Tales from the Café: Tabula Rasa

Time: Monday, 1:48 pm

I was scheduled to come in at 2, but I figured jumping in a bit early was never going to be a problem. The rush was slowing down, and I could tell it had been a doozy, just from how much still needed to be done and cleared. James, our general manager and current manager on duty, waved me in. “Hi, Hunter.”

“Hey James. Mind if I clock in early? I’ll start helping bus and stuff.”

“Sure, go ahead.” He ducked into the office, and I rolled my shoulders, tapping my number into the computer. I could see a few of my coworkers toodling around, taking out dishes and bringing empty ones back to the kitchen, so when a couple of ladies walked into the café, I ducked behind the counter.

“Hello, welcome,” I greeted them with a smile. “This going to be for here?”

“Yes please.” The two ordered their food, along with a pair of glasses of wine.

Handing them the receipt back, I slid a number next to it. “Here’s the number for your food, and I’ll bring the wine over in just a moment.” They thanked me, and I heard a call of “order up!” ring out from back in the kitchen. Man, for the rush being over, I still feel like we’re running around in circles. The women took their number and wandered off in search of a table, and I ducked into the kitchen and grabbed the plates. I could take out this order, and then pour the two glasses of wine. It wouldn’t take that long.

I delivered the food, scooped up a few dirty dishes I saw sitting on a nearby table, and headed back to drop them off and pour the wine. One glass of chardonnay, one of merlot. Easy enough. I grabbed two glasses and the bottles, measuring out the ounces before transferring them to their respective glasses. Picking them up, I went in search of a table with the number I’d given them.

I winced inwardly when I found them. They’d picked one of our tables with couches for chairs–and I couldn’t blame them, they were comfortable–but the table hadn’t been cleared off yet from the last people. Most of the dishes had been moved to one side (I had to wonder who’d done that: us, them, or the previous customers) so it’d be easy enough. I could drop off the wine, pick up the dishes, and all would be well. “Hi ladies, I’ve got you–”

They didn’t let me finish. One woman leveled her gaze at me, and I knew I was going to be having a bad time. “This table is disgusting. Why hasn’t this been cleaned off?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. I know it’s inexcusable. Occasionally around now, we have a lot of staff leaving and coming, so a few things fall through the cracks–but again, I know that’s no excuse. I’ll make sure this gets cleaned up right now for you.” I moved to set the wine glasses down so I could pick up the plates.

“Ah…” She leaned forward, holding out a hand to stop me. “I’d like to have a clean table before anything of mine is on here.”

I bit my tongue hard. “Of course. I’ll be right back.” I walked away and set the glasses on the bar. James had come back out of the office, and raised an eyebrow at me. “I’ll be right back for those. Don’t let them go anywhere.”

“Okay.” I grabbed a rag and the sanitizing spray and headed back to the ladies’ table. I shifted the plates from their table to one next to me, so I could wipe down the surface.

“Thank you,” the other lady said softly. The first lady said nothing.

“Not a problem.” I was keeping my voice as even as I possibly could. I wanted none of my frustration to slip through. “I’m sorry it happened again. I’ll be right back with your wine.” Tucking the rag and bottle under one arm, I hoisted the plates up again and headed back to the kitchen.

James was watching me, bemused. “What happened?”

“Some plates hadn’t gotten cleared and they refused to take their drinks before the table was clean. Understandable, but they didn’t quite need to be as snarky as they were.” I tipped the trash into the bin and set the plates in the dish area. “Jesus was she angry.”

James shook his head. “Well, thank you for taking care of it.”

“No worries.” I picked up the wine glasses again–plastered a smile back on my face–and re-delivered the wine. All would be well.

A/N: I will note here that the real customers that inspired this story did apologize for being abrupt with me, and we all had a lovely conversation later. As usual, this story is altered enough that it’s only inspired by true events rather than mirroring them. (Also, I write these so far after the events that I forget most of the details!)


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