I had a recent work incident that reminded me of an episode that happened while I was in college, working during the summer at a seafood restaurant in Ocean City, MD. I was a waitress, working at Phillips Crabhouse with 200+ other college students. The restaurant we worked at was very popular, with a line around the building most weekends during the summer. I am the first to admit that I wasn’t a very good waitress, I was unfamiliar with the art of fine dining and didn’t always make sure that appetizers arrived before the main course was served. Sometimes I forgot the drinks and even the bill could take me a good amount of time to get to. But I was very much aware of the quality of food, be it that the steamed food was hot, the rolls soft or the drinks icy. So when I realized I had delivered a burnt fried chicken children’s meal to my table, I was very concerned and returned to the kitchen to order a fresh plate. Because they served the waitstaff fried chicken as lunch and dinner at the restaurant, I can’t say I held the value of chicken in huge regard and so I casually threw out the burnt chicken as I returned to the cook line to order a new plate.

As I picked up the new dish, the cook asked me to return the burnt chicken to him, I guess concerned that I might steal a plate of food. I told him I had already thrown it out. He (in not a very nice way) told me I needed to get the chicken back to him. Each time he saw me come through the kitchen, he’d tell me he wanted that chicken. Finally, fully exasperated by his nagging, I dug the chicken out of the trash can, now buried under lots of other table rubbish. Without thinking of the consquences, fully engrossed in my own rage, I threw the chicken at the cook, and included a very colorful explicative about him and the chicken.

The next time I walked through the kitchen, my next ticket was refused, and the cook pointed at the chalkboard, that included my waitress name “Marva” under the label “86” which in the restaurant world means “out of” or “no longer available”. Hence, my ability to deliver food to my tables was no longer possible, unless I was willing to walk a city block to the next kitchen, where hopefully, they hadn’t gotten word of the insult. (In today’s world of smartphones and text, I would have been shut down, no doubt!).

I finished the evening as best I could and went home fuming. But everytime I tried to enlist the sympathies of my friends and co-workers, they would shake their heads knowingly, and say ” I can’t believe you threw chicken at Ronnie…”. Being the stubborn person I am, for three days I refused to apologize, believing strongly that I was the offended party in this kitchen soap opera, what could be considered the original Hell’s Kitchen episode.

But the long treks across the city block restaurant to a kitchen that would serve me proved too much for me and I finally approached Ronnie with a white flag. I apologized for throwing the chicken at him and explained that I was very sorry for being disrespectful with my language. He was kind enough about accepting my apology and erased “Marva” from the 86 Board that day. At the end of dinner service, as I was making “lemons” (a nightly ritual where you picked through old lemons and cut new ones, leaving your fingers pickled) Ronnie came over with a lump crab sautee and offered it to me. This was about the hugest luxury you could enjoy at the seafood restaurant, and I recognized it for what it was, a peace offering. From that night on, I had my access to pretty much anything on the menu for my own enjoyment, and I had a personal protector, someone who had my back no matter what. So from anger and chaos, we built friendship and trust.

Fast forward to earlier this week. Without meaning to, with only the best intentions of doing the best for my customer, I have completely alienated a co-worker, someone who “cooks the food” so to speak, inside of my organization. We are still at the stage where if we had an 86 board at the office, my name would be on it. And so that brings me to tomorrow-Monday and the realization that I will need to make peace and extend the olive branch to this person. I can only hope that things will turn out as well as they did 25 years ago in Hell’s Kitchen.

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