In our college town, we encounter a lot of students working their first real jobs. Some are hungover, but most of them are adorable, like the cute little hipster with ear gauges at the co-op who says “I’m not emotionally prepared for this big a transaction!” if you buy more than a muffin, or the masseuse that A went to at the gas station that was converted into a massage parlor who said, “You have a ton of tension in your head!” and then never did any work on her head.
And then there was Tiffany.
We rolled into the Mongolian barbecue place for a late lunch, having never been there before. It was a dreary Sunday, and we both had beanies on because we were too lazy to fix our hair, that kind of day.
A tiny ball of dynamite and shiny teeth bopped over to our table.
“Hi! I’m Tiffany! Welcome to Mongolian Barbecue! Have you been here before?”
“That’s great! Don’t worry, I’ll tell you what to do! You start with the meat at the far end there, then go to vegetables! THEN YOU PICK YOUR SAUCES AND SPICES! BUT GO EASY ON THE SPICES! DO YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS?”
“Actually, where’s your bathroom?”
“THAT’S A GREAT QUESTION! Go to the far left wall, then turn towards the back wall! IT’S NOT ON THE LEFT WALL! What would you like to drink? And would you like tortillas or lettuce wraps with your stir-fry? Never mind! It’s your first time here, I’ll bring out everything! BECAUSE YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU LIKE YET!”
“Okay, that’s a good idea,” I said, very calmly, like I was negotiating with a frightened deer who was also trying to sell us a car. “Can we have rice?”
“YES! I’ll bring two bowls of rice! If you get overwhelmed, don’t worry! There are recipe cards on the back wall! Okay? OKAY! GO UP WHENEVER YOU’RE READY!”
Tiffany had on a bright blue Underarmor headband and a ponytail that was completely vertical. She was the kind of girl who perpetually looks like they just got out of field hockey practice.
After getting our stir-fry bowls, and being treated to a very interesting story about how our cook was kicked out of school on the last day of senior year for starting a food fight (“You think they’re just fun! But people get hurt!”), I returned to the table while A went to the bathroom—which was labeled, “mongals,” clever—to find our drinks, our tortillas and lettuce wraps, and one bowl of rice.
I wouldn’t have said anything since I trusted Tiffany with my life at this point, but she happened to roll by on a skateboard to ask if we needed anything, and I said, “Just another rice when you get a chance,” to which she chirped, “Oh, I didn’t forget! They’re making a new pot! I’ll bring it right over when it’s done!” and merrily skipped away.
A came back from the bathroom and before she sat down, immediately started a conversation about health and the law, as she does. “It must be hard for places like this to stick to the health codes,” she said. “I mean, we dropped a ton of stuff on the floor, and I spilled my sauce on the counter. I handled a lot of slip and fall cases as a litigator!”
“I’d assume that their first problem would be food poisoning,” I said. “They have ten different kinds of seafood just sitting out all day.”
“Ooh, I didn’t even think of that,” said A, reaching for her first spoonful of rice.
Out of nowhere, Tiffany screamed, “DON’T EAT THAT!”
A and I froze in place, like she’d ordered us to hit the deck for incoming missile fire. But Tiffany just gave us two new bowls of rice and explained, “That was literally the last scoop of rice in the whole pot! I had to scrape it off the sides! These are freshly cooked!” and then she zoomed away so fast she left a shadow in her place.
A’s spoon was still quivering in mid-air, like the Jello scene in Jurassic Park.
I’m pretty sure that in food service, the number one thing you’re not supposed to say is “Don’t eat that!” Even in a friendly, casual manner, it just doesn’t come off right.
“Hey, don’t eat that, no worries!” Doesn’t work.
Tiffany took the drink order for the table behind us while we were eating—a woman ordered a Bahama Mama off the menu, and Tiffany said, “Oh, I don’t know how to make that, but I’ll Google it and bring it right out!”
A smacked her own forehead and whispered, “Oh my god, Tiffany, you never tell the customer that you don’t know how to do something.”
Tiffany whirred back to the table and said to this woman, “A Bahama Mama has coconut liqueur in it, is that okay? Is that what you want? DO YOU WANT THAT?” She leaned in super close and got really intense about it—like this was a secret transaction. The woman said, “Yes, that’s fine!” the way that people being interrogated say, “I’ll tell you whatever you want! Just call off the hounds!”
Tiffany would actually make an amazing spy.
Fun fact: less than two months later, I got food poisoning from that very restaurant. Tiffany wasn’t there to protect me. I guess that’s on me.