My All-Time Favorite Customers: Confessions of an Anonymous Portland Waitress

It’s hard to believe that July is here again and the Portland tourist season is in full swing! The summer months can be wild, uproarious, and occasionally painful for a server in Portland—and yet every year I seem to forget, and then I find myself doing the damn thing again. Which is how some women describe childbirth. Horrible pain, complete amnesia, and then—oh hell why did I do this again??

However, faithful readers, I am not here today to whine and moan! It’s early enough in the season that I am still amused by the customers who cannot believe we are on a two hour wait on a Saturday and are flabbergasted that we cannot do anything for them, this very coiffed family from the North Shore wearing head-to-toe Vineyard Vines. What’s more, my last post seemed to rile up a little dear who has obviously never experienced the sheer existential bliss that is working in the restaurant industry. So I’ve decided to put on my Nice Pants (not made by Vineyard Vines) and share with you a list of some of my favorite customers, the ones that—and I am not kidding or exaggerating—keep me coming to work day after day because they make this crazy restaurant rigmarole totally worth it.

This one, to loosely quote Michael Stipe, goes out to the ones I love.

  1. Lobstermen. There are few things better than starting my shift with a table full of lobstermen fresh off the boat. They are impure of body and mind, and they are so happy to be on land, away from crustaceans and in the company of women—clean women! with deodorant!—that as long as they are served hot food and lots of booze, they will leave satisfied. I should clarify that lobstermen are not necessarily easy customers; everything is an innuendo and they appreciate a server who can dish it out as much as she can take it, so I’ve got to be on my A game if I’m waiting on these bawdy seamen. And I admit that, despite my feminist upbringing and liberal college education, I allow men who pay in cash and unfailingly leave huge tips to make whatever allusions they want to my lady bits.

I once waited on a table of four lobstermen. One drank an ungodly amount of screwdrivers and walked out as if he were dead sober. One ate more food than I thought a human could eat. One left me his phone number on his bill. The last one left me a drawing of a penis, um, in flagrante? A smoking gun, shall we say? They all left 30+ percent tips.

Among lobstermen, I’ve noticed an inclination for mixed drinks made with citrus juices: greyhounds, tequila sunrises, Captain & OJ, and even, one time, a Jameson and orange juice. (Shudder.) Is this a scurvy thing? Is that still a problem? Could someone look into this? I would like Portland’s finest to be around and in good health for a long time because they make my job so much more fun.

  1. Customers who are insanely, mind-numbingly high. These customers are exceedingly polite because they are trying to hide just how high they really are, there is no extraneous conversation because they are literally incapable of it, and they order a ton of food. They will never call me over and point at the bill going, “Excuse me! What is this $2.00 charge here??” because by the time they get their bill, they might not be totally sure of what they consumed during their feeding frenzy. It’s like waiting on a table of cuddly, tranquilized pandas. What could be easier?

A shout out to all those who voted to legalize recreational marijuana in the state of Maine!

  1. Members of the LGBTQ community. Let me start by saying that I know one of the cornerstones of the LGBTQ movement is to eliminate stereotypes and challenge people’s preconceived notions of those they don’t know or have never met…but I have to say, I and every server I know let out a huge sigh of relief when we realize an old lesbian couple or a big group of gays got sat in our section. And yep, this extends across the whole rainbow (hardy har har) of the LGBTQ community, from the bears to the drag queens, from the most butch to the most lipstick of lesbians. Why am I stereotyping a group that has fought so hard against stereotypes? I’ll say it, nay, I’ll shout it out, loud, and proud: They’re nice to me when I wait on them!!!

Why? you ask. Frankly, I have no idea. Maybe it’s because the community has had to fight some pretty big battles, for those madcap notions like social equality and acceptance, so they are totally fine to wait an hour along with every other person in line and they get that the host isn’t discriminating against them personally and making them wait longer because they know what real discrimination feels like. Maybe it’s because they have seen enough dark shit to know it’s not the end of the world if it takes me a couple extra minutes to get to their table because I’m in the weeds. Maybe it’s because the entire LGBTQ community has spent, oh I don’t know, centuries in the social and cultural weeds and so they look at me, a waitress, low on the public totem pole, reviled by doctors and lawyers and the entire neoliberal patriarchy, and they feel a sort of sympathy, a kinship, an understanding.

Or maybe they’re just having better sex than the rest of us and they’re able to chill the eff out.

  1. People from the Midwest. Well, geez. I just love waiting on people from the Midwest! They’ve got outdated haircuts and French tips and they can barely fit in the booth, but they are so gosh darn happy to be here! Having traveled and spent a short time living in the Midwest, I think I understand Portland’s appeal for Midwesterners: It’s a city, but it’s not an overwhelming or intimidating city, and Portlanders tend to be friendly, laid-back people too. It’s a match made in heaven.

Unlike my uber trendy customers (your New Yorkers, your Angelenos) who are apparently in some clandestine contest to see how many times they can use the word “mouthfeel” in a conversation, and unlike my mega-pissed-off customers (your Massholes, your…what do you call people from Connecticut?) who hate me even before I approach their table because my ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower or whatever, Midwesterners are generally here to have a good time. And they are succeeding, possibly because they’ve been landlocked for too many years and all the negative ions thrown off by the ocean have them acting downright giddy. They love asking for my advice—what should they order, what should they see around Portland—which makes me feel positively cerebral even though I’m just telling them my opinion on the Casco Bay Lines Sunset Run cruise. (My opinion is: BYOB.) Oh, Midwesterners, it is sad but adorable you’ve never tasted Maine maple syrup. And yes, I would love to hear about how your seven-year-old threw up on Commercial Street after eating his first oyster. And I would definitely love to see pictures of your chocolate lab. #blessed #friends4life

  1. High-functioning alcoholics. While I personally sympathize with their struggle with addiction, professionally, I love waiting on high-functioning alcoholics. Low-functioning alcoholics are beyond exasperating and often have to be removed from restaurants, but high-functioning alcoholics are great at keeping secrets, which translates to keeping annoying drunken behavior totally under wraps. I have served enough customers enough drinks before, during, and after their workdays that this group almost has my respect, walking the tight rope as they do towards societal expectations while simultaneously being pulled under by the Freudian death drive. I’m in awe that so many alcoholics are regularly allowed to wield dangerous implements, from power tools to surgical knives. During my major drinking days, I could wait on tables drunk or hungover like a pro, but I was just carrying food from point A to point B and dirty dishes from point B to point A. I wasn’t, like, constructing five-story office buildings or removing people’s spleens. So I tip my hat to these troubled folk, in part because, for whatever reason, high-functioning alcoholics also tend to be excellent tippers.
  1. Other servers. The struggle is real. And you get it. Enough said.

Thank you to every customer, some mentioned here, some not, who makes serving a true joy sometimes! I love getting to know you. Next time, the Nice Pants will come off, the Vineyard Vines pant will come on (JK! JK!), and we’ll discuss those customers that make me sure I’m shaving time off of Purgatory by doing this job…

Read Part I: I’m a Waitress
Read Part II: The Most Annoying Customers
Read Part IV: The Worst Customers