This Is a Server's Worst Nightmare
October 31st brings us all kinds of horrors. Months ago, before our world was crumbling into dust due to a pandemic sweeping across the globe faster than mold on a piece of aged cheddar cheese, the scariest thing about this Halloween was its occurrence on a Saturday with a full moon. Restaurants and bars were eagerly anticipating this All Hallow’s Eve knowing it would be a night of debauchery, fun, and high check averages. This year though, it’s different. The scariest thing about this Halloween for waiters and waitresses will be the stress dreams that every server has on a routine basis.
Surely everyone has stress dreams involving their jobs. Teachers might dream about a classroom of students who know more about algebra than they do and maybe lawyers dream about arguing a case in their underwear. But I’ve been a server since the late '80s and I firmly believe that there is no nightmare as terrifying and stressful as that of a restaurant employee.
(clap of ominous thunder)
It is a dark and stormy lunch shift. The restaurant is longer than a football field, with the kitchen in one end zone and the front door to the restaurant in the other. My section isn’t just the expected six or seven tables, but it’s the entire restaurant with tables and customers are far as my bloodshot eyes can see and I’m the only server. The hostess is Bea Arthur, but not the Bea Arthur we all know and love from The Golden Girls. It’s Bea Arthur circa 1964 and she’s dressed as Yente from Fiddler on the Roof.
“You’ve got a party of 12 and they’re in a hurry,” she yells out to me. “And they wanna sit over there.” She points to the Bed, Bath and Beyond across the street and goes back to the hostess stand.
I want to ask her what it was like working with Angela Lansbury on Broadway, but realize that she’s still doing Fiddler on the Roof, and Mame doesn’t even open for two more years. By this point, there are now hundreds of other customers waiting for me to take their order, but I decide to focus on the large party sitting amongst the sheets and duvet covers at Bed, Bath and Beyond. As I’m waiting for the eight lanes of traffic to ease up so I can cross the street, Bea Arthur taps me on the shoulder.
“The guy at Table 1432 needs the Heimlich and Table 12 is waiting for this hot tea.” She hands me an amuse bouche spoon that is filled with Earl Grey and it spills to the floor.
“We must be out of coffee mugs again,” I think.
Immediately, I head toward Table 1432 which is inexplicably in the middle of a small suburban park on an island in the river, so I have to swim there in order to dislodge a small caramel chew from the throat of my high school nemesis. As I’m swimming back, I can see Bea Arthur wrangling in even more customers. She looks like a cowboy at a cattle drive.
“That party of 12 at Bed, Bath and Beyond is ready to order,” she bellows over the crowd. “And you’re needed in the kitchen!”
I look at the kitchen which is so far away that it seems like a mirage. No matter how far I walk, it never gets closer and this is when I realize I’m on one of those moving sidewalks that are so often at airports and I’m walking the wrong direction on it. Customers have taken to writing down their own orders and as they pass by, they hand me sticky notes and bev naps covered in chicken scratch.
“Just make sure you have your table numbers on them,“ I plead. “And please write legibly.” My apron is stuffed with orders. Customers are asking me where their food is and the kitchen is just as far away as it was when I started walking.
“Bed, Bath and Beyond!” screams Bea Arthur.
I hop off the moving sidewalk and race to the kitchen as customers clamor behind me like zombies who are hungry for roasted chicken rather than brains. Their arms are relentlessly grabbing at me and in my haste to get away from them, several of their food orders fly from my apron and blow into the river, floating downstream to Table 1432.
At long last, I make it to the kitchen only to find it in complete darkness, not a cook to be seen. The stainless steel countertops are reflecting the light of the full moon that is shining through the window. It’s no longer a lunch shift, but the middle of the night and the kitchen is eerily quiet. The printer is covered with a fine dust and spewing tickets of food orders that no one will be cooking. I reach into my apron to retrieve more useless orders and my hand feels something sticky and slightly warm. It’s the caramel chew that moments earlier had been expectorated from my customer. When I turn to throw it into the garbage, I see a horde of angry customers lumbering my way, many of them holding pitchforks and torches.
“I didn’t want cheese on my burger!”
“We’ve been waiting two days for our waters with lemon!”
“What’s your real job?”
I am awash in terror and panic. Cold sweat drips down my back and I turn to run, knowing it will be impossible to please these people. The walk-in cooler is within reach so I pull open the silver hatch to go inside. Standing there is Bea Arthur, dressed in all black and wearing a turban. She has morphed into her character Vera from Mame. Next to her is Angela Lansbury dressed as Mrs. Lovett from Sweeney Todd, holding a rolling pin. Her apron is covered with blood and mine is covered with honey mustard and barbecue sauce.
“It’s not often there’s a full moon on Halloween,” Bea Arthur purrs in her trademark voice, both silky and gravely at the same time. “Strange things happen during the full moon.”
“I don’t know what to do! I can’t catch up. There’s too many orders!” I cry.
“Aye, love, serve ‘em some meat pies and call it a day,” says Angela.
Bea Arthur puts her hand on my chin and gently swivels my head in the direction of the bright moon hanging from the sky. “This is only a dream. A server’s nightmare, if you please. Now, listen to what I’m going to tell you.”
I can feel her cool, gray eyes boring into my soul as I’m waiting for the key that will unlock me from this torment. The customers are getting closer, the whirring of the printer is growing louder by the second. She leans into my ear and whispers to me.
“The man in the moon is a lady.”
When my eyes focus on the shining silvery orb outside the window, I see the face of a woman named Karen and she’s holding a 20%-off coupon from Bed, Bath and Beyond.
“I am NOT paying full price for these super grande nachos because these coupons never expire. I want to see the manager!”
She begins to scream and that scream turns into a long, piercing, steam whistle that reaches into the deepest folds of my brain. Bea Arthur and Angela Lansbury laugh maniacally, in perfect harmony and then I wake up. One more stress dream in the books for this server. Halloween may have a full moon this year, but nothing is more terrifying than a server nightmare.