Front and Center is Eater's week-long series dedicated to highlighting excellent Front of House staff. This entry is by Joanna O'Leary, whose work usually appears on Eating Our Words.
When I first saw the scene in When Harry Met Sally where Meg Ryan provides a waitress with about three paragraphs worth of instructions as to how she want her apple pie, I sneered at her "high-maintenance" ordering style.
Ten years later, I have become, for better or for worse, Sally. And while I try to stifle my compulsion to tailor every entrée to my specific desires (no bacon, substitute avocado, extra sauce, etc., etc.), sometimes I just can't help myself. Thank God there's one person in the universe that tolerates this annoying behavior (and I don't mean my husband).
Kim, waitress extraordinaire at Chuy's on Westheimer, doesn't bat an eye when I launch into my laundry list of modifications that are oh-so-necessary to the perfection of my tex-mex dinner. Some call her an enabler, I call her my savior.
The first time I had Kim as my server I was in large group of grumbling grad students. Flustered by the voluminous menu, I was experiencing serious order indecision and twice requested "just one more minute" much to the chagrin of my ravenous colleagues. Ten minutes later I couldn't decide. So, I didn't. "May I have the fish tacos, one grilled and one fried ... and also a chicken enchilada ? just one ? but with rice and beans sort of like the regular meal? And a side of guacamole? But not the large cup that's, like, five dollars, just the tiny cup." Kim may have been inwardly damning me to hell, but, on the outside, she remained cool as a cucumber margarita. My food emerged from the kitchen promptly and exactly according to specifications. And despite all my add-ons and extras, the meal didn't cost me an arm and a leg either as Kim somehow found a way to charge me just for one side and a platter. (What I spent on drinks is another story).
On several other subsequent visits to Chuy's I've been fortunate enough to be seated again in Kim's section and each time she matches my hemming and hawing and entree adjustments with unflappable friendliness. Sure, she could be biting her tongue as to secure a good tip (which I always provide), but there's something in her smile that suggests sincere patience. I like to think that she acquired her even demeanor in a previous job where she had to deal with even more difficult people. Maybe she used to be a hostage negotiator.
Regardless of the source of Kim's serenity, I (and my dining companions) are grateful for it. And much like a parent that teaches by good example, she has with her easy-going kindness and placidity inspired me to relax (a bit) on the ordering modifications. Kim, someday, I promise just to say, "I'll have the #3, please."