Caroline Leland, Waitress Extraordinaire

I recently completed training as a server at a French brasserie/bistro close to where I’m living. It’s a part-time job to complement the 10-15 hours per week I’m spending with the magazine. My first few server shifts have been fraught with mistakes that spawn a new line of contemplation…

I spilled water on my first customer — a perfect setup for an apologetic joke about christening her as my first customer, no? My hopes for ameliorating the situation through humor dissolved with her straight-faced “oh, a cold bath to start my evening.”

As the night progressed, I mistakenly rang in one table’s appetizers and entrees at the same time, inadvertently poured stale coffee for another table, and unintentionally charged a woman for a drink we didn’t have in stock. In summary, my night was characterized not by massive mistakes, but many. The most challenging aspect of waiting tables is that there’s so much opportunity for error. So many details to keep track of at the same time. Low consequence but high risk.

I like that. It keeps me on my toes, keeps me focused and engaged, but doesn’t stress me. At Crossover, I was positioned with a high risk for high-consequence mistakes. Every decision I made, everything I wrote or said to customers, directly or indirectly affected the company’s revenue and viability. That stressed me immensely. The power felt like a burden. At the French restaurant, I have no power and minimal responsibility. My role is simple and clearly defined. I’m still mastering the process, but the simplicity is soothing to me — even if I am continuously wincing at my own (many, minor) mistakes.