Dishin' That: The mother of all restaurant days

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“Don’t spend money on flowers for Mother’s Day this year,” I told my college-age daughters, Number One and Carlykardashian. “Number One, you’re graduating from college next weekend, and CK, you’re schlepping home more clothes than Macy’s has on the rack. It just isn’t necessary.”

There was a pause and three seconds of silence. “But seriously, don’t forget to call your grandmother,” I said.

Feeling resolute when I gave the marching orders, why was I so weepy, when, for almost the first time ever, they actually listened to me? There were no flowers. No candy. No Hallmark cards. No breakfast in bed or false promises of doing the dishes afterward.

Then I brightened up.

For the first time in many years, I wasn’t in the Mother’s Day trenches with my hospitality brothers and sisters, who were working one of the busiest breakfast/brunch days on the calendar. It falls under the “amateurs dining out” category (along with Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve), and those celebratory shifts can be lucrative.

They can also be long, stressful and loaded with drama from both sides of the table.

The lucrative part comes from working in a place serving a “churn ’em and burn ’em” buffet brunch, with set prices for adults and children. Up-sell a few bloody Marys and the check grows, along with the gratuity. Traditional breakfast places will have lines out the door and, according to my peeps in the field, Sunday’s beautiful weather brought about record-breaking head counts everywhere from Dunkin’ Donuts to The Maine Dining Room at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport.

One of my friends made more than $300 between 7 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at her place of employment in York County.

“We all had to get there by 7 to rearrange the dining room, set up tables, make sure we had enough polished wine glasses and other tedious side work,” my pal said. “You should have been there. Two women I work with played the mom card in a big way. They were wearing cheesy buttons of their kid’s faces, and got sympathy tips for sure. Come to think of it, I’m sure one them was wearing a button of her nieces.”

As anticipated, my friend’s $300 day dwindled when it came time to share tips and take home the pay dirt.

“We were so overstaffed,” she went on. “There were two extra host people, an extra bus kid and one girl who did nothing but fill water glasses without saying a word.

“But do you think they had extra people in the kitchen who they’d have to pay over 4 bucks an hour? No, of course they didn’t. We could have used another dishwasher and someone to run stuff to the carving and omelet stations. It was a cluster.

“I tipped out over 35 percent by the time I got out of there,” she finally said before hanging up to Skype with her mom in Phoenix.

Another friend complained of a family behaving poorly and fighting at their table loudly enough to attract the attention of those seated nearby.

“So,” my server friend began, “apparently, a black-sheep brother wasn’t invited to breakfast, but somehow caught wind and showed up anyway. We didn’t have an extra seat in the house for him and the mom started crying when the fighting started. One of the sisters said, ‘Are you going to steal the silverware from here too?’ and the manager had to ask them all to calm down. It would have been funny if the mother wasn’t so upset.”

Lastly, a new Johnson & Wales student, working on a summer internship, told me his mom actually went into the closed kitchen and asked the head chef why her food was taking so long.

“I was so embarrassed,” he shared. “But I was more pissed my mom had to wait so long on her big day. Maybe next year, I’ll stay home too.”

Peas & Q’s:

Q: I try to educate myself about wine and have gone to a few tastings. The range of prices still confuse me. I know things change with vintages, and supply and demand, but sometimes, I stand there like a dolt trying to decide on a bottle. Suggestions? — L.M. Portland

A: It’s so hard not get swayed by slick marketing and cool labels. Keep reading and tasting, but put yourself out of your misery and go to RSVP on Forest Avenue and ask for Chris. He’s been around as long as I can remember, without an ounce of pretentiousness. Other retail wine places have pros, too, but he’s my go-to guy.

Another great resource is if you see a representative from one of the distributorships checking inventory while you’re shopping. Those folks are a wealth of untapped knowledge about what’s newly priced, has received props, or should simply be avoided because it’s nasty swill.

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Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @natalieladd.