Category: Waitress Love

Fantasy Life postA few years ago, I stood in the kitchen of the restaurant where I worked unloading a tray of dirty dishes and listening to the chefs as they discussed their fantasy league stats. My brain typically runs on American football, and since it was not football season, I asked them what sport they were discussing.

Expecting basketball, I was surprised to hear it was baseball.

“Wait, how many sports have fantasy leagues now?” I asked.

“All of them,” one of my coworkers said as he walked by.

Other servers chimed in, “There’s fantasy football, baseball, basketball, soccer…”

Entering the kitchen and hearing the conversation, another server said, “I think there’s golf now…”

“Wow, it’s like Fantasy Life,” I said, and I blinked, realizing what I’d just said. “Now, that would be a good game.”

“You could get points for coming to work,” one server said.

“Extra points if you showered…”

For a moment, others started agreeing and weighing in.

“That’s Reality Life,” I protested. “This is Fantasy Life. You should get points for doing the wrong thing or for the fantastic things you do, like traveling to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language…”

“Getting a degree in something completely impractical…”

“Quitting your job without another waiting in the wings…”

“Skipping the gym and eating ice cream for dinner…”

“Splurging on great boots you can’t afford…”

“Ordering Chateauneuf just because…”

“Ooooh, I’m good at Fantasy Life,” the server beside me realized suddenly.

We all shared a good laugh, and then we took a good look at one another with stars in our eyes. We were all winners at Fantasy Life.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at

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

Dealing pic 1What do you do when you walk into work to find a known-to-be-difficult person is now on your team? Or a new neighbor that can’t get along with anyone? It happens to the best of us. So what do we do?

Get angry? Get dramatic? Complain to anyone who’ll listen, especially on social media?

These are all fine solutions—for perpetuating the situation. But for real resolution, the first thing to do is to let go of the past.

What’s Past is Past
We can’t change the past, fix it, or go back to live in it again, so there’s no point in holding on to it so tightly. The only constant is change. To quote the all-too-creepy Borg from Star Trek, “Resistance is futile.”

What can be done is a concerted effort to make today better, not just personally but for everyone around. The future can be just as blissful as the past, but that won’t happen by complaining about it, and it won’t happen overnight.

The Easy Road
The next thing to do is change the way you think. Why you? Because changing someone else is entirely too difficult. You’re actually taking the easy way out this time.

In addition to “nine-to-five” employment, I’ve moonlighted as a waitress in five U.S. states spanning a period of approximately 18 years. That’s a lot of coworker personalities, and innumerable hungry guests. (Aside: Hungry people can be temperamental.) When faced with a crazy coworker or a guest who walks in grumpy, the first thing I used to notice was that I had nothing in common with this other person, and I simply couldn’t agree with their line of thinking. Then I swallowed my pride, put myself in their shoes, and always found a way to relate. Always. And that’s because the biggest obstacle was pride, and that was in me and I change it. (Incidentally, it made me very good at caring for hungry people.)

Look for Something to Like
When you start looking for things to like in someone else, it gets easier and easier to find things. I saw this positivity in action when I worked a food booth at a fair. Summer after summer, the owner of the company and I would work together, side by side, and all day long I could overhear her talking to herself as she cooked and people-watched, saying things like, “Oh, I love her shoes… I want that shirt… Great haircut…” When one of those people came up to buy from us, she’d tell them her compliment. She never held back. She meant what she said, and the person she complimented would leave our booth different–taller, in a way. Without even trying, because it was simply in her nature, the business owner managed to get the “good” flowing, and it kept flowing. (Think about it: When complimented, you typically look for an opportunity to pay it forward.)

Simple Works
It sounds simple and even obvious, and it is. And that’s why it works. With a little practice, in very quick time thought patterns start changing. Negativity won’t be the first thing on your mind and out of your mouth. Instead of thinking to yourself, “What’s his problem?” and “Who does she think she is?” you find you’re actually thinking, “I like that person’s style,” and “I’m going to ask her what workout she does to get legs like that.”

This approach has helped me strike up friendships with people the complete opposite of me who have become amazing and good friends. It’s helped me with work relationships, helped me defend coworkers during misunderstandings, and it’s helped me be a much happier person.

Found in Translation
These practices translate into other avenues: When faced with adversity, not getting the job/raise/promotion/funding/etc., your first focus is on what new opportunity the loss creates, not the loss itself.


Elephants by artist Bela Roongta

Is everything sunshine and roses? No. Do you have to like everybody? No. But putting these things into practice, you’ll find that less and less will bother you about other people, so that when something big does happen in life, you’ll have the focus to handle it.

We’re all human. And we’re all in this together.

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

book-from-dawn2.jpgAt one particular restaurant where I worked, I was made a trainer for all the new hires. I designed a training schedule, and I taught the first two shifts. After that, someone else from the staff would train in the new person, so that a completely different perspective could be gained. Everyone has their own technique, their own strengths, so to train only with me was to miss out on that, in my opinion.

Most trainees made it through. Others didn’t make the cut. It was fairly fine dining, and not the easiest of jobs to pick up. It required a lot of mental and physical work, and there was a lot of money in it. There really are people suited to helping others in a serving capacity, and people who are not cut out for it.

I tried to give every candidate my all. I felt bad when the bosses and staff felt that someone wasn’t going to make it, but I took it as a sign that that person was meant for better. I remember once (and once only) when the permanent staff scoffed that a particular trainee couldn’t get the hang of it. I’d spent the time with that trainee; I knew her better than anyone. So I carefully pointed out, “She came to us to decide if she should keep her day job and add in table-waiting or if she should stop everything and go to medical school.” [It might have been law school or nursing school or writer school. Anyway, it was tough.] “This job proved to her that she should go to school. Not everybody can do what you do. Be proud that you helped her, but not because she couldn’t ‘hack it’ at this job. The next time you need a doctor (or lawyer, nurse, or writer), the tables will be turned.”

My staff shut up real quick.

To each, truly, his own.

My first book is an inside perspective on waiting tables. It’s called Upside Down Kingdom, and it’s available on Amazon.

The Day After


It’s Saturday! We made it to the weekend. What’s more, we made it to The Day After.

I don’t know what the rest of the world does on January 1, February 15, the day after the Minnesota ice celebration ends with its Polar Plunge and outdoor Ice Bar madness, the day after Mother’s Day, and all the days after a holiday, but we, the restaurant workers of the world, try to sleep for as long as possible, and when we do get up, we try like mad to get back into bed. And as these things go, I woke up promptly this morning, right on time for my early alarm which was not set. (I have my theories on this phenomenon, but I’ll save those for another day.)

My favorite thing of all is slowly crawling out of bed toward a hot shower, followed by putting on fresh pjs and hopping back into bed. January 1 is the best for this, as most public places shut down for New Year’s Day and limit my distractions. (Personally, I think a good year can be marked for how many times you’re able to do the bed-shower-pj-return trick throughout the year. I’m shooting for 4 this year.)

The best part of the trick, much like the “birthday nap,” is that you absolutely deserve it. Physically, your body needs rest. Emotionally, you can’t feel guilty about giving in to that rest. Mentally, well, mentally: Today I Googled how to scroll using a Mac vs. the PC I used to have. As my Facebook friends will tell you, I’m so amazed at this technique, I’ve been opening screens and emails left and right, trying it out and giggling. That’s my mental state.

Ah, but this playful, serene, and appreciative state of mind seems to unlock doors and clear paths when it comes to plotting novels. Imagination takes over without interference on days like this. Goals are accomplishable and dreams are tangible.  And the world becomes entirely possible again when you just give yourself the time to sit still for a change.

Rest easy, and rest happy, all.

My first novel, Upside Down Kingdom, is available on Amazon. Take it to a bed near you.

A Second Look at Thank You

I can’t really speak for the real world, because I don’t spend a lot of time in it. But I get the impression that Thank Yous are becoming harder and harder to get, not just in writing, which takes time, but the verbal “Thank Yous” as well.

I’m just as guilty of it as everyone else. I blame it on being busy and running out of time. As a writer, I feel that thank you cards from me should be heartfelt and written through tears of gratitude. (I realize this is extreme, but it’s honestly how I write them.) As for verbal thank yous, I can fall into the habit that the other person “knows” I’m appreciative without my having to say it.

But is that really good enough?

Let me tell you, I do spend time in Restaurantland where Thank You cards are a way of life. I wouldn’t say it’s commonplace to receive these cards at the restaurant, but it is often. (Yesterday we received a thank you via text.)photo-2

When a card comes in, the owner passes it along to the staff. Cards don’t get left in the office or put in the safe. The kitchen has a designated place they post their cards so that the entire kitchen staff can read them, and the servers have a board in our station where we hang ours. (We keep a collection.) When a new one appears, we all gather around to make sure we read it, and we comment on who did what to get mention in the card. These cards remind us why we do what we do. These are stories of people, their lives, and moments that mean something to them (and to us!). We have a hand in that. And here’s the heart of it all: On stressful days, you’ll find somebody taking a moment to re-read a card and even sharing it again with the rest of us.

These words keep us going, keep us believing, keep us striving, even through the muck. That’s powerful.

Say it. Write it. Just get it out there, and often. Thank you for reading me today.


UDK on Amazon:

Money is a sensitive issue, outside of a restaurant, that is. But in the world of restaurants, the whole mentality about money is different.

apronThis comes up a lot, especially lately. Indeed, last night, chatting about this blog, a friend said to me, “I know you like your coworkers, but you wouldn’t pass your entire night’s earnings over to them. There’s trust, and then there’s trust, Jody.”

And while I saw his point, I still said, “Of course I’d hand it over. I do it all the time.”

He stared at me, like I’d grown a second head. He probably thought I was kidding–especially since I just sat there over a plate of French fries and smiled about it. Different.

We do indeed hand our entire books of cash over to a coworker to tally while the rest of us finish cleaning up. We hand our aprons full of money to the host any time we go to the restroom. And many nights after we lock up, there’s a pile of money aprons on the corner of the bar or on the lounge couches while we finish putting the restaurant back together again. We’ve never recounted the money after doing any of this, which made me wonder, yet again: Perhaps servers are a different breed of people? 

moneyCase in point: Last month, one of my coworkers found $15 in server locker room. He returned to the main floor and asked me if I dropped it. I told him I hadn’t been in the locker room that day. So he put a note on the money and left it in the office where it sat in plain sight for over a week. No one touched it.

Now, this isn’t blind trust. I would never leave money lying out in the open–outside of the restaurant, I mean. But these are my fellow coworkers, people with whom I share food and beverages—literally, eating from the same fork and drinking from the same glass. I trust them. With money, the overriding sense is always, “That’s not mine.”

I’m not saying we’re model citizens. We don’t wear halos–except for fun. We drive too fast and we’re always running late (the server mentality makes us believe we can accomplish ten things every two minutes, and if we just move faster, we can add an eleventh). But money is just part of the job. We extend trust and don’t think twice. Ask me about personal food or pens, however, and that trust will go right out the window. If a server orders their own food from the kitchen, we all turn into sharks and start circling around. And as for pens, we tend to pocket them without even knowing we’re doing it. While money is everywhere in a restaurant, our own food and pens seem to be rationed. Perhaps that’s a clue: Our needs are simply skewed.

I’ve waited tables in five states across this great land of ours, and I’ve seen all sorts of things. If you’ve read Upside Down Kingdom you know the things I’m talking about. I know there are people who get down in life and resort to stealing. I know some people just steal for stealing’s sake. Still, incidents of missing money tend to be few and far between, and simply don’t happen where I am now with a crew of longterm servers. Money can sit out in the open—we spot it immediately; we know it’s there; but more importantly, who took the blue pen?

The owners where I work certainly know this. They knew what they were looking for, and hand-chose us for this very reason. Brilliance at the helm.

So while our priorities certainly dictate what’s important, I do believe that long-term servers are a different breed of people–one that happens to gravitate toward restaurant work. Or perhaps any length of time in restaurantland simply makes us different. We’re a family, from the top down. Sid’s line from Ice Age comes to mind, “We’re the weirdest herd I’ve ever seen.”

That we are, Sid. That we are.


Upside Down Kingdom is available at Amazon.

I’ve been invited to speak at the Rochester Public Library at 7 p.m. this Thursday (March 28) as part of the Library’s Visiting Author Series.

Months ago when we set this up, I thought when the day finally came I’d be terrified to speak. But I said yes. I try to always say yes. Years ago, I met Aleksandra Kasuba, the artist, who told me that whenever anyone came calling for her work, she’d say yes. She said there were times when she’d agree to something she didn’t even know how to do, then hang up the phone and look around at her small children, the house that needed some cleaning, a full schedule of plans, and realize she had no idea how she was going to get done what she’d just promised to get done. Yet, she stressed, she always said yes. Then she’d set out to teach herself the skill she needed.

cropped-book.jpgWhen Katherine from the Library asked me to speak, I said yes. And, as of a few days ago, I still had no idea what I would talk about. Upside Down Kingdom, of course, publishing… Me, I suppose… But I’m hit or miss. I’ve been telling my friends, “Sometimes I wake up and I’m interesting. Other days, I’m dull. We’ll see which Jody we get!”

And then I received two emails on Sunday from guests who’d come into Söntés and bought the book. The first was from a man who said the book gave him a whole new perspective on Washington, D.C. I daresay it opened his eyes on restaurant servers as well. He told me that he finished the book while sitting at an Outback restaurant, and though his tab was $30, he left his server a $100 tip and left before the server could discover it. “That,” his email said, “Was for you.”

His pass-it-on gesture was done in honor of me. How amazing! I just sat and smiled at that email. (And I wrote back that I remembered his table, the conversations we had, and what they ate. A server usually remembers what a guest liked to eat.) Days later, I’m still smiling over that email.

The second email I received was from a woman who gave me her perspective of meeting me. She came into Söntés with her friend, was sitting at the bar when she noticed my bookshelf. She wondered why the restaurant would endorse a book. The bartender, Annie, told her the author worked there.

Then I came over and talked with her, and that conversation made her want to know more. She bought the book, read it in two days, and emailed me. She said she was finishing cancer treatments and that my book reminded her of her adventurous spirit, and how she’d put her life on hold lately. Now she was going to set it back on track again with some traveling and anything necessary to “track down her happy.”

Wow. I took a few days before I wrote her back to really let that sink in. Last night, I wrote her and thanked her for reminding me why I do what I do.

Both of these emails remind me that my passion is for writing, in all forms. They remind me that what I do is important. There are days that I question myself—usually those are the days a bill shows up in the mailbox. Or when the house is a disaster and I’m behind on seemingly everything in my life. But everyone has that. This thing that I love to do, love to practice, has an effect on others. A good effect. I continue to say yes to opportunities, no matter how large or frightening they may seem. I teach myself something new.

Even the worst days writing are better than the best days working at something I’m not passionate about doing. Thank you, Chris and Michelle, for your emails and for inspiring me.poster

Again, I talk at the Rochester Public Library tomorrow, March 28, at 7 p.m. I’m going to read a little from my book and I’m going to talk about some stuff. It might very well prove to be inspiring, now that I know what I want to say.

In addition, (and just one of a million reasons why I love Söntés) Söntés Restaurant is offering a 10% discount off your entire check this Thursday and Friday (March 28 & 29) when you bring your copy of Upside Down Kingdom in to the restaurant. Nook, Kindle, and various E-readers count, too. Bring them in. Eat, drink, and read.


Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, available on Amazon:


On a January Monday, a table of three came in for dinner–a couple with their adult daughter. For drinks, the mother and daughter let me choose, telling me only what grape they’d prefer for wine. The father knew his drink, down to the rocks-and-splash-of-soda specifics. The daughter told me she couldn’t eat certain things, doctor’s orders, and I told her I’d confer with the kitchen to make sure we got it right.

As their drinks were being poured at the bar, I talked to the Sous Chef about the daughter’s restrictions. The restaurant owner overheard the conversation, and as a former nurse, understood what the doctors were testing. Between the Sous Chef, the owner, and myself, there was agreement on what few dishes should be avoided, freeing up the majority of our menu as fair game for the table. The owner discussed the menu options with the guests as I stopped at the bar for their drinks.

A moment later, pleased with their drinks, the father said, “You know what I’d really like? If everyone’s up for it…” He looked at his family and back to me again, “I’d like you and the Chef to choose what we do tonight.” He made a very deliberate motion of handing me his menu, while looking from his daughter to his wife.

“Oh, thank goodness!” his daughter sighed. If ever I’ve heard a sigh of relief, this was one. She, also, gave me her menu. “After the day we’ve had, if I have to think about one more thing…”

“I’m in,” her mother said, with a big smile.

“We’ll make sure everything is within doctor’s orders for you,” I assured the daughter. Then I looked at the three of them, “Ready for an adventure?”

“The challenge is on,” the father said.

The mother handed me her menu, and with that, they handed me control of their evening.

I alerted the Sous Chef, who was in the middle of plating a 22-person dinner. He quickly arranged for another chef to send out some snack dishes for the table until he was freed up to concentrate on them. I brought out the snack. The 22 dinners went out, and Sous Chef Trevor got down to business. He made them a second, vegetable snack that included a truffled dwarf peach for each of them. (They’re phenomenal!) foieThen he sent out foie gras with chardonnay gelee, followed by an ash-rind goat cheese and local dandelion honey. I explained all of the flavors to the guests, who couldn’t get over the combinations.

By the time I brought them a second round of drinks, they were gushing to me about how much fun they were having. They admitted that they’d spent the entire day at the [Mayo] Clinic, enduring rounds of tests and questions, with few answers. It had been stressful to say the least. This dinner adventure was their reaction to that stress—they wouldn’t make any more decisions, wouldn’t choose anything, but preferred to settle back to be pleasantly surprised.scallops

As I brought out caramelized scallops and brioche bread pudding, followed by smoked duck breast, followed by pork belly and carrot-ginger waffle with anise syrup, the guests were in heaven. pork bellyThey marveled at the flavors and thanked me profusely. They admitted they’d thrown down a challenge to the Chef, and he’d answered the call.

At one point, the father marched himself into the kitchen when I wasn’t looking and introduced himself to the kitchen staff. After that, Sous Chef Trevor sent the table a stack of Korean BBQ ribs and pickled mushrooms.

During dessert—a slate filled with chocolate, homemade caramel, toasted meringue, baked Alaska, and Italian sponge cake filled with pistachio semi-freddo and Chantilly cream, the guests asked me to buy a drink for the Chef and his staff, anything they wanted.

With that, Sous Chef Trevor and the Chef beside him, his brother Joel–who were manning the kitchen by themselves at this point–both came out to talk to the table. They all chatted together for a good fifteen minutes.

When the Chefs returned to the kitchen, I brought the check. The daughter told me, “This is the first time all day that I forgot how miserable we were. Being here, eating dinner, I felt like we were healthy, happy people again. Normal people, having dinner. Thank you so much!”

This was the compliment of a lifetime. It took me a moment before I could respond. “It was entirely our pleasure,” I managed to say.

“Thank you,” her mother and father said in unison.

“Thank you,” I said, “For giving us a chance to do what we do.”

I wished them well as they left that night. I hoped the Clinic would get to the bottom of the situation quickly, and grant them leave to return home. The bittersweet irony of serving in the shadow of the Mayo Clinic is that if these guests were to come in again, that would only mean they were still stuck here, still awaiting answers as they dealt with being poked and prodded. As much as I’d love to help distract them again, and as much as I’d love to just see them again, the best news for them would be that I don’t.

For more life-altering experiences, check out my book Upside Down Kingdom on Amazon:


The following is what I wrote for the final phase of our ServOlympics contest at Söntés, read yesterday to the waitstaff:

I didn’t write a poem. What I’m going to say isn’t funny, & it doesn’t rhyme. But Tessa’s guidelines for this part of the contest included telling everyone something interesting about our team. As you know, Paul and I have consistently had a lot of points. I’m going to tell you how we got them.

I got 200 points for painting upstairs. But I didn’t paint by myself. There was a whole team of us, including Bekah, Barbara, Darrell, and Dawn.

Teqhe night Paul got 315 points for selling Earthquake—I was working a party in the basement and I ran food for the floor so Paul could pay attention to his Mayo group. Yes, it was a party, but they ordered off the house menu and could order any wine they wanted. With poor service, they may have ordered 2-3 bottles. They ordered five.bekah

Bekah and Jose were the ones who set up the table for Paul, so that when he got here, he could focus on the details of his group. Lunch crew consistently does that for dinner crew.

The night I sold 268 points in wine and beer bottles, Dawn ran food to my tables, and she explained the dishes to the guests so that they felt taken care of, even though I was across the room opening wine. And Darrell had to get me another bottle of beer every time he turned around. I sold 14 bottles of beer that night.

Kiwi & Darrell consistently send out drinks in a timely manner. We rarely wait for anything from the bar.

Annie stepped up when we needed a bartender. It typically takes 2 weeks, at least, to get a bartender trained so they know where everything is and how to make the drinks. With Annie, there was no two week period–we didn’t miss a beat.

Sometimes Paul and I worked hard for our points, timing our tables well so we could sell desserts and dessert drinks. Other times we made efforts not to lose points: triple checking that we closed the safe at night, triple checking that lights and candles were out.  And sometimes, we just got lucky.

For the Paul and Jody Show, this was never a contest of two’s, this was a contest of one. One restaurant, trying to elevate barrel One serving staff, trying to help each other and find camaraderie.

For that reason, most nights I worked, I tried to write down things that other servers did. Things that were helpful or just plain impressive:

Kiwi is cheerful and always ready to help.  So is JR. So is Stacey.

Stacey always organizes the server station for us or we would all be in a world of hurt.

This month, Angel moved the creamer cups after we discussed it at a meeting.

Barbara sold 18 bottles of wine at lunch on a Friday.

Annie cleaned bird poop from the alleyway. She cleaned poop for crying out loud!

This is still anybody’s game. It’s entirely possible that Tessa will give 1000 points to the team with the best poem. Everyone’s still in this. But the points my team has, we got because of all of you. If the Paul and Jody Show happens to win, whatever we win, we’re sharing with everybody.

UPDATE: The Paul and Jody Show DID win the ServOlympics! Let the sharing begin!!

For more restaurant guts & glory, check out my book Upside Down Kingdom on Amazon:

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