me Thursday night as I spent an hour behind the bar at The Sly Fox. I stood behind the taps as a "celebrity bartender" for the Moore County Literacy Council, which was hosting a fund raiser to celebrate its 25th anniversary. I and my fellow celebrities were quickly gathered up by the real bartenders and told simply to chat up the clients, beg for donations but handle no liquor. But the most important instruction was this, and they were clear: "If we say 'Behind You!" don't move." When tap beers are going over the counter for $9 a pop, there can be MUCH crying over spilled beer here.
Memories of those restaurant days quickly rushed in as I took in the scene and watched these two overworked, frantically scrambling bartenders rush to fill bar orders and take care of the table orders coming in. Occasionally, a patron placed an order with me and I suddenly realized the complete disappearance of that mental dexterity I once possessed. "Hold on, you want what?"
It took a few minutes, but what eventually came to me was the cardinal rule of the restaurant business: He who shouts the loudest gets served first. So while I was being social and chatty with my side of the bar, I would occasionally get an order thrown at me. I turned around and, yelling in a voice I normally reserve to call the kids in at night, belted out "TWO WHITE IPAS!" OR "ONE STONE RUINATION THREE GLASSES" AND "WHITE RUSSIAN TALL GLASS WITH CREME!"
Was I getting the hang of it? Sure. Flashbacks to the cooking line? Absolutely? Any desire to do it again? You can 86 that.