Ordering Please, One Big Boy
Daddy set me straight. “If you want some spending money, get a job.” Thus did I work two jobs while going through college at Georgia. I delivered flowers for Carolyn’s Flowers, where I learned a bit about that green foam called Oasis. My memories? Pretty recollections of gladiolas, roses, and carnations and how we used Coke crates to keep bud vases from spilling over in the van.
My other job was waiting on tables at Shoney’s. It’s memorable for several reasons. The one-dollar eat checks shot my weight from 142 to 155. Waiting on all manner of humanity taught me a bit about rude people and changed how I relate to service staff the rest of my life.
My ending up at Shoney’s began as a customer. Three roommates and I ate dinner at Shoney’s many a night. The waitresses, as they were known then, would bring out a bread plate with five pieces of Grecian bread. Four starving college guys versus five pieces of bread—hands shot out to grab the extra piece.
A fellow from back home, Marty Richard, worked there in management training. “You ought to get a job here,” he said. “You’ll go home with money every day.”
After some training I became a waiter. Shoney’s back then had favored entrees. One was the half-pound of ground round. People loved the strawberry pies and hot fudge cake sundaes. I best recollect the star of stars was the Big Boy burger. I’m sure the menu has changed, but I suspect the protocol for ordering entrees has not.
Each wait staff would walk up to a pass-through’s microphone and address the kitchen staff: “Ordering please, one half-a-pound ground round,” and then we’d rattle off the details. When the entrees were ready, we’d place them on a round platter and hold them aloft. Off to the tables we’d head.
If you’ve never waited on tables know that the fear of spilling food all over a patron consumes you. One night with two milkshakes on a tray held aloft, I stopped at a booth when a patron in the adjoining booth asked me a question. I turned, spilling a strawberry milkshake down the front of a man’s suit. He took it well, and my fear of spilling food vanished. I had climbed that mountain, but other hills remained.
Drunken college kids would hassle me and I recall a night when a large party of drunken students kept sending their food back. The manager had been watching them the entire time. He asked them to leave. I recall too a guy who often found a fly in his meal. He expected a free meal. We learned that he kept a matchbox of dead flies in his shirt pocket. (You can’t make this stuff up.)
While training a girl to set up the salad bar, Liz was her name, I cut her finger while slicing tomatoes the Shoney’s way—a sign of things to come. I would marry her, and it wouldn’t go well. The manager took me to visit his family in Green Bay, Wisconsin where I walked around Lambeau Field. I recall Green Bay women repeatedly asking me to say “water.” They found my accent comical. “He said ‘Give me a drink of wa-duh.’ ”
One more memory. The girl whose finger I cut, she and I called in sick one night so we could go to a movie. As we pulled up to a red light, a car pulled up beside us. It was the manager. He fired us the next day. My career as a waiter, waitstaff, or server—whatever is considered correct today—was over.
My waiter days taught me something. Whenever a waitstaff serves me, I joke and loosen them up. They know I am not one to give them a hard time, and they appreciate it.
By the way, I hear they dropped the Big Boy as a mascot replacing it with a bear. I find that unbearable. Ordering please, one stylish Big Boy. He and his pompadour were cool before being cool was cool.
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