Who are the most important people in The Villages?
There are lots of good candidates. Among others, you could cite Public Safety, Community Watch, the gate attendants or the golf course starters. They’re all worthy of being called “important.”
But one group stands out in the competition for most important people in The Villages — the waiters and waitresses in the 100 or so restaurants in our hometown. And that doesn’t even include all the Mickey D’s and the assorted other fast-food places.
In this day of having a language free of gender-specific titles, we can’t talk about “waiters and waitresses.” A stewardess is now a flight attendant and the chairman of a committee is a chair.
Instead of waiters and waitresses, then, let’s call them by the politically correct name, “servers.” But whatever you call them, they can clearly make the difference between a nice dining experience and a crummy meal. That’s vital for Villagers, since most eat out a lot more often than is probably good for our waistlines. Or our wallets.
A great restaurant meal requires not only good food, but also a good server. Servers can be divided into three groups: “The Good,” “The Bad” and “The Clueless.”
“The Good” are what we all want when we go into a restaurant. As the song says, a good server can “turn your frown upside down” and change a rotten day into a pretty good one. They’re friendly and energetic. They make sure the meal is just what you wanted and cooked correctly. They check back on you to see if you need anything else.
A good sense of humor helps, too. At one of The Villages country clubs, the server was rattling off the list of the day’s specials so quickly no one could understand. “Whoa, back up,” I said. She took three steps backward and recited the specials again.
A good server has to stay calm and not be shaken by anything. The award for keeping one’s cool has to go to a server taking a breakfast order from Al Capp, the brilliant cartoonist who created the classic comic strip “Li’l Abner.” Capp had lost a leg at age 9 in a trolley accident. When he went to bed, he usually put his wooden leg under the bed.
Capp was in bed one morning in his London hotel room and telling the room service guy what he wanted for breakfast. In Capp’s words: “As he was taking my order, he caught sight of the shoe and stockinged leg that peeped out from under the bed. He stared … finished writing down the order, then looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Very good, sir. And what will the other gentleman have?’”
Lousy servers — “The Bad” — are easy to spot. They’re surly, impatient and can turn an otherwise pleasant meal into a disaster. They are masters of avoiding eye contact and have the ability to turn you invisible. One particularly bad server was waiting on a group of us. She got surlier and surlier as the meal went on and added the final touch when she left the credit card receipt to be signed and snarled: “Don’t steal my pen!”
Then there are my favorite servers, “The Clueless.” They’re not necessarily bad servers. In fact, some of them are very good. They are just, well … clueless. For example, there was the time when we ordered a bottle of modestly priced (which means “cheap”) champagne. Needless to say, it had a plastic cork. When the server opened the bottle, the cork went flying across the room into a plastic plant. He retrieved the plastic cork and proudly placed it down on the table for my inspection. Was I supposed to sniff it? Is there a particularly good vintage for petrochemicals?
One server was clearly the most totally clueless of them all. When we went into the restaurant we noticed that Szechuan chicken was listed as the special of the day. I like spicy Chinese food so I planned on ordering it. Our server won the clueless award when he told us about the special of the day: “Today, we have a hot and spicy Canadian dish. It’s called Saskatchewan chicken.”