I started working at an Albanian-owned restaurant when I was 18. Besides learning random Albanian words for fun, I had to be taught how to waitress. I had to figure out how to properly write a pizza order, how to perfectly time the delivery of appetizers and entrees, and also, after 11 years of being a vegetarian, I had to start learning things about meat.
The first challenge in serving meat was that I had to ask the customer was how they wanted their steak cooked. Until I was waitressing, the concept of ‘medium rare’ and ‘well done’ had been foreign to me.
The next problem occurred when people ordered ribs. I’d send the order to the kitchen, and before I knew it, Tony would be yelling at me. “Anna! What kind of ribs?”
I was baffled. ‘Ribs’ seemed like a very specific body part. “Ribs ribs,” I said, pointing to my own ribcage. I wasn’t sure if maybe I had to return to the table and ask how they wanted their ribs cooked.
“Pork or beef!” Tony was frustrated.
“Oh, um. Just a second,” I said. I walked out to the table and asked the customer. Crisis averted, though it made me look like an airhead.
So now I knew to ask my customers about the kind of ribs they wanted, and how they wanted their steak cooked.
Then one day, a couple came in. The woman ordered pasta and her husband wanted steak. 15 minutes later, I brought their meals out to them.
“Anything else I can get you?” I asked.
“Do you have any aeywun?”
“Aeywun. It’s a steak sauce.”
I’d never heard of such a thing, but aiming to please, I went to the server station and began searching. I was pretty familiar with the location of all the condiments, but could not find this specific sauce that the man wanted. Soon I returned to the table holding out the only steak sauce I had found.
“I’m sorry. We don’t have Aeywun, but we have Al’s steak sauce,” I said.
The man looked at the bottle and then at my face. “That is A.1.”
Looking at the label again, I realized my mistake and began laughing. “Oh wow. Sorry. I’m a vegetarian,” I explained.
The couple laughed too as I handed over the bottle of A.1.
(written in 2011)