Thursday, March 18, 2010

When what "shouldn't be," is.

So much of the job is acceptance, time and time again. The guest does not treat you how you should be treated, the tip received is not as large as it should have been, the kitchen/bakery/bar is not running how it should run. As long as you insist on what should be rather than what is, you will know only disappointment and frustration. If you say “yes” to every moment, say “yes” to the reality of what is, you will never be frustrated. It is the discrepancy between the way you wish reality would be and the way it actually is that causes you pain. The solution: do not wish for anything. Simply embrace reality as it stands, meet it on its own terms. The secret to eternal happiness is to never wish to be anywhere but where you are. Wherever you are, embrace it fully. Say yes to it unreservedly. For there is nothing more foolish than fighting the reality of what is. Disappointment is a function of expectation. It is not an issue of lowering your expectations; it is a matter of not having them at all.


So, I totally almost flipped out the other morning, and we hadn’t even been open for an hour. In fact, it was because we had just opened that I was so pissed off. To explain: I had one of the very first tables and they ordered an appetizer and two entrees. Since the appetizer was one of the first orders of the day I (wrongly) assumed that it would be out quickly. Add to that the fact that this particular appetizer – a sashimi style tuna dish – doesn’t even have to be cooked, and I figured five to ten minutes max. Max. And, since I know this is not a very large appetizer (more like a tapas dish) and would be eaten quickly, I sent the entrees a little after the five-minute mark.

So what happens? At ten minutes and no appetizer I went into the kitchen to check on it. The expediter goes to ask the cook about it, and the cook doesn’t have any tuna. So a) what should have been a five minute appetizer is now going to take over fifteen , b) my timing on the entrĂ©es is all f’d up, and c) I can not f’ing believe that the cook didn’t say something the minute he saw the order. And I’m livid. Absolutely livid. If it had been in the middle of the lunch rush and the kitchen was slammed, I might have taken it in stride. But because it wasn’t busy – because there were almost no other tickets whatsoever, I was furious. Part of it was because it really doesn’t reflect too well on us when we can’t execute a ticket with an empty restaurant. Also, even though it could not be less my fault it’s certainly not going to help my tip any. But mostly I was furious because it shouldn’t have happened.

That’s the crux of it. I was hung up on it because it shouldn’t be, and yet there it was. The more I kept thinking about it (and I kept thinking about it) the madder I got. Then, when the entrĂ©es took over twenty minutes it just stoked the fire (even though it was kind of a good thing they took so long since it somewhat mitigated the timing problem (they still managed to came out too late though)). Lastly, my pre-ordered desserts took five to ten minutes too long (dealing with our AM baker is a whole other entry in itself) – so we had managed to keep the guests waiting on appetizers, lunch and dessert. And it wasn’t even twelve o’clock. The thing is, the guests didn’t seem to care at all. They were just hanging out, enjoying each other’s company, in no hurry to get anywhere. If it had been another type of table it might have been a big deal, but these people were totally chill. I got the same 10 on 60 I probably would have gotten regardless, and they left with zero complaint.

But I was still mad. I was still mad well into my second turn, and I just couldn’t let it go. I kept trying to get back into the present moment, to just forget about it and let it slide, but I couldn’t shake it. It was frustrating because I knew I was being stupid about it, I knew what the “Zen” thing to do was, and I still couldn’t do it. And it was all because it just shouldn’t have been. And that’s a huge lesson: to let go of what “should” be. Should the cook have alerted someone right away when he saw he didn’t have the ingredients necessary to make the order? Of course – but all I can do is make sure the Kitchen Manager knows about what happened and hope he’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again. Beyond that, I just need to let it go. Deal with what’s right in front of you and move on to the next thing. That’s one of the great things about waiting tables: every new table is an opportunity for a fresh start – if you let it. A big struggle for a lot of servers is not letting that one rude table or bad tip (or kitchen mistake) affect the rest of their night. Guests can tell when we’re in a bad mood, and while our negativity and/or frustration may have nothing to do with the tables we’re dealing with now, it still comes out - the guest can still sense it. And they don’t like it. It would never occur to the guest that maybe we’re having a bad day; they just think that they have a rude and surly waiter (and will tip accordingly). Also, as long as your mind is still dwelling on the past you’re not present – and much more likely to make a mistake.

But knowing all this and putting it into practice are two different things – and actually putting it into practice is what this whole Zen thing is all about. It’s not enough just to know it; what does that help if you can’t apply it your life? That’s what I love about Zen, it’s entirely practical. It’s all about dealing with reality as it is. I wish I could just flip a switch and turn it on, but anger and negativity have a certain moment all their own – once you start it up they build up steam and become harder to disengage from. Yelling at yourself, “Stop it! Be Zen!” doesn’t seem to work too well. I finally realized when I was doing that that I was still denying the present moment: I was denying the fact that I was upset. I shouldn’t be this upset, and yet I was. So, again with the “shoulds.” When I finally accepted that I was upset and unable to turn it off – when I made that my point of entry – I started to calm down. I was able to step outside myself and see that even though I wasn’t at peace now it was just a mood that would dissipate if I let it. So I let it, and it did. Within ten minutes I was out of it. So I got two lessons out of yesterday morning: let go of what you think reality should be and just meet it on its own terms, and when you’re not at peace accept that reality as well. We’ll just have to see if I remember all this the next time my apps take twenty minutes.

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