"Oops" by Ali Cavanaugh

Learning how to say “I f***ed up”

"Oops" by Ali Cavanaugh
“Oops” by Ali Cavanaugh

A wise man once told me his most important rule was that his employees recognize when they made a mistake and come clean with a good old “I f***ed up,” so that the issue could be dealt with and moved past.

I was one of his employees, and that rule has been liberating.

It doesn’t mean that I feel liberated in the moment of screwing up, though!

Last night was not my night. All was going well on an average summer Thursday evening at the restaurant I serve at, until I communicated poorly with a fellow server and his customer ended up having to wait an extra 10 minutes for their meal.

In an attempt to repair the damage, I waited in the kitchen for the new meal to be ready, eager to get it to the waiting customer ASAP. In my excitement at seeing a pizza put in front of me, I foolishly took the pizza without double-checking that it was indeed the one I had been waiting for.

Several minutes later, after the majority of the pizza I served had been inhaled by the hungry guest, questions started surfacing about a missing pizza. When asked directly, I said I did not know anything about it. To my mind, which had been solidly in must-fix-problem-now mode, the chef had placed the pizza he knew I had been waiting around for right in front of me, so I clearly was supposed to take it, so I did.

When I walked through the kitchen for another reason a few minutes after being asked about the missing pizza, I was met with the chef’s frustration: I had, indeed, taken the wrong pizza. I was meant to serve a sausage margherita pizza. The one I stole was a bechamel pizza and had no sausage on it.

Even worse, the kitchen was temporarily out of pizza dough and bechamel sauce and the rightful owner of the bechamel pizza had been waiting for some time.

The new girl strikes again.


What can you do in such a situation but put on your humble face, throw up your hands, and say: “I f***ed up and I’m sorry!”

(Photo source)

Keep the Server Happy, Website Edition

This week, I submitted my last final assignment. Finally.

Currently, I’m procrastinating from studying for a take-home exam due this afternoon. Oops.

But it’s once again been too long since I posted, and I’m pretty excited about this final assignment and I want to share it with you. Now.

The assignment, which was for an online class called Writing for the Web, was to design a website with at least 5 different pages to it, incorporating the principles we learned during this course.

I don’t know how my prof will grade it, since I only submitted it for marking yesterday morning, but after receiving some good feedback from my Facebook friends, I thought I’d share it with you. I am thinking of purchasing a domain name for this site and publishing it to the web for real and making it a bit of a hub for all that stuff servers wish their customers knew!

Here’s a linked screen shot so you can go see it yourself:

Keep in mind I’m an amateur Dreamweaver user, and I built this all from scratch, and I didn’t really have the time to finess things too much. It’s a beginning, more than anything.

But – do you like it?

Do you have a restaurant story to add to my “This one time…” page?

I have some ideas for a domain name, which I’m hoping to host as a sub-page to this site, we’ll see. Meanwhile, I could use your feedback about domain name ideas:

Send me your “This one time at a Restaurant” stories for when I debut the website with its own domain name!

Hey Bad Tipper: You’re Breakin’ my Heart! You’re Shakin’ my Confidence, Baby!

Five years of experience might not make me an expert, but it does make me experienced.

Those five years have taught me that I’m a better server than some, and, provided my attitude doesn’t get in the way, often deserving of a good tip. Those same five years have opened my eyes to a glaring fact that surprises me less these days, but continues to rile me: people are CLUELESS!

Okay, so maybe not in general, but in tipping, I guarantee you that the majority of people I serve have no idea what they should be doing. They have no idea that their ten-percent-before-taxes is breaking my heart, one table at a time. They have no idea that my Waitress Face is hiding my profound disappointment. We laughed, we cried, it was better than cats… until they got up to the counter and slapped me in the face with their loonie. WHAAA–?!

Clueless. That’s all. They’re not having a bad time. They enjoyed their food. They dug the music. They wanted my silver spoon handle ring. They encouraged me in my future career. They offered to send my children to school… And then they broke my heart.

I have thought a lot about what might be done to illuminate the unwritten rules of the service industries of the world. I really am no closer to a solution, other than to do what I do best and rant about it on my blog (I’ve also thought about writing something more substantial. An essay? A compilation? A booklet on how to be a good customer? … Thoughts welcomed).

So. For those NOT in the know, here are the basics:

  • An average (think: minimum) tip these days in Canada is 15%. Yup. FIFTEEN, not ten.
  • In recognition of good service (defined below), tip 20% or thereabouts.
  • MOST IMPORTANT: 10% is an insult. A letdown. A farce.

Fun fact: did you know that the minimum wage for servers is less than for everyone else because it is assumed that tips will provide the rest?

Yes, someone decided to give YOU the power to pay part of my wages! Why you gotta let me down?! Can you believe there are actually people out there who think: “I worked hard for my money: why should I give any to you?” Hi. This is me, working hard for my money. Which used to be your money. If you didn’t want to pay for the whole restaurant experience, why did you leave your own kitchen?

Okay. Good service. The twenty-percent qualifying round. These are things a good server does (watch for them!):

  • Greet you in a friendly manner
  • Get to you as soon as they can (sometimes that means they’ll get to you to tell you they’ll get to you as soon as they can)
  • Keep you in the loop (specials, soups, what the kitchen is out of, any delays, where the bathroom is, etc.)
  • Explain the menu, if it’s not self-explanatory
  • Ensure your drinks and food arrive in a timely manner, or, if there’s nothing that can be done, keep you in the loop about it and give you updates about what’s happening
  • Double-check to make sure that you got what you ordered and that everything is as it should be, you have the condiments, utensils, drinks, napkins, etc. that you need.
  • Check on you after you start eating to ask if everything is okay, or if there’s anything you need
  • Keep your water glass more full than empty
  • Notice when your drink is low and ask if you would like another
  • Clear your plates in a timely manner (the best servers often wait until everyone is done: it’s more polite that way)
  • Offer you apres-dinner items (drinks, dessert, etc.)
  • Make sure you are good and done before speaking of/presenting the bill
  • Process your bill in a timely, professional manner
  • Try to avoid mentioning anything about a tip. That’s just tacky!

My Condensed Idiot’s Guide to Being a Good Customer will have to wait for now. I have papers to write. Meanwhile, don’t forget: you are part of your restaurant experience. If you are being annoying, chances are your server will be less inclined to give you good service. Are you doing it just so that you’ll have an excuse to give him or her a lower tip? Hmmm.

You know that adage, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”? Think of your server as Mama, and life gets better for everyone.


A Day in My Life, June 2008

I had a sudden desire today to chronicle and compare the different stages of my life, as I look back and notice that my life in June 2008 is remarkable different from that of June 2007, June 2006, June 2005, and so on.

I invite you to be a witness on this journey.

June 2008 finds me 27 years old, living in a two-bedroom second-floor apartment in the only apartment building in a tiny town in East Huron County called Brucefield. This town is known for it’s flashing light, yellow if you’re driving between Clinton and Exeter on Highway 4, or red if you’re coming from either Seaforth or Bayfield. There is one elementary school, one church, one drive-in restaurant, two mechanic shops, one Asian/Home Decor/B&B/Lunch Room location, and one fire station.

My apartment overlooks a cornfield, the view of which is mostly obstructed by a lovely birch tree. Said tree helps me feel more confident walking around in my apartment in less-than-decent clothing on summer nights. After all, who would be driving by slowly enough whose gaze could penetrate the birch branches in the split second I happen to be passing through my dining room, several feet from my beautiful picture window?

I enjoy living alone, though sometimes I do wish someone was there to care whether I came in or not, or to wonder where I was, or to motivate me to do dishes, finally! My neighbours are understanding and quiet, the area is safe, and I actually have a place to call home. MY home. I’ve immensely enjoyed painting and decorating my apartment, putting all of my good taste to good use in a place where I’m the boss, now and forever.

Another addition to my life is that of Trixie the Toyota, a pretty, dark-green 1997 4Runner who goes with me everywhere I go. She hauls the accoutrements of my life and hobbies without complaint. She has survived being rolled over in the ditch after skidding out on an icy country road, being hit-and-run by some unknown person, a not-so-successful attempt at backing up a trailer, and carrying some of my more treasured furniture.

Not so enjoyable are the bills that go with being established and mobile, namely cell phone, rent, insurance, hydro, phone/internet, groceries, gas, repairs, etc. I can’t say as I ever yearned for that part of nesting, but I take it in stride, usually. I’ll be much happier when I can finally get my tax returns done (for the past 2 years), pay off my credit card, and have money set aside for winter tires.

I have spent more than a year at the same job, as a server at The Brew’n Arms English pub and restaurant in Bayfield, Ontario. Earlier this year, I graduated to keyholder and Dining Room Manager, as well as Kitchen Painter and Orchid-Caretaker extraordinaire. My bosses are wonderful people who have become friends and family, as well as the most understanding and flexible supervisors anyone could ask for. They make me want to stay and do my best for them, for their business, for their town.

Last year at this time, I was also working as a drywaller, and, shocker! I don’t miss it a tiny bit. I do enjoy my refined house-painting skills, which I have recently put to good use in a “cottage” in Bayfield, and hope to expand as a second job. If you hear of someone looking to hire a house painter, give them my number!

I’m not attending church because I couldn’t handle the one I had called “home” for years. I’m generally fed up with the institution that is what church has become, with all its expectations and traditions and legalism. I would enjoy a faith-based community of believers that is honest and open, a group that can laugh and be reverent in an informal way. I really could expand this paragraph to a whole essay, but suffice it to say that I have not encountered such a community, but I still seek to hold onto my beliefs. I am discovering more of what life is like on “the other side” (outside the Christian bubble), and it’s very educational, despite occasionally dangerous.

If it were possible to live on coffee, I’d do it.

I’ve joined the wonderful realm of BlackBerry, as I once dreamed of doing. And I’m paying for it, too.

Writing is still my best communication method.

I rarely see earlier than 10 AM, or close my eyes earlier than 1 or 2 AM. I’d like to change that.

The music in my life has developed over the past year as well. I am the youngest voice of the all-female cover band, Cactus Jam, and I love it, despite playing mostly Legions. I was also privileged enough to be part of Noted!, a project sponsored by the United Way in my county, which is helping to boost the music careers of the 17 women chosen to participate. We got to record 14 tracks in a professional studio, and a great-sounding CD is the result. This past winter I also ventured out to sing a few times at Open Mic nights at a local pub, and have been the featured soloist at two church events.

This year finds me recently motherless, a drastic blight on anyone’s life, and definitely on mine. It has changed so many things and finally propelled me into nesting in the first place. It also made my brother and I guardians of our youngest brother and launched me further into the land of disabled children in Ontario. I now have a lawyer, communicate regularly with several case workers, get all kinds of official mail, and have to return junk mail still addressed to Mom.

June 2008 also finds me blonde, and with an even greater fashion sense. I love that about growing older! I predict I’ll still be stylish in my 80s. If I’m not, remind me of now.

I’ve discovered I love flowers and plants, doing the Toronto Saturday Star crossword, Pinot Grigio and Shiraz, premium beer, CBC Radio, brie on melba rounds with semi-dried tomatoes in duck confit, Dollarama’s plain candles, serving dessert, mom’s old couch and armchair (with my apartment’s decor built around them), C&E used furniture in Goderich, Americanos from The Bean, and living in Huron County!!! (Sorry, but that deserved more than three exclamation points)
Being Sarah Elizabeth takes different shapes all the time, and I’m enjoying the process. Here’s to another year!

The Joy of Tipping

This rant has been a long time coming, so my apologies to those who I’ve mentioned it to who have come here to find me procrastinating. As usual.

Diners of the world, hear ye, hear ye! Servers of the world, unite!

Together we approach the possibly controversial topic of tipping. Having been a full-time server for almost a year now, you’d think I’d have ranted about this long before now, but it’s only recently that I’ve noticed just how stingy some people are.

Fact: Servers don’t even make minimum wage.

Fact: Servers put up with a lot of picky, ignorant, cheap, snotty, and “special” people, and good servers like me keep smiling anyway. Usually.

Fact: A twenty percent tip is considered good; a fifteen percent tip is considered acceptable; a ten percent tip is considered bare minimum albeit ignorant because that was considered good about 10 years ago and hello, have you SEEN gas prices lately?!; and less than that is just plain mean and backwards.

Fact: In a place that has candles on the tables, jazz playing during dinner, $9 glasses of wine, and delicious, if simple, food, a ten percent tip is a slap in the face.

Wikipedia has this to say:

Though by definition a tip is never legally required, and its amount is at the discretion of the person being served, in some circumstances failing to give an adequate tip when one is expected would be considered very miserly, a violation of etiquette, or unethical.


In countries where tipping is the rule (for example United States), complicated social rules and etiquette have developed over the exact percentage to tip, and what should and should not be included in this calculation. In other cultures where tipping exists it is more flexible and no specific assumptions of the tip amount exist. In the United States, it is acceptable to tip anywhere from 15% to 20% if the service is good to superior, and less or even zero for mediocre service. In Canada, a 15% tip is customary for good service.[8]

Some establishments pool tips and divide them to include employees who lack customer contact. At some restaurants, agreements among the staff require the servers to tip out members of the support staff (kitchen, bartender, and busser) at the end of their shift;[9]; this means that servers pay a certain fixed percentage of their sales (most often a portion less than 15 percent of total sales) to the other staff. Thus when a patron leaves a small tip, it results in the server having to receive less from the tipping pool than other staff.[10]

Lately, I’ve had so many people tip me less than ten percent, it’s sickening. If you’re one of those people, give yourself and your wallet a shake! Do I have to launch into my Principles of Generosity lecture? Also, if I’m truly that shoddy of a server, do you think they would’ve appointed me Dining Room Manager? So. Since your bad tipping habits don’t reflect on my skill, it must be an indication of either ignorance or stinginess on your part. (If you’re a good tipper, please disregard these comments 🙂 )

I’d like to continue this rant, but I think I’ve actually covered all the ground I want to. I’ll leave you with this thought:

Wouldn’t you rather err on the side of generosity?

Frustrated Incorporated

It’s 3:42 am, and, while I did just go to bed a little while ago, rather than relax and go to sleep, I found myself planning a conversation with a particularly annoying regular customer of mine, and my heart beat faster rather than slower, and I was inspired, and I had to get up and write!

D is an only child. Me being an over-capable oldest of six, finding out that fact was the equivalent of “‘Nuff said”. D’s wife died of cancer at the end of last summer (for mercy’s sake, you can insert an “aww” here, but only a tiny, pathetic little one), around the time that we found out Mom had cancer in her brain.

For a while, then, it seemed like there was a bit of stuff we had in common. That little while was before him and one of my coworkers started, well, hanging out A LOT, and before he got seasonally laid off from his job. Doom approaches.

It began when D started making awkwardly smug overtures along the lines of helping me through the season of my mom being sick with cancer. He offered me books, which I at first politely and noncommittally said I’d read. Thankfully, they never materialized. Some time later, from his preposterously central (and unavoidable) perch at the bar, accompanied by an attempt to send me a secret message through a certain waggling of his eyebrows and a pointing of his eyeballs, he again offered books. I played dumb. Books for what? Did I ask for books?

“Well, for you know!!”

“No, I’m sorry. For what?” (I’m being barely polite now)

“Well, because your mother’s sick, and…” More waggling and exaggerated looks. “… and then we can talk about it.”

Neither the gestures, the words, or the intent were having any affect on me, however, and, between customers, I knuckled down and told him that I was grateful for the thought, but I really had no interest in reading any books or talking to him about it. Ever. Not even under duress. Okay, I didn’t actually say that, but I probably thought it.

“Oh, so you’re in denial.”

“Maybe. But I have my own people to talk about my denial with.”

Now, after a few months of his being off work and weeks of my seeing D every day, twice or three times a day, topped off with lewd comments about women, asking me to smile, and sitting for hours sipping wine and rubbernecking as I work the room, as if I had grown a third breast (sorry for being crass), I’m more than ready for that work season to begin again. I hope it brings with it interminably long days.

Only a dimwitted person would be oblivious to how little I esteem this particular patron. While he gets a terse, “Glass of wine?” (how dare he make me ask him every time?), the person next to him gets, “Hi! How are ya? What could I get for you today? Lovely day, isn’t it? What brings you to town?” (Exaggeration helps sell a story).

Then the other day came the icing on the cake. Between D’s second and third terrorist attacks, he called to ask in a very roundabout way whether I had the ability to translate from Spanish to English or not. Too soon afterwards, he resumed his perch and his vice, envelope in hand, greeting me with, “I’m going to owe you big-time”. (Just how much, I wonder, could this be worth to him?) Within the envelope was a letter written in Spanish. I wasn’t given any context or back-story, just handed an entree of gobble-dee-gook which I happen to understand, and some expectation on the side.
Hypothetically, if you were a pathetic middle-aged man in an albeit small town with several bars and you were a firm believer in the Spread the Wealth concept, and it was painfully obvious that only one person could stand you at one of those several bars, that one person not being any of the ones that have to serve you at the bar, would you in your right mind not only go three times in one day, but then, without reasonable introduction or explanation, ask a favour worth $50?!

Honestly!!! (Sorry for the multiple exclamation points. My face was seriously expressing that much shock and surprise.)

It being 4:17 am currently, I hope that I have sufficiently put this matter to rest for tonight, and will try to retire. Thank you.