Monday, September 23, 2013

Ready To Order!

I've noticed that there's a fine line between being ready to order with your server, and just wanting to sit at the table for an eternity and talk.  Because there have been many occasions when I have gone up to the table to take an order and then be waved away and told,

"We haven't even looked at the menus yet.  Give us a few more minutes, we're catching up."

So I oblige.  Only to be waved back to the table and scolded.

"We need to order!  And we're in a hurry!"

It's hard enough sometimes trying to judge when is the best time to interrupt a conversation at a table to tell the specials and take an order, so perhaps it's best to save the "reunion" conversation til after you've given me your order.

These also seem to be the same people who think a certain way.  I'm talking about people who have homes that are over 3500 square feet.  And that's probably just there "second home."  These  people expect certain treatment, the kind where I can magically appear when they are finally ready to order, and quickly disappear when they can't bare to see me anymore.

What do you expect to have me say when you tell me,

"I can't taste the alcohol in my drink.  Tell the bartender to put more in it!" one lady demanded.

"It's a vodka martini.  It's all alcohol.  That's why your drink is so clear," I explained.

"Well then I want to order a different drink that has more alcohol."

"Might I suggest a vodka martini?"

"Fine!  And we're ready to order!"

Until next time... Server's don't pay their rent with compliments.

"Bitter.  Party of 1?  Your table is ready."

The Bitter Bistro


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Service Industry (guest post by MAX TIMM)

This is the first of many guest posts about how the service industry has affected people's lives for the better or for the worse.  MAX TIMM is a very talented writer whom I've known through my own writing endeavors.  But I never knew he had a connection to the service industry.  Soon, Max will be coming out with his novel, The Wishkeeper.  My wish is to stop waiting tables.  Max's came true.  But before the novel, there was the service industry.  And not only did Max work in it, he was submerged since childhood.  

See below...     

At the outset of World War II, men and women were enlisting in “the service”. I’ve always marveled at how patriotic and brave such a simple term really is, much less the mere act of risking and sacrificing life for freedom. The men and women who enlisted in the War called it “service” as if it was their responsibility as Americans - it was as simple as that. They had a wish to retain their individual freedom, and grant the same types of wishes for others.

There is a different type of service - an industry that I have worked in for over fifteen years. An industry that relies on the same kind of enlistment by men and women. We do not, however, consider such enlistment as our American responsibility, but instead, a responsibility to granting our wishes to make a living wage…and possibly, God forbid, enjoy a night out…on a Monday.

I grew up with two parents who devoted their lives to and fed their children because of the food and beverage service industry. My father bartended for decades and for the past twenty years has been the general manager at a country club in small town, southeast Wisconsin. My mother has owned and operated her own catering company for nearly twenty as well, and together put me to work in every knowable facet of the service industry since I was fifteen. Let me make this clear…I did not enlist myself, I was drafted.

For almost two decades my paychecks came from some form of a food and beverage institution; Big Foot Country Club, Gordy’s Boathouse Bar and Grill, Butch McGuire’s Bar in Chicago, The Del Rey Yacht Club in Marina Del Rey and too many catering companies to count.  Did I do this because I loved serving snobby customers from the left, and clearing their barely-touched plates from the right?  Did I sprint through icy driveways every New Year’s Eve as a valet and park $100,000 cars because I enjoyed the feeling of frozen eyebrows?

I didn’t do any of this because I loved doing it.  I didn’t do any of this because it was a lifelong dream.  I did it because I knew there was something better out there.  I did it because money isn’t the only thing that is important in life.  I did it because it was my responsibility to feed the ever-growing wish to pursue something that may never pay me a dime.  Why?  Because sometimes we have to push through the shit to find the shine.

I’m a writer.  And just like any person who pursues a creative profession, I would do it for free. Do I want to do it for free?  Good lord, no.  Do I want to eat?  Well, sometimes, but by working in the service industry, I was not only able to support myself and take care of the basic necessities in life, but every time I would put on an apron I would remind myself that I am picking up that old lady’s filthy napkin because one day I won’t have to.  It’s a very strange, backwards approach to life. Doing something so that one day you won’t have to. It actually doesn’t make any sense, but what does make sense is how much stronger, patient and accepting I am as an individual because of my time spent in the service industry. I have also noticed that every guy or gal I meet who has spent a substantial amount of time waiting tables or tending bar is just, very simply, a higher caliber of human. That sounds dramatic, but in all seriousness, these people have an ability to accept that wishes and dreams do not always come true in a day. They have the ability to stand by their wishes and dreams, to remain persistent and patient, and allow their wishes to define who they really are. It is by accepting the responsibility to pursue your dreams and make your wishes come true we grow as individuals and better serve the world as a whole.

So though we may not technically be going to war when tying that apron around our waists, we are at the very least accepting the burden of our long term intentions and agreeing to one day manifest them in the service of our wishes. I think that is definitely something worth fighting for.

Now if I can only grant my wish to eat something other Ramen noodles…

Max Timm is the author of the young adult fantasy novel, The WishKeeper. It will be going into wide release as of December 2013, but you can get your mitts on a copy before then by pledging to his current Kickstarter campaign.  

To learn more about the book and the author, you can do so here:

Or follow Max and the book on Facebook.

Thanks Max.  I can definitely say that you are a child of the service industry!  Contribute to his Kickstarter.  It's an awesome novel and he is a gifted storyteller.

Until next time... Server's don't pay their rent with compliments.

"Bitter.  Party of 1?  Your table is ready."

The Bitter Bistro


Monday, September 16, 2013

Eat More Even If You Don't Want It

People who order for other people are secretly trying to kill them.  I'm not talking about the man who orders for the lady,

"...and the lady will have the small dinner salad followed by the Snapper."

I'm talking about the table of four, and three of them order an appetizer with their main course, and they all look to the person who didn't order an appetizer and try to make them get one.

"Didn't you order an appetizer?" says the older gentleman to the woman.

"No.  I'm not that hungry," she replies.

"We all got something.  You should get some soup," the man argues.

"I'm fine.  I don't want to eat a lot," the woman replies.

"You can have some of my salad," the other woman at the table chimes in.

"She might as well order a salad for herself if she is going to share," the older gentleman says.

"I am not going to share her salad.  I'm fine with what I ordered," the woman tells me directly.

I turn to walk away.

"Wait!"  the older gentleman yells.  "Weren't you telling us about some appetizer special?"

"Yes," I respond.

"You should get that," he tells the woman.

"She is getting that salad," I respond.  "That's her main course."

"Then maybe she should get some soup."

We live in a country where over-eating and obesity is a problem, but people think we'll starve if we don't over-eat.  If the person doesn't want anything else to eat, you're not going to convince them to order more food!  And stop keeping your server at the table with this verbal ping-pong!

Until next time... Server's don't pay their rent with compliments.

"Bitter.  Party of 1?  Your table is ready."

The Bitter Bistro


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Find Your Inner Brew Co

Throughout my 12 years of performing comedy in Los Angeles, I have seen many shows come and go that have been crucial to comedians throughout their careers.  Drew Carey's Thursday nights at The Hollywood Improv, Dublin's on Sunset on Tuesday's with Jay Davis and Dane Cook.  But to me, it was The Westwood Brew near UCLA that has allowed me to grow as a comedian at shows upstairs in an attic on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturday nights.  And this past weekend, those shows have sadly ended.

Before you say "what the hell does this have to do with working in the service industry?," let me stop you and tell you this bar was a home away from home for me and a lot of other comics.  In a way, we worked for The Brew Co.  Not a paid position, but nonetheless, we provided a service for them in exchange for having a place to workout our material and grow as comics.  But after the abuse we have taken all of these years, we probably should have been paid.

I moved to Los Angeles in the summer of 1999.  I had wanted to do stand-up for awhile.  Finally in the fall, I had decided to make my move.  My roommate at the time, Ryan Flynn, was a stand-up, and I had badgered him to death with questions about how to do it.  He finally just told me that I had to get up onstage and all of my questions would be answered.  He was some sort of stand-up Yoda.  "Laugh they will, yes."  I had somehow found out that their was a bar close to my apartment in Westwood that had a comedy night.  It was The Westwood Brew Co.  The Brew Co has three rooms.  A main bar downstairs with two rooms upstairs on the patios.  The comedy room was in the smaller of the two upstairs.

It was on a Tuesday night, and the show was run by a lady named Kathy "the meat curtain" Kinneky.  I went to the show and talked to her afterwards.  She told me it was a booked show, but she would be willing to give me some stage time if I could get some friends to come out and support the room.  A typical deal for most bookers here in LA, but I was green so I immediately said, "no problem," and got booked for the next week.  The week blew by and my friends and some of their friends all came out to the show.  I was actually really impressed with how many people came out to see me do stand-up for the first time.  Kathy hosted the show and introduced me as "the guy you would want to invite to a keg party because he would bring all of the good looking people."  I did my set.  For a first time, it wasn't great, but it wasn't horrible.  I remember people laughing and I also remember seeing some of my friends look more nervous watching me do stand-up than I was actually doing stand-up.  But that was all it took.  I was quickly addicted to stand-up comedy and have been doing it ever since around town, across the country, and even in Canada, but I always continued to come back to my roots at The Westwood Brew Co.

Now, let me be honest with you.  The shows at The Brew Co were more frustrating than gratifying.  I now understand what a girl feels like when they like a guy for a long time, and then that guy just ignores them.  It makes the girl just like the guy more.  That was what it was like most of the time performing at The Brew Co.

I have killed, bombed, waited, ditched, got frustrated, and been congratulated during my 12 years at The Brew Co.  I have witnessed audience-on-audience, audience-on-comic, and comic-on-comic violence break out during many of the shows.  I have done shows for 2 to 60 people, walked audiences, brought audiences in, and seen and heard the door to the room being slammed over 8000 times.  Because of all of this we coined the term "bullet-proof" for the comics who have performed there because we had seen and performed for every single kind of circumstance imaginable.  I mean, how many comedy shows can you go to where a buddy of yours (Brian Swinehart) tells an audience member, "have a drink on me," and then watch him  pour his blue drink over the head of some frat guy.  All I can say is "B-SWINE!"  (Priceless!)

Thank you Kathy, Adam, Jay, Tarun, Mike T, Amir, Jason, and Mike M. for all of the late night spots you have given me.  I have complained in previous blogs about how difficult it is for me to pursue stand-up while waiting tables at night, but these guys always accommodated my schedule and let me show up five minutes before many of the shows were about to end, and they had wanted to go home.

For all of my jokes that have bombed, thank you sorority girls and frat guys for letting me recover by making fun of you in that moment.  And also thank you for not understanding that I was making fun of you.

Thank you Brew Co bartenders.  In the early years:  Mark and some other peeps I can't remember their names.  And the bartenders now:  George, Paul, and Megan.

Saying "good-bye" kind of feels like high school graduation.  I feel like I'll never see some of these comics again.  I hope that's not true, but just in case.  "K.I.T."  and "HAVE A GREAT SUMMER!"

But mostly, thank-you to The Westwood Brew Co.  You provided me and my fellow comics a place to continue to come back to and never asked for anything in return.  We laughed, we yelled, glassware was broken, microphones went out and we did some shows without them.  But all-in-all, it was comedy at The Brew Co.

If it is in my destiny to be on "Inside the Actors Studio" with James Lipton, I would hope that he would turn over one of his blue cards and say to me, "tell me about The Westwood Brew Co."

I will forever be grateful.

Until next time... Server's don't pay their rent with compliments.

"Bitter.  Party of 1?  Your table is ready."

The Bitter Bistro


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Chicken Soup for the Hot Soul

It's been incredibly hot in Los Angeles the past couple of weeks.  The kind of heat that makes me want to lie down on the tile floor next to my dog and close my eyes until it's over.  The last thing I want to do is put on my powder blue-long sleeve-button down shirt and clock in and wait tables.  But somehow, I've convinced myself that it was the right thing to do, even though I get armpit sweat stains within five minutes of being on the floor.

It's not entirely my fault, the place I'm at right now decided to save a few bucks by not putting in AC.  I guess they figured that nobody would notice.  But it gets so warm on the outside patio (with a retractable roof) that you can actually smell the food cooking when it reaches the customer's table.

"Can you turn on the air?" a customer asked me one afternoon.

"It's on," I replied.

"Would you mind turning it up?" she asked.

"Well, it's natural AC, so the only way to control it is when God decides to add wind," I answered as I mopped my brow.

Most of the customers didn't even make it that far.  They try to bare the heat for as long as they can, but then ended up moving to the inside or worse, leaving the restaurant entirely.  But through the haze of the 95 degree heat and humidity, I still got the one question that baffles me on a hot day...

"What are your soups today?"

Soup?  Is the theory behind this to ingest hot-ness into your body to make it hotter than the outside and therefore cooling you off?  What kind of wack-job are you?  But I had to answer.

"We have broccoli-asparagus soup, and barley.  Both of those are HOT SOUPS.  Just to let you know.  We don't have any cold soups today.  Just HOT ONES," I replied.

"I'll have the first one.  And a hot water with lemon."

UHG!  I wonder if Jesus had days like these...

Until next time... Server's don't pay their rent with compliments.

"Bitter.  Party of 1?  Your table is ready."

The Bitter Bistro