None of the following shenanigans happened where I currently work. Anyone who knows where I currently work or knows our owner will automatically know this stuff would never take place there. Things are different now: we have leadership for one thing. What follows are events from a different era entirely.

Years ago, I worked with an eclectic group of servers, chefs, and bartenders who all knew how to laugh and how to make money. These were high times, when we didn’t think twice about handing over money for good food and good service, before our 401Ks shrank, back when a wedge of lemon could fix everything and everyone wanted to drink martinis. I was working for a restaurant whose owners could make money selling ice cream to Minnesotans (literally). They’d amassed our talented team of goofballs—we’re talking a century and a half of combined cooking and waiting experience among us—and let us run the show. We exhausted ourselves in service. We threw caution to the wind. We were brazen in our abilities. Work was simultaneously a puzzle, a drag, an effort, and an adventure. It all makes us wonder, when we get together today, if things really were as great back then as we remember. But we all remember them well.

The bartender used to change his clothes behind the bar as we were setting up. Every shift, he’d arrive before we opened and change into his bar uniform and work shoes from his street clothes and tennis shoes, leaving his street clothes balled up under a bar shelf. After work, he’d change back, leaving his work clothes stuffed under the bar. One night, when the bartender went out on a smoke break, a member of the kitchen staff took one of the tennis shoes from behind the bar and Krazy glued it to the ceiling of the employee bathroom. At closing time, the bartender couldn’t find it. tennis shoeEventually, due to badly stifled hilarity in the kitchen, the bartender found the stuck shoe. It took three staff members to get the shoe down. Days later the owner asked, “Why is the paint chipping off of the ceiling in the employee bathroom?”

It was at this same place that the kitchen staff collected the rubber bands (a.k.a. gumbands, for all of my people in Pittsburgh) that came on the produce delivered to the restaurant. They made a ball out of them, and the ball had grown to about the size of a soccer ball. Then it went missing. There was a full restaurant search conducted, which yielded nothing. The kitchen staff, distraught at the loss of their ball, even questioned the produce vendors. Foul play was suspected. Then one day a note appeared on the staff bulletin board with a picture of the missing ball. It was a ransom note, and the picture showed the rubber band ball on an unfamiliar stove about to be cooked. The manager saw this on the bulletin board and said, “Looks like everyone around here has a lot of time to waste.” The owner later walked by the bulletin board and broke into a fit of laughter. toilet paperSoon, the idea was planted that the baker stole the ball, so one night, the kitchen staff toilet papered the baker’s house while he slept.  That was enough for the real culprit to return the ball, unharmed.

There was a season when our desserts were selling faster than we could keep them in stock. Many nights we were down to one lonely item left to sell—and this was at the beginning of the shift. We took to ransacking the freezer for anything we could cobble together in the form of dessert. This is how Chocolate Dream was born. Devon, one of our servers, found a boxed chocolate dessert in the freezer one night. It was like hitting pay dirt. We all decided no one would notice if it were gone. We cut it into squares and someone added a scoop of ice cream. Someone else tossed on some hot fudge. Whipped cream got added and the whole concoction tasted pretty good. We called it Chocolate Dream, made up a price, and got to work adding it to the menu, printing a new stack of menus, and creating a button for it in the computer complete with proper taxation. While these logistics were going on, Devon showed the entire staff how to make it. We were crazy, but known to be consistent.

There was a grouper dish at this particular fine establishment. When we rang it in at the computer, a ticket would print in the kitchen that said Fish. At least, at first it did. The bartender changed it to print Fish Freako whenever the grouper was ordered. (Technically, he didn’t use the word Freako but another similar word that starts with F, if you get my meaning…) Through the magical use of proper computer coding, he made sure that guest receipts still said Grouper. printerThe change printed only on the chefs’ printers. They found it hilarious and would call it out whenever it was ordered. When the entire table of food was ready, that same ticket would accompany the dishes so the servers would know what to take from under the heat lamp. We’d carry the dishes out of the kitchen and would say the name of each dish as we set them down in front of guests—and every time, you had to stop yourself from saying Fish Freako and try to remember to say Grouper. On busy nights, you could hear servers say, “Filet mignon, seared ahi, artichoke pasta, and, uh, fish,” and stifle a laugh. The owner found out one day—months later–and made us change it back. Much as the owner threatened, not one of us would admit knowing who changed the coding.

These shameless examples are just the tip of the iceberg. And while they are shameless, they’re also filled with solidarity, teamwork, and loyalty to one another. Really, is there any other way to serve?

For more restaurant tom-foolery, check out my book Upside Down Kingdom on Amazon: