The waitress was pretty, in a conventional way. Her hair was that sort of natural bright yellow that all those who dye their hair want to have. Her figure was trim but womanly, short without being stocky. Her eyes were big, brown and innocent looking. Her school-girl looks were probably the only reason people were being semi-patient with her.

She’d been running around tables all day. She had no idea why she was lucky enough to get this job at Patisserie Valerie, one of the most popular hangouts in Soho. She had no idea how she was there with her English being so imperfect. She also, unfortunately, had no idea whether or not she would be allowed to stay; so far, she was a disaster.

A group of three came into the cafe: a red haired woman, a girl in her late teens who looked like her daughter and a young man with dark, curly hair. They sat down at a table, and the waitress was shooed over to them by the woman who’d been helping her on and off all day. She bobbed over to the table and asked in her broken English what they wanted to drink. They answered, and the flurry of words was almost too much for her. She went to the kitchens to relay the order. Once she brought it, she realized that she’d forgotten two items. She hadn’t understood what they wanted, she supposed.

Asking about the food was worse. The young man, bless him, merely wanted the sandwich as it was written in the menu, but the woman and her daughter asked for all sorts of changes. Simple enough, if she could only understand what it was they wanted. She felt like her brain had turned to mush, and she only understood every third word, though she dutifully scribbled in her notepad obligingly the keywords that she could understand.

It took her three runs to the kitchens and back to make sure she had everything right. Then the kitchen botched one of the orders. She lost her head completely, and took the order out anyway, saying as she did so that she told the man what to do and he hadn’t done it right. She was about to set down the plate anyway, but the three stared at her uncomprehendingly and then asked her to please get them the order they’d asked for. They didn’t mind waiting, but they wanted to eat the food they’d ordered – not whatever the kitchen’s whims were.

The waitress felt the tears well up, but they didn’t break out. She quickly brought the things back to the kitchen. When she came back, finally with the correct order, she bobbed a sort of half curtsy and explained that “It’s my first day, so sorry, so sorry.”


The really strange thing was that when I returned the next day for another meal at the same place, I got the same waitress. It was, again, her first day – sorry-sorry – and again the orders weren’t done right. I don’t blame her. I’ve waitressed. It’s hard, it’s pressuring, and it requires some knowledge of the language. I do, however, blame the restaurant for not even pairing her with a more experienced waitress for a couple days. My mother tells me, however, that Patisserie Valerie has been known since she lived in London more than twenty years ago as a place with good food but notoriously bad service.

The food, at least, was indeed delicious.


8 thoughts on “Sorry-Sorry-Service

  1. I’m not sure if this is a story or what really happened to you. It’s good one way or the other. I do find though that you can only say “sorry, sorry” a few times and then it’s up to you to learn the language or get a different job. How long can one use excuses? I mean really. If you are going to work with the public, you should try and better yourself because like you said, second day, same excuse.

  2. That’s an amazing bit–that a place can be in business that long with such crappy service. I’ve been to restaurants before where the wait staff is very gregarious, even sitting down in the booth with you to take your order and give you a hard time, but you go there knowing that’s part of the atmosphere.

    There is a place in Canada (Toronto, I believe), where the service is purposely rude and customers are berated and swearing allowed.

    How I want to see it!

  3. Joy – I was writing the perspective of the waitress I actually had at this restaurant. I agree with you completely, by the way. You just don’t hire someone who doesn’t know the language for this kind of job!

    J.W. – yeah, there’s a place in Chicago like that too! I think it’s called Ed’s something-or-other, and I ate there when I was last there. Not the most pleasant experience, but you do indeed go there knowing what the service is going to be like.

  4. thelittleredwriter says:

    Can I just say? I love your writing. You’re so fabulous, and I always enjoy reading your exceprts, rather they are fiction or real experience.


  5. Wow. That was really good. I too had difficulty telling if it was real or not, I guess because it is a blend of real and unreal. Congratulations. You have truly ascended above the rest of us as a writer. ^^

  6. Sarah says:

    At first I thought this was one of your wonderful little stories by the way it’s told and not a personal experience 🙂
    I’m almost certain that I would make a horrible waitress, even in a place of my own language.

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