When I turned 16 and decided that I needed a job to fund my shoe habit, I chose to be a hostess at the Mill Race Inn, where my brother had once worked as the head chef. The restaurant industry is almost unlike any other, and few will understand the seemingly inconsequential stories that former waitstaff relate (This one time? I had this table that WANTED SEPARATE CHECKS! AND SODA REFILLS!) but I’m pulling one outta the vaults that I *think* people will get.
Sunday Mornings at MRI were always a zoo, full of old women who had been coming to the Mill Race longer than I’d been alive, and plenty of yuppies, forgoing their Morning Starbucks Ritual once a week for brunch. Reservations would be booked weeks in advance, and the 10:30-1 PM time slot was always a premium time for people to grab brunch. We’d turn away our fair share of Walk-Ins citing overbooked reservations about every 5 minutes or so.
THIS Sunday, the one in question, I had been called in early, as the other two hostesses had called in sick, leaving just me. My manager and I ran the front, frantically answering phone calls, seating people, and overseeing the dining room in general. By 11:30 I was in the weeds, and the people kept pouring in.
A couple came in with their two youngish kids without a reservation, and my manager took them in graciously, instructing me to take them to one of our best River View tables. This was unbelievable for my usually-conservative manager. I took them in, my manager ran in back, and I noted both
1) the phone ringing on two different lines
2) several sets of people had walked in and were waiting impatiently at the hostess stand and were looking at the reservation sheet for their names (a personal pet peeve)
as I was walking these people to their table. Knowing that I was the ONLY ONE who was going to make it back up front to take care of those people and get the phone, I brusquely set their menus down, told them to ‘enjoy their brunch’ and was turning to run back up front when the dude pulled me back.
‘Excuse me, can we get a highchair?’ I reluctantly turned around and said politely, ‘I’m a little busy right now, but Jonathan [busboy] here [grabbing his arm] can get you one.’
Jon agreed and was physically in the act of getting the highchair as I walked back up front.
The rest of the day was just as hectic, with everyone wanting SOMETHING extra from us, a better table, a discount, someone to complain to, and we were getting ready to close up brunch when the same couple that I had sat were walking out. I smiled at them and bid my farewells, but the man headed up to my manager and began to berate her.
Curious, I listened in.
What had we done?
I could only catch bits and pieces of it without getting closer to them, but I could hear several comments, “Racist! Rude! Blah, blah, blah! Obviously racist.”
Who the HELL were they talking about? The staff was professional enough to really care less about someone’s skin color. I’d never heard ANYONE make a comment whatsoever about The Race Card because frankly, no one gave a fuck.
I was DYING to hear who they were talking about, and a couple minutes later, my manager comes marching up to me.
‘Rebecca, these people think that you are a RACIST because you didn’t get them a high chair and because you were rude to them.’ She launched into a tirade about what these people had said about me, but my ears were pounding and my head felt tingly, so I heard nothing more.
I sputtered loudly, turning from red to white to red again as the blood couldn’t decide where to go. I was FAR too busy to note anyone’s skin color, and I could care less about a biracial couple.
On the radar of things I’d noted about these people were such things as ‘he has nice shoes’ and ‘those kids are super cute.’ I had never been so genuinely shocked by something someone had accused me of before or since.
In essence, I had treated these people EXACTLY the same as I had treated every other table that day. Except, I cooed over how cute the kids were. Because they were. really. damn. cute.
The only thing I had noted–only AFTER he left–was the Big Ass Chip On His Shoulder. You can skew anyone’s behavior to make it suit the preconceived discrimination, and maybe they had dealt with plenty of people who DID care about their racial status, but I was totally not one of them. And really, if you want to know the kind of tables I hated to wait on, they had NOTHING to do with skin color.
I cared MUCH more about his shoes.