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Restaurant Disaster Stories

May 16, 2020

Another Way for week of May 15, 2020

When the Waitress Has a Really Really Bad Bad Day

My first “work study” job as a college student was washing dishes in the college cafeteria. I don’t remember much about that job but I sprayed off dirty dishes, put them in racks, loaded racks into washers, which finished in a drying cycle. The process resulted in sanitary cafeteria trays and plates out of the mayhem of garbage and leftovers. This was in the days before buffet service in university dining rooms.

I don’t remember all of the options presented by the work study advisor to earn part of my way through college. I think there were options to work in the library, DJ at the college radio station, or washing dishes. It seemed like the least challenging job for me to choose, but maybe I liked the hours, I don’t know. With the mealtime-focused employment, my evenings were free for study and extracurriculars.

I did more dishwashing my second year of college in a position that required a little more thinking: short order cook, server, and clerk in the college snack shop. At the end of a shift, we were to wash up any dirty pans.

But I never really thought about how crucial dishwashing was and is in the restaurant industry until I read a piece by food critic Tom Sietsema in The Washington Post Magazine. Two years ago he spent one shift washing dishes in an upscale restaurant to learn from the inside what it is like. He said that numerous employees who start as dishwashers work their way up to other restaurant jobs including chefs—after having learned the lay of a restaurant and how things operate. Like being slammed on a busy Saturday night. Broken dishes on the floor. Getting stabbed by a knife hiding in water.

In a restaurant where good plates, real utensils and glassware are used, everything revolves around good dishwashing—including the huge pots it takes to make restaurant-sized batches. Frequently those who wash dishes don’t get much pay or respect—although that is changing. However, Sietsema indicated that even chefs who have risen from the ranks of dishwasher are sometimes snobbish in regard to dishwashing staff.

My sister thought quickly enough to snap this photo of the meal disaster. (And white socks?? But this was a trip, dark socks were forgotten. :-))

I give all this as background to my main story, how a half rack of ribs landed on my husband’s lap and shoes at one of our favorite eateries near my mom’s apartment. Fine dining it is not, but they have good edible food in large quantiles at reasonable prices, served restaurant style (not buffet).

On this day we went to Lux’s a bit late after church. I could tell as we walked in that it had likely been a busy lunch period; our waitress seemed a bit distracted and weary. She neglected to give us eating utensils and napkins, so I got them myself.

My husband ordered a half rack of ribs, enough to save for a second meal. But as the waitress brought out the steaming dish on her smallish arm, the whole rack slid off the plate, onto Stuart’s good shirt, the table, and eventually his pants, socks, shoes and floor. As it tumbled downward we watched in shock. How did this happen? Was she new?

The waitress apologized profusely, said she’d comp the meal for him, and then disappeared to reorder. She removed the plate but neglected to have anyone clean up our messy barbecue sauce-covered table and floor. I called over a table cleaner to do that, and then I wiped up the floor myself with napkins.

When the waitress finally brought his meal, she apologized again and said she’d worked there seven years and that it had never happened before.

Later, my sister could hardly stop giggling. It was a funny picture, but not when it happened. We did not make a scene, although we were a scene for sure! It was undoubtedly our worst restaurant experience. Ever. The mess did come out of his clothes after soaking half a day.

But you know, in the scope of the world’s problems, it was nothing. Can I get an amen?


Can your restaurant story top this? I’d love to hear it here!

Do you have experience in commercial dishwashing? All tales welcome.


Comment here or send to or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  



  1. I still remember the horror of spilling a glass of iced tea on a customer at Clearview Diner where I served as waitress in my teens.. You can’t run the film of the spill backward; there is nothing to do but apologize – profusely!

    • Oh my–was this a diner in Lancaster County? You describe the problem–and the solution well. Profuse apologies. I don’t recall any big spills the two summers I waitress-ed in Florida, got lucky.
      Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  2. Comment fro Nick Russian: A party of eight ordered lunch at a small, mostly empty restaurant. The waitress took our order and in due time brought our meals, mine excluded. She went back to the kitchen and discovered that the cook missed mine. When the waitress explained, I joked that I was starving to death. Everybody laughed except the waitress. Maybe she didn’t see the humor. She apologized profusely. I felt bad. I hope our tip made her feel better.

    During army basic training I preferred kp to field exercises because I’m not the soldierly type…and the weather is always nice inside. We ate off of metal plates, which always seemed to be greasy even after being passed through a steaming hot dishwasher. The food was okay. Complaints were few because the strenuous training made us ravenous. Most soldiers ate almost anything except beets. (I ate them.) I remember dumping trays of them into the waste containers for the local pig farmers to pick up. Red beets kept showing up on the rotating menu anyway. That’s the army way.

    • I liked your waitress story. Like Marian said about her experience, all you can really do is apologize profusely and then try to make up for the error, whatever it is.

      I did tip for my meal; Stuart’s was comped so we didn’t tip for that. And I’m sure my sister tipped. Perhaps the best tip was that in a second trip to the area now, he got another serving of the rack of ribs–this time carry out of course. We probably will continue to give them business, and have an unforgettable story to share. 🙂

  3. I like that you took the whole thing in stride, which is hard to do when you are the center of attraction. The waitress did what she had to do except clean-up. I am surprised you were involved in the clean-up. Anyways, great story.

    • I’ll admit my husband was pretty upset but now we can laugh about it. She definitely dropped the ball with the clean up–it would have felt better if she had made an effort to see that someone cleaned it up. But anyway, yes, it gave me a column to write!

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