Deer in headlights postI once trained in at a restaurant where there were a few of us newbies, not just me. I overheard the trainers one night discussing what they were going to do about Bruce, because he’d just asked a question that clearly showed he had no idea what was in the house salad.

Bruce had a funny habit of widening his eyes when he looked at me, and then switching it to a look of gratitude. I didn’t know what that was about, but he was quiet and kind, and I liked him just fine.

Then one day, I managed to break a glass at the bar right into the bartender’s ice bin. (Of course I did.) The glass rack was stacked too high and I didn’t think it would be a problem until I heard the crash. The bartender was not thrilled. I started cleaning as thoroughly as I could. Servers walked by me, letting me know the glass rack was too high. I thanked them for that. And then suddenly there was Bruce.

“I’ve got this,” he said, and nudged me out of the way, and proceeded to clean up the broken glass like a pro. I’d never seen him move so fast, nor with so much authority. And that’s when it hit me: This was something he could do. In this crazy gig of restaurant training, with a million details in your head about the martinis, how the chicken is prepared, where the salmon comes from, where to put the glass of water on the table, where the extra straws are kept, what’s sold out, how to talk to the guests (because you forget how to line up your thoughts and make sound come out), not to mention remembering the table numbers and figuring out where the heck you are in this new place, all the while someone is following you, scrutinizing your every move, telling you what to do better. Picking up broken glass was not an assault on the senses the way everything else was.

And that’s when it further hit me: The look he always gave me was one of a deer in headlights that suddenly knows the way to the field. He was overwhelmed, and looked at fellow newbies with relief.

These were simple realizations, I admit, but ones that reminded me that the salad wasn’t as important as helping a person who was struggling.

Phrases turn into clichés when they consistently work. In this case: There are two sides [at least] to every story. The trainers were looking in the wrong places. Bruce didn’t have a lack of knowledge as much as a lack of comfort. Yelling salad ingredients at him would only make the situation worse.

We were servers, for crying out loud. Paying attention to subtle cues and helping others feel comfortable was what we did.

I apply Bruce-logic as often as possible. When attacking head-on fails, just take a quick step to the right and the whole view changes.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler who has waited tables in five U.S. states. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at