Devin Dearing Preston: NYC writer, playwright, and storyteller

Mistakes, I have made a few

December 13, 2011

I feel like I’ve made a huge mistake.

I’m trying something new in the hospitality industry. I’m working the door. In the past, I only ever did this in a restaurant that didn’t take reservations. I just had to look cute and take people to tables. My new job entails a little more than that. But honestly, just a little.

However, I’m actually very bad at it, apparently. Despite its deceptively simple nature. I’m bad at it for the same reasons I was once terrible at waiting on tables: I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. Or, I know, but don’t trust that I know. Its my third day.

All it takes is one person showing a lack of confidence in my ability to walk people to the right tables, and I am not only doubting my ability to walk and talk, but also questioning my audacity to breathe, let alone think I can step foot in a restaurant with any level of confidence or knowledge of how they work, or what it is in fact that people do there.

Serve food? Enable alcoholism? Extort the rich and over privileged?

I’m pretty sure we just try to make people happy. At least that’s my constant overriding objective. And it’s usually served me well.

Fucking this up looks a lot like making people unhappy. Which isn’t the end of the world, people. Some people actually, especially those living in New York City, like to be unhappy and there is really very little you can do about it. True as this is, my industry of choice has always been hospitality. I enjoy the challenge, I’m really good at making most people smile (even the chronically miserable from time to time), and when I fail, its still a pretty safe bet that fucking up didn’t kill anyone. As far as I know.

Hospitality only becomes challenging when different places have different rules about how they would rather you make their guests happy(and their owners the most money). So, starting somewhere new becomes about learning how this new place wants me to do the same thing I’ve been doing since I was 5, more or less. That thing is, of course, making people happy.

But making guests happy their way. Its especially hard when a manager has no ability to allow that there are different ways to do things. Or that not doing it their way isn’t necessarily wrong, just different. I’m not saying that my way is right, either. Or even better. But different. Both ways under certain circumstances can prove to be effective, is my point. Plus, even if I didn’t do it your way, no body died. Must we forget?

My biggest challenge in this field is people (usually floor managers) who react to mistakes as if that was the actual outcome.

“WHERE IS THE BREAD ON TABLE 4?!?!”

“DID YOU TELL THAT TABLE ABOUT THE OUT BY?”

“WHY AREN’T YOU ASHAMED THAT YOU FUCKED UP? BE ASHAMED. CONTIMPLATE SUICED. YOU WORTHLESS WASTE OF SPACE!”

I’m not making the argument that mistakes are fine and should happen repeatedly. If I was making the same mistake over and over again that would be one thing. Or, if I was behaving rudely to guests? Or, if I was careless and showing no interest to succeed? Or perhaps if I was drunk and or high. But none of those are the case. I’m not stupid. You wait till at least 3 months in to show up wasted and bitch out a regular. Am I wrong?

My argument is, mistakes are understandable and even expected when someone is new, doing their best to learn something they have never done before, in a way they have never done it before and is as charming as myself. Especially if near death is not the consequence of a slight error.

The argument I can never calmly make when being chastised for forgetting to clear a place setting, say, or mixing up numbers you are hurling at me with biting hostility, maybe is “Now is not the time to attack me. Maybe dial it down. I’m doing my best.”

Instead I usually feel tears welling up in my eyes as I stifle the urge to scream “What, are you my alcoholic dad, or something? Can’t I do anything right?”

Something I regret about myself, even though I’m not sure how to change it, is I give people one strike. You attack me once about something meaningless, and I will proceed to avoid you, treat you like a non person, and probably write you off completely for the rest of my dealings with you. That’s right, you loose your patients with me over something as petty as acceptable verbiage when discussing available reservations, and I loose all respect for you. I decide in that moment that I can never trust you to be someone I can look to for help, without fearing a verbal lashing. That will more than likely be unwarranted and the opposite of helpful. I don’t have to place my hand on the burner a second time to know that it is fucking hot. And if you, oh boss of mine, had been paying attention, I never made the same mistake a second time. Also, no one died.

My final point is, at the end of the day, good job or bad job, flawless service or a few missteps, I am a person. And I deserve to be treated with respect. I also greatly appreciate a little kindness and understanding. I become unable to express this when being humiliated in front of people for a small infraction.

More often I suck back the tears that have pooled in the bottoms of my eyes, swallow hard, bow my head and apologize for an action that was less my fault and more the abuser having it out for me. Probably because I’ve done something or haven’t done something that no one took the time to tell me I could or could not do. Or because I’ve decided your rules are stupid and I’m going to do what I want, especially if I’m going to be yelled at either way.

One strike Boss man, that’s all you get. Then, not one single tear more will I waste on you. A regrettable flaw I must admit. But the only other solution is to kindly ask you to speak to me with respect and assume that I’m doing my best. I don’t want to fuck up. Help me. Don’t hound me.

And remember, I’d rather be acting. Don’t give me a reason to parody you in front of a live audience. Or write a seething essay about you in one of my many blogs.

Categories: Waiting is the Hardest Part

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