Tables For Two

A waiter's recap of five dinner dates, from romantic to disastrous.
By Ben Reininga

By my best estimate, I was on fourteen dates last week, with a very eclectic group of folks: men and women, gay and straight, ranging in age from about nineteen to fifty-seven. And it was a pretty quiet week. Now, nobody blushingly asked if I "might like to have dinner" in the office elevator, or shyly met my gaze in the skincare aisle at Whole Foods. Rather, as with a priest who marries nine women on a busy Sunday, my involvement was strictly professional. I'm a waiter, and an uninvited participant in just about every date you've ever been on. Here are five of the most memorable dates I saw last week — and how they looked from behind the apron.

1) "Thanks so much for coming"
He arrives alone and waits at the bar, not drinking. She peers through the front window before coming inside, and then they shake hands like Japanese businessmen. It's eight o'clock on a Saturday night; they're officially on a first date.

It's obvious that they don't know each other very well. These aren't two old friends who finally took the plunge; more likely, she was set up by her Pilates instructor. From the moment I go over, the mood is tense. Unfortunately, he seems to think that to impress her, he needs to act like a modern-day Don Draper, saying things like "A glass of champagne for the lady," and opting for non-verbal waves and nods over good old-fashioned may-I-please-haves. Even in this day and age, guys like him are surprisingly common. Although they're not guaranteed to be straight or male, they are guaranteed to be wearing too much hair product and ostentatiously pricey footwear. Tonight is no exception.

It's the most fun part of my job — except when I get to use the fire extinguisher.

The Pros: Work-wise, these guys are easy; they want to be left alone. He's trying hard to be witty and fresh and chew with his mouth closed while still laughing at all the right places. She's focused on not getting drunk, spilling sauce on her top, or having a repeat of what her ex called "the hiccup fiasco." Neither has time to give a shit if their water glasses stay totally full. 

The Cons: Unsurprisingly, Don flags me down with a few unreasonable requests — first for freshly squeezed lime juice, then for "extra cumin." The upshot is I get to say no both times, which lets them bond over what a dickhead I am, and saves me from having to juice a lime. Each time I have to interact with this table — to clear a plate or suggestively leave the check — it always feels like an interruption.

The Tip: The high end of normal. Don Draper doesn't stiff his waiter.

2) "I know it's only been three weeks, but I think she might be "The One." 
They're smiling, they're giggling, they're bursting with joie-de-vivre. Or at least joie-de-getting-laid-on-a-regular-basis-for-the-first-time-since-that-bitch-Cynthia. Jim's been coming in for a year — he's one of the few regulars I know by name — and he always drinks beer. Tonight, when I ask what they'd like to drink, they grin and practically shout "Barolo!" Before I say anything, his date asks me if I can believe "this guy didn't like big Italian reds until last week when I took him to Crispo?"

Jim chimes in, "And now we totally couldn't live without it!" Next time I pass, he's clutching that glass of red wine with a dopey grin, and dreaming of a honeymoon in Naples. 

The Pros: This table is pretty much the best my night gets. Jim and his date are infectiously happy, overly friendly, and totally forgiving. In their eagerness to show each other off, they're very open, sharing anecdotes and asking questions, which not only makes the hours go by, it's pretty much the most fun part of my job — except, of course, when I get to use the fire extinguisher.

The Cons: At times when I've been single or recently heart-broken, tables like this have been bitter reminders of everything I'm missing out on, causing emergency cigarette breaks and ill-conceived text messages to ex-lovers sent furtively from the wait station. Also, this couple's exuberance interrupts the mechanics of dining. They go in for quick kisses while ordering and gaze into one another's eyes endlessly while their untouched dinners get cold. And when I return to drop their check, they're making out shamelessly, in the weird but common belief that because they are sitting and I am standing, I cannot see them.

The Tip: High to excessive, Jim's tip says, "I'm leaving you an extra twenty because the world is beautiful. And I'm about to get laid."

FIND MORE
Crying in Restaurants, with Sarah Hepola - One writer remembers her rougher dinner dates.
The Ten Sexiest Chefs
My First Time - "I was a runner, bringing food from the kitchen. She was a chef."

Commentarium (26 Comments)

May 11 10 - 9:48am
Runyon

As a fellow waiter, this is spot on. But another Con for #2 would be excessive hand holding from across the table, with their arms completely stretched out. It's annoying because I can't drop their food, and they appear to be happier than me hah.

May 11 10 - 11:18am
LB

Great piece.

May 11 10 - 12:26pm
ja

I liked this. I hope it becomes a regular series

May 11 10 - 12:32pm
me

excellent. clever and amusing.

May 11 10 - 2:45pm
Coral

I loved this!

May 11 10 - 3:09pm
Alissa

Wonderful piece, Ben! This is why I refuse to ever go out to eat on a first date ... or any date.

May 11 10 - 4:40pm
ggg

This was an enjoyable read, especially because I have as of yet been a waiter.

May 11 10 - 8:36pm
Dee

Awesome. Really funny. <3

May 11 10 - 10:36pm
MJ

More, please

May 11 10 - 11:18pm
K

Excuse me, madam. Mightliketohavedinner?

May 12 10 - 1:42pm
sarah

Another bad one is the funeral table. Everyone is sad and I feel like a dick asking any questions or suggesting anything. I just want to stay away.

May 12 10 - 1:54pm
Amy

This was excellent! I've never waited myself, and it's fascinating to get an insider's view. Please write more!

May 12 10 - 1:54pm
kat vt

awesome article! i really hope this becomes a regular!

May 12 10 - 2:34pm
Brittany

Superb! Laughably insightful. Well done!

May 12 10 - 3:29pm
Ted

Unsurprisingly, Don flags me down with a few unreasonable requests — first for freshly squeezed lime juice, then for 'extra cumin.' The upshot is I get to say no both times, which lets them bond over what a dickhead I am, and saves me from having to juice a lime."

Those are unreasonable requests? Sorry, but maybe you're just a crappy waiter.

Oct 10 11 - 7:51pm
AlexT

Hey, who has time to drag out the juicer and squeeze limes in the middle of a Saturday night rush? Not the average waiter, that's who. And maybe the kitchen didn't have cumin.

May 12 10 - 3:35pm
Lindsay

This was an amazing and excellent piece. Enjoyed reading every bit of it. Hope to see more in the future.

May 12 10 - 4:27pm
Kristine

This was really interesting! I'm a hostess at a restaurant and I never get to see what happens AFTER I seat some people. It's nice to get a different look.

May 12 10 - 8:12pm
Observer

Ted should wait on a few tables, and see how he views needing to juice a lime in the middle of a shift.

Good humor all around. Reminds me of my days waiting tables... Thanks.

May 12 10 - 9:07pm
Bill

I like how it follows the arc of a relationship, from awkward first date, to doey-eyed romance, meeting the parents, drab routine, and finally whiskey and attorneys.

May 13 10 - 2:59pm
Ian

Love it. And as a former long-time waiter, very true and very well described. More, please.

May 16 10 - 11:26am
Sydney

I absolutely loved this article! Very spot on and I too would like this to be a regular series!!

May 16 10 - 9:11pm
SH

As the waiter who always got the evening's crying table no matter which section I had, I loved this piece and hope to read more tales from the waitstation!

May 25 10 - 9:07am
grace

at last a fresh (new) and well-written piece on Nerve again.

May 25 10 - 3:38pm
h2o

very interesting and enjoyable!

Jun 01 10 - 4:01pm
Jacq A. Tack

Really witty. I've waited on every table described. Ps I can't believe #2 wasn't Same-Side-Sitters. Nice restraint couple number two.