For Another $5

I miss Pepper’s when I’m not working, even though I know once I go in again, I’ll feel like I’m in hell. I’ll come on during the night shift on Friday and find out that the side-work hasn’t been done for the day. I’ll do it myself.

I’ll get tables that I think all tip poorly. I’ll be in a bad mood by the time there’s a rush because the hostess is a dumb-ass, and I have no tables while everybody else has a full station. Either that or I have a full station all sat at one time while everybody else has nothing. Towards closing, I’ll get sat a 10-top in station 9, even though I’m across the room in station 1. It will be a nameless server in station 8, one who will be in and out in less than a month, and they won’t be able to handle four tables at once. So I’ll get double-sat, maybe even triple-sat in station 1 at the same time. In fact, while the hostess sits that 10-top at 11:30 PM, the server in station 2 will sit me – because they don’t want to be forced to stay after close, even though they’re also in a closing station. At this time, to-go will be cut, and I’ll take over, as per my station 1 job requirement. The phones will suddenly ring wildly, even though they haven’t rung in over an hour.

“Hi! You’ve reached Pepper’s Dallas, home of great food to go! This is Sunshine; how can I help you?” I ask in my best customer service voice.

People will ask me to check their side-work while I’m getting all of the drinks. I bluntly tell them they can either help me or wait. They stand there for a while, maybe decide to order a meal. Perhaps the manager has made shift food – I know I’ll never get a chance to eat it. Somebody will have ordered a drink from the bar. It will take the bartender 10 minutes to pour a beer because they will be talking to the regulars who greet me by name with a smile when I finally insist he pours my drink.

I’ll find out servers left without doing their side-work correctly because I didn’t have time to check it before they had to go. I realize I have to do it for them before I close the restaurant. I will see a line in to-go and a line at the door of people waiting to be sat 15 minutes before we close the restaurant. The other servers will see the people but do nothing because they don’t want the table. I don’t want them, either, but I’ll take them, even if I want to kill them. I’d sell my soul for another $5.

“Hey guys, welcome to Pepper’s! My name is Sunshine, and I’m going to be your server today. Can I get y’all started with a Super Margarita tonight?” I repeat my opening line with a big smile and zero hesitation while crouching before the table in my jeans, current vibrant Pepper’s shirt, and a high ponytail with a red hair bow. I write their drink orders in my black order book covered with stickers of my school and my sorority – I find them to be good conversation starters, and good conversations lead to better tips. I can remember four drink orders on my own. Still, it’s company policy to write everything down, and I’m nothing if not loyal to the exact specifications of Pepper’s. It’s how I’ve been promoted to trainer, Quality Assurance, bartender, and hourly manager.

I’ll know the food for table 5 is ready, but that QA is cut, and nobody will run it. Get silverware for table 4, grab their drinks with refills for the big-top and the food for table 5. Print the check for table 6, tell to-go I’ll be right there. Bring it all out at the same time.

I’ll wonder how I have so many hands, how I somehow have strength at that moment, how I can hold a heavy tray with 3 meals and 6 drinks when I’m so tiny. I feel so small sometimes, especially at the restaurant talking to customers. They don’t always know I’m a student. Sometimes, the people who notice my sticker leave an extra tip as though I need it more than the other servers. As if being middle class and able to afford school means they should reward me. They don’t stop to think that maybe the other servers are there because they have to be – because the others don’t have parents who will help them with school, because they had to live on their own at eighteen, because it’s not easy to find a new job – let alone pay for college – when you work seventy hours a week at two jobs, have kids, and you’re just struggling to make rent.

The manager will be helping me by this time because I have six people waiting at to-go and 4 tables, including a big-top. The rest of the restaurant will be empty. I wonder why this always happens to me every night. I know my sales will be so large I’ll be tipping out $10, even though the busboy stops bussing at 11:30, and I’ll clean the vast majority of my sales on my own. I don’t complain because the bussers have it harder than I do. It’s 12:00 and closing time. A table walked in at 11:58, but I still have to seat them, even though they’re assholes for coming in so late. I seat them in the lounge, even though Jessica gives me a dirty look. I know it’s wrong, but I’ve had a hard night. They’re usually fine sitting there when it’s that late. Jessica has a big smile. She’s a single mom with four beautiful kids that smile just like her. They go to private school. She needs the money and never complains. Sometimes I actually even give her tables I know tip generously, even when I want them for myself. She needs that money more than I do.

I bring up dishes. Jessica would, but she’s busy cleaning the lounge and working that last table. The other closers only brought up some before leaving without my permission, and I finish their side-work as well. I make sure all the silverware faces the same way, and the blinds are open just the right amount – ninety degrees.  I brag to Joe, the regional manager, about how many margaritas I sold – sometimes I get a free meal for it, and I’ll suck up all of my pride for a free shift meal.

It takes until 1:00 for my tables to finally leave – a full hour after closing – then I have to bus and clean them, then sweep the floors. I carefully buff my tables with a cloth until there are no fingerprints left on the colorful tiles. Then I ensure that the sugar caddies have 18 white sugar packets to the right and 9 each of Sweet-and-Low, Splenda, and Equal in that order on the left. Finally, I put all of the chairs up. My arms are sore, and I’m done. Finally, I count my tips.

I never know if it’s worth it when I’m finished, if a night like that would be warranted by any amount of cash. I could work retail. It would probably be a much easier job. I’d get paid about $5 an hour less, but I wouldn’t have to deal with some of the shit I deal with here. But I love this for the rush. For that feeling I get when I have been triple-sat, the phone is ringing, and I have people lined up in to-go, while my current tables are ready for their refills or a check, and I have to make three desserts. For that little current of excitement I feel when I know I have to do this all right now. I’ll even take the time to participate in a story while I’m in the pass-out getting food ready for my customers. And I feel like I’m a part of things.

And after the shift, we all go to the same bar, and it seems like we all had the same night and didn’t make enough money because of it, but we’re all a part of something bigger than ourselves. We’re all a part of each other, for better or worse. We’d all sell our soul just to make an extra $5 that night, no matter what it takes.

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