I served my last buffalo prime rib last night.
It was a bitter-sweet and rather unceremonious event. As the season winds down, the traffic at the restaurant has slowed to a miserable crawl. The chef kept track of the number of dinners we served by leisurely writing numerals on the backs of stabbed meal tickets in the food window. We were up to 55 by the time I finished my shift at 8:30. This is a restaurant that serves more than 500 dinners a night in the summer.
The last day of the season before the restaurant closes for five weeks is supposed to be Halloween. But it’s been slow enough lately that the owner told the hostess not to make reservations for later in the week without getting phone numbers. He might close early.
We spent most of the night hiding in the manager’s office so we wouldn’t feel compelled to annoy our few customers with relentless service. There were only four of us, where there are usually 10. Someone pulled up “The drunkest man in America” video on YouTube and we watched a stumbling idiot sway into a liquor store on a surveillance tape. He managed to get a case of beer before hanging on to the cooler door for dear life as he fell backward. He straightened out and grabbed another cooler door before falling on his back. This video is four minutes long and for most of it, the guy looks like an upside-down June bug clawing at the air.
I had four tables last night. The first one was a couple hunters who I think felt sorry for me. One of them tipped generously – $10 on a $30 check. My next table was filled with four folks, two couples from Alabama. They asked for sweet tea.
Sweet tea is the kiss of death. Any time someone asks for sweet tea, I know they will tip poorly, sometimes so poorly I would have been better off if they’d never come. On busy nights, those who ask for sweet tea are automatically my lowest priority. I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps those who don’t get north of the Mason-Dixon line much didn’t have to take math classes in school or maybe they just don’t get out much or maybe people in the south come from a non-tipping culture like the French, which would be really sad for waiters in the south who I’m sure still only make $2.50 an hour. (No offense to my Southern friends. I know not everyone from the south is a bad tipper). Not sure. But most of the time I’d rather wait on a British person who I know will tip me 10 percent.
Last night, however, I was not busy. So my table from Alabama was my top priority. They all ordered frozen beverages. Each of them got a different tasty blended drink. The bartender hates making frozen drinks.
“Is this how you want me to remember you, Amanda?” he chided.
Despite their bad beverage decisions, they were nice people. They were just starting their vacation and they’d never seen the Tetons before. They were excited. I do love Americans on vacation. We have so little time off. It’s always so precious to the people who eat at our restaurant and they’re typically really excited to be away from their usual lives.
They asked why they hadn’t been able to find any drink Koozies in Wyoming. (Koozies are those foam sleeves that fit around a can of beer or soda to keep it cold in hot weather). I told them it doesn’t get very hot here so the extra insulation isn’t necessary.
“But don’t your hands get cold?”
“I suppose so” I admitted. One of the gentlemen handed me a camouflage Koozie from his construction company as a gift to keep my hands warm while drinking cold beverages. I was touched, though I secretly hoped he didn’t think it was my tip.
They weren't too bad for sweet tea folks. They left $20 on a $150 check. That's more than 13 percent – better than a Brit.
I’ve loved my years at the restaurant. The summers are so busy and chaotic that it took me a few seasons to get my sea legs. I feel like I can handle it now and I’m sorry to go. I love talking to the people who dine there. They come from everywhere. There are all kinds of people at this restaurant in a way I don’t think there will be at any other restaurant I work in after this. The reason for the diversity is that America’s greatest national parks appeal to every type of person and if the parks don’t bring them, the ski resort will.
I have waited on friendly, happy people, angry sour and bitter people, people who are so stingy they make their waiters pay to serve them and generous people who leave so much I’ll remember their kindness forever.
These are the highlights.
The worst: A table of five red necks – two couples and one moderately attractive young guy. They spent the whole night drinking bottomless pitchers of Bud Light and kept suggesting I go out with the single guy. They even gave me his number. Their bill was $300. They left $7 as a tip. Then they asked me where I was going when I got off so I could meet up with them. I sent them to the one bar I knew I wouldn’t visit that night and daydreamed about what I would say to them if they ever sat in my section again.
The best: The crowd changes at the restaurant in the late season, which starts in September. We call our clientele “newly weds and nearly deads.” It’s all young couples and retired people who don’t have school-age children. There was one cute older couple who came into the restaurant on a night this September when I was having a particularly tough time enjoying myself. The woman just ordered side dishes, no entrée. The man asked for ground pepper and I had to run around the restaurant to find the grinder because it was missing from where it belonged. They were nice people. We didn’t talk much. I don’t think I even asked where they were from. Their bill was $63. They left me a $110 tip for a total of $173. I will remember their generosity forever.
One day, when I am rich, I will run around leaving ridiculously big tips for absolutely no reason at all. Other than to brighten the day of my sever.