Dishin’ That: Thumbs up for summer at the beach

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The you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up file has been gathering cobwebs.

Oh sure, reports from the trenches still make their way to my email inbox, but nothing beyond mildly disturbing tidbits have been worth sharing. The bar, it seems, has been raised because people never fail to disappoint when it comes to hospitality crazy.

Still, I feel for the indignant server on Munjoy Hill who raged on about an $8 tip left in rolls of dimes and nickels (on a $60 tab). And, for the host in Yarmouth who relayed the tale of tourists toting their own adult-sized sippy cups full of “fruit and vitamin-infused water,” which everyone knew was vodka and soda.

However, things being what they are, really wacko material worthy of the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up file is surely out there. I just hadn’t seen it in a while. Until this past Saturday, that is.

Vowing to make the most of summer (someone else can roll massive piles of silverware for a change), I headed south to rendezvous with friends who convene annually in a popular seaside town. Just far enough away to feel like a vacation destination, the place brims with live music, kiosks selling knock-off Maui Jim sunglasses, and more bad tattoos than one can imagine.

The crowded strip is defined by mini-golf and ice cream shops, one rooftop bar after another, and the tantalizing aromas of fried clams and giant slabs of dough with messy powdered sugar. The tourist-focused city has spent oodles of controversial revitalization money, which was evident in the carved sidewalk statues, a new bathhouse, a safety-oriented playground, and so on.

Between great company, ideal weather, and the Red Sox beating the Yankees 5-2, I wish I could have bottled up that magical summer feeling for mid-February.

After packing up our own adult sippy cups and leaving the beach, my friend Julie (no doubt she is my Spirit Animal) and I headed to a crowded balcony restaurant where we could hear and see the music. Worming my way to the bar, I was astounded to see just two bartenders trying to accommodate thirsty patrons stacked three deep.

While watching the chaos my feelings went from aggravation for such poor service, to wanting to jump behind the bar.

“One of the other bartenders sliced off the tip of his thumb,” an over-extended server said to everyone in general. “It was really bad and we don’t even have any Band-aids. Sorry you all have to wait.”

Thinking the injured bartender went to the ER, or had left for the evening, we were surprised when 15 minutes later the guy walked behind the bar with his thumb in a makeshift bandage wrapped tightly with tape, and no glove.

When things calmed down I asked about the injury, and if he had the disconnected digit in a baggie on ice so it could be reattached.

“Nah,” he said. “It’s really busy and I just threw it out.”

The server who spoke earlier said, “Have you seen the bumper-to-bumper traffic? It would take so long for him to get to the hospital, and this is one of the busiest nights of the year.”

No one mentioned a manager and it just didn’t seem to matter.

It was a classic incident for the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up file. And one more crazy memory of a perfect summer day I hope to never forget.

Peas & Q’s

To readers who have inquired about employment: Decent hospitality jobs are still out there for the taking. Your best bet is to zero in on the places that don’t shutter when college kids and teachers head back to school. There’s a lot of money to be made between mid-August and Columbus Day, and now’s the perfect time to go after it.

Many seasonal restaurants lose help within the next four to six weeks, but business is still going strong. Savvy managers are hiring and training now for a seamless segue into the shoulder season. The major drawback is the place will be overstaffed for a while. You’ll be grovelling for shifts and praying someone calls in sick. But hang in, because those schedules are about to bust wide open.

And while I want to help everyone navigate and understand the hospitality industry, please do not send me your resumes, or ask for names of people who may know people. Instead, pound the pavement between peak meal periods and check Craigslist before your morning coffee.

Thanks for understanding that I have no desire to add “headhunter” to my own resume.

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 nladd@theforecaster.net, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @Nhladd.

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