Lost Journal: Singing the Phrases of the Olive Garden

By Tim Mollen

Journal entry:  June 25, 1993 (age 24)

Everyone should be required to wait tables at some point in his or her life.  You have no idea how demanding a job it is until you’ve had to do it for a living.  If you think people are fussy about their haircut, or the way their groceries are packed, try serving them a meal that is seasoned, cooked, portioned and presented to their liking.  You haven’t been truly tested until you’ve been asked to serve a lettuce-less salad and crumbly bleu cheese with the crumbles on the side.

For the past few months, I’ve been a waiter at the new Olive Garden restaurant on the Vestal Parkway.  But we’re not called waiters.  We don’t wait around.  We’re “servers.”  We are serving the public.  I see the company’s logic, but I think “server” sounds a little too close to “servant.”  Last week, I submitted an anonymous comment card suggesting that we refer to bartenders as “over-servers” and busboys as “server servers.”   No response from corporate on that yet.

Despite the difficulty of the job, I like working at the OG.  Our manager, Rebecca Albright, is equal parts efficient and kind, which is a good combo in a stressful setting.  She sets the tone, and the rest of the staff is fun and easygoing.  But the highest compliment one can pay a restaurant is that you still want to eat there even after you’ve seen how the food is prepared.  That’s the case here, and I put my employee discount to good use by scarfing down copious amounts of calamari, pasta e fagioli, and tiramisu.

Tonight, I was having a good night.  Within the first hour, I turned over five four-tops in Venice.  (In non-restaurantese, that means I had served five groups of four people in the room that has a gondola painted on the wall.  I will 86 the jargon from here on out.)  At the peak of the dinner rush, I saw two familiar faces seated in my section.  My brother, Dan, and his friend, Steve Fedorchak, both work at Cortese Restaurant in Binghamton, and wanted to see how my serving skills stacked up against their fine dining know-how.

Dan and Steve had come to see one thing in particular, and within minutes they got their wish.  A table near theirs was celebrating a birthday, which meant that every server in the restaurant had to march over to present a cake and sing the “Olive Garden Birthday Song.”  I tried to lurk in the back of the fake-cheerful mob, but I was still visible – clapping half-heartedly, pumping my first weakly, and singing insincerely.  “From the pasta we make, to lasagna we bake, ba-ba-ba-ba, we’re wishing you a happy birthday!”

Dan commented later that I should feel proud to work at an establishment that has accomplished the impossible – creating a song more cloying and annoying than “Happy Birthday to You.”  Tomorrow, I’ll keep that in mind and hold my head high, as I do my part to provide the world with unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks.

Tim Mollen
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