Articles,  Radio Hour

Dispatches from the Front of House


by Michael Parker

Michael’s writing appears in episode 35 of The Dirty Spoon Radio Hour.

Michael Parker has been a fixture of the Asheville dining and drinking scene since the 90’s as a waiter, wine steward, and writer. Over the years he has kept a running stream on social media of cringe stories from his work in the service industry. Our editor Jonathan Ammons quietly collected those stories over the years to generate this compilation, much to Michael’s surprise.

Tables set, check.
Candles lit, check.
Fire in fireplace, check.
Lights just right, check.
Bartender in position, check.
Servers looking ready, check.
Entry double-doors propped wide open, check.
Customer who sees all that and still asks if the restaurant is open,
check minus.

Him: “So, tell me about your pinots, ah.. What’s your name?”
Me: “Michael.”
Him: “Ah. Michael. Nice to meet you.” He extends his hand for a
shake. (Eww)
Me: “Pinots?”
Him: “Yes Pinots.”
Me: “Pinot Gris, Grigio, Blanc?”
Him: “Noir. Do you have Silver Oak?”
Me: “Oh. I didn’t know about their Pinot Noir.”
Him: “The Cab.”
Me: “Oh. Do you mean the softer one, from Alexander Valley? The
one that…”
Him: “You have that?”
Me: “No.”
Him: “So how about your Pinots. Do they have acid?”
Me: “Lysergic?”

Him: “What?”
Me: “Sorry. I worked in a winery. Sometimes technical words slip out.”
Him: He points to the list. “How’s this one?”
Me: “The Burgundy from Joillot? Old world style. Earthy.”
Him: “What’s earthy?”
Me: “Well, you can literally discern the dirt, the soil that produced the
grapes. French winemakers there aim to…”
Him: “Does it have acid?”
Me: “Yes, but balanced. Are you trying…”
Him: “Ah. Sonoma. Sonoma’s good. This is from Sonoma?”
Me: “Sonoma Coast, a far broader area than…”
Him: “How’s this Russian River one?”
Me: “Estate bottled, 5 years old, ready to drink. I sold…
Him: “How’s this Atalon?”
Me: “That Napa Merlot is sold out. Sorry. Are you looking for a style
Him: “Well, all this talk about acid. I need to know about the acids in
the wine.”

At this point I have the feeling I’m being watched. True. His lady’s eyes are fixed on me. It’s as if she has bet money I’m going to get flustered. I’m a pro. She will lose this bet.

Him: “Have you had this Russian River one?”
Me: “No, but I sold that one the other night and the customer loved…”
Him: “I’ll take that one. What the hell.”
A few minutes pass. I'm serving the Pinot Noir he ordered.
Him: “Is this a proper cab glass, Michael?”
Me: “Yes, Sir.”

Wedge salad
Split, seats 1 and 2
No dressing
No bleu cheese
Seat 1 no tomato, seat 2 yes tomato
Seat 1 olive oil, on the side

“Does the Lobster Cobb have lobster in it?”
“Yes. It wouldn’t be a Lobster Cobb without it now would it, hmm?”
“Well, the description doesn’t include lobster.”
“Well, true. It could be misinterpreted as a salad made for lobsters, but we don’t serve lobsters here. They never have any
money. We do, however, serve lobster, and there’s puh-lenty of it on the Lobster Cobb.”

“This won”t do. There’s a TV over the table.”
…said a bride-to-be, who made a reservation for a bridal lunch in a
restaurant that doubles as a sports bar.

Server: “May I bring you a drink?”
Guest: “Yes! We need it. We had two flat tires on our way here.”
Server: “Wow! Two? What a headache.”
Guest: “It’s a Rolls-Royce. The tires are $1400 each.”
Server: “That settles it. I’m not getting a Rolls-Royce.”

“The foam is.. too foamy.”

-Tell me about the sea bass.
-It’s the real thing, sustainably caught by the rules, pan-seared simply and perfectly with a little of the chef’s smoked butter and a minimum of salt and pepper.
-Is it gross?
-Is it fishy?
-I have had zero feedback saying anything like that.
– Does it have the head and tail attached? Is there skin?

-Ma’am, the Chilean Sea Bass is actually the Patagonian Toothfish, which usually weighs about 20 pounds when caught. So, no, after gutting, we don’t serve an 18-pound fish – we don’t have large enough plates for that. Further, we would lose an awful lot of money on that dish.
– So what does it look like?
– A 6oz. filet. The menu’s description is accurate.

“Does the Lobster Cobb salad come with lettuce?”
“Well, the description doesn’t mention lettuce.”

“Does the aioli contain cheese?”
“No. Is this a dairy allergy? I can alert the chef.”
“No. Dairy is OK. I’m allergic to cheese.”

Suggested New Years resolutions for restaurant customers:
– Stop asking your server, “How are you?” It’s none of your business. You obviously want to hear dutiful, rote answers like “fine” and “great” and you would probably be taken aback by an honest negative answer if that were the case. Asking “How are you?” is manipulative. How ’bout hello?
-Stop saying your server’s name repeatedly. There’s no need for you to say that name every time to speak to your server. Some of you say your server’s name so many times, it actually gets downright creepy.
-Stop announcing that you “have questions.” JUST ASK THE FUCKING QUESTIONS
-Stop saying you’re going to “stick with water,” and STOP PETTING YOUR WATER GLASS when you say that. Stop it all! If you don’t want to buy a drink, fine. People need to drink more water anyway. Then your server can be annoyed by how frequently your glass needs refilling.
-Stop saying “I’m good.” Oh my God WHAT THE HELL DOES THIS MEAN? Your server asked a yes/no question, such as “May I remove your plate?” You’re good? Oh, goody. I’ll leave your plate there. Oh, you want it removed. That’s right, you’re good.

That guest who learns your name and says it back to you over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again, missing not one opportunity to say your name to you.

They got the best table in my section, on the edge with an unobstructed view. They brought their own room-temperature bottle of Biltmore American Pinot Grigio, which was put in ice. They shared a glass from the list in the meantime. Fifty-seven minutes after they sat, it was time to order dinner. Then he said to me, “She’s not hungry.”
Server: “Nice watch. Is it Swiss?”
Guest: “No. It’s a Rolex.”

– “I can’t eat all of this salad right now and I have work to do. If you could put the salad in the fridge I’ll get some work done and when I’m hungry again I’ll let you know.
-“…would you bring me an ice tea, please.”

Three 20-something women
Three waters
Three kids, chicken tenders
Three separate checks
Guest: “We want the jumbo wings, no blue cheese, extra ranch. Um..what’s the C-word?”
Server:”Can you point to the word you’re asking about?”

Guest: points
Server: “Crudités.”
Guest: “What’s that?”
Server: “Carrots and celery. We can charge a higher price if we call it crudités.”
Guest: “Tell me about the baked potato.”

Father’s Day night, table 601:
a father and son, maybe 9 years old. The very well-mannered kid ordered from the grown-up menu, two courses, Caesar salad and short rib ($45). It was a sweet thing to witness and made me recall from over 40 years ago, in Wilmington, Dad taking me to Trails End Steakhouse. He taught me everything that was right about that restaurant: the simplistic menu, the grill, and the older wait staff of men in proper servers’ jackets (who were also professionals in other jobs by day). I remember the horseshoe handles on the doors, and that they were once worn by Budweiser’s Clydesdales. A Civil War
cannon ball was the weight that closed the more-used door. There was a wooden Indian standing there as well. Inside, Dad taught me how to order a steak the right way (result: my present-day bafflement over adults who do not know how to order a steak). But back to table 601.. the dad called his dad, and eventually, the kid got to talk to his grandfather. Both experiences I lived vicariously through with gratitude and a dose of wistful envy.

Allergapalooza: no milk, no cream, but butter is OK. I’m allergic to dark leaves, asparagus, onions, carrots, celery,
tomatoes, and garlic.
Me: You’re in luck, this is a steakhouse that serves seafood as well.
Allergapalooza: Well, I’m vegetarian. Farmer Ann’s tomatoes–are they dairy free?
Me: Yes, the tomatoes are dairy free.

“Do you serve wine by the glass?”
– a customer at the wine bar, where 30-something open bottles are in
plain sight (and those are just the reds), and over 200 glasses are
hanging from the rack behind the bar.

I’ll have the salmon.
Me: The chef recommends it cooked medium.
I want it well done. I don’t want to see any pink.

Suggested resolutions for the undecided:
-Learn how to navigate Trader Joe’s parking lot, and for the love of parallel lines, park between them accordingly.
-If your kids are running and playing chase in an art gallery, how about parenting?
-Clean up your own pee-pee drops. Leave that toilet fit for a lady. If you think someone else should clean up even the slightest trace of your excrement, you’re not a good person.
-If you presume to lecture me online about my privilege, please begin by spelling privilege correctly.

1 Pastrami Sandwich, $18
1 Chicken Caesar salad
No Cheese, No Anchovy
No Caesar Dressing
Sub Red Wine Vin
Chicken On Side, $18
Add Fries, $6

“We’ll have the baked Alaska. It’s my wife’s birthday. Can you put a candle in it?”

Having thought I’d seen it all, last night, in a restaurant, a couple concluded their meal by flossing their teeth at the table. Perhaps I have not seen it all.


Original artwork by Claire Winkler

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