Over the next few months I got the hang of things, and was privy to the many unspoken rules of life inside a catering hall. Rules such as:
• If you cut your finger while slicing a lemon to put in a drink, it really hurts. But you probably won’t have time to get a Band-Aid. You also won’t have time to slice a new lemon.
• Chocolate can be recycled. I’ve seen grown men dive elbow deep into a chocolate fountain to scoop out the remaining chocolate to use for the next party.
• Fancy wedding cakes are built on Styrofoam frames. Yum!
• A martini luge is just a really expensive, “classy” version of a beer funnel.
• If a tablecloth has a food stain that can’t be removed, just turn it upside down. Good as new!
• But remember, it is not new. And, for that matter, tablecloths really, really stink after people have been eating and drinking off them all night.
• Serving lines in the kitchen are similar to what you would imagine a prison cafeteria line to look like.
• Many of the people who work those kitchens probably know firsthand what a prison cafeteria looks like.
• You can become so hungry that you will eat off of other people’s plates and sneak food in your pocket when no one is looking. You say you won’t, but you will.
• Walking into a crowded cocktail hour holding a tray of baby lamb chops is like marching into battle—it requires the same concentration and agility, and there’s no guarantee you’ll make it out alive.
• Weekend shifts are usually doubles, which can last upwards of 16 straight hours. The time between a Saturday night wedding and a Sunday morning wedding is only a few hours. The crew will sometimes sleep in the dining room underneath tables for a few precious hours of rest.
• There’s a reason you’re required to wear those awful black tuxedos—no other uniform can hide stains so well.
I was always amazed at how unnaturally thin every bride looked. They were usually so skinny and frail they struggled to support both the huge diamonds on their ring fingers and their $1,500 bouquet of ghost white Phalaenopsis orchids. (Side note: Did you know the word orchid is derived from the Greek word orchis, which means testicle? Look it up!) I’ve heard stories of brides turning to extreme dieting and bulimia in order to fit into a wedding dress, and while I’ve never seen physical evidence of this, I can’t say it would surprise me.
But even when it’s not bulimic, there is plenty of vomit to go around.
During one particularly rowdy wedding, we had to physically remove the alcohol from the bar because guests began to raid it after they had been cut off. As I walked into the hallway carrying two bottles of Grey Goose in each arm, I came upon a coworker on the verge of tears as he did his best to scrub vomit out of the carpet in the lobby. Apparently one of the bridesmaids left a trail of puke on her way to the bathroom.
Talk about a buzz kill.
Some of my favorite moments happened when the brides began to panic. Once, a bride freaked out just as she was about to walk down the aisle. I could hear the wedding march through the thin wall as the bridal attendant did her best to persuade the young woman that she was not, in fact, about to make the biggest mistake of her life. The attendant must have done a good job, because the bride quickly composed herself and went through with it.
Another time, a bride got into a fight with her mother as they were undressing in the bridal suite. The mother was so drunk one of my coworkers had to physically lift her out of her dress so she wouldn’t fall down, and helped her into more comfortable clothes. The bride, understandably embarrassed, began shouting at her mother, calling her a “stupid drunk bitch.”
If my time as a wedding server has taught me anything, it is this: Ladies and gentlemen, please dance with caution. Dance floors are crowded and slippery, and paired with an open bar, they create the perfect recipe for an emergency room visit. More than once, I witnessed grown men dancing with such abandon they fell and cracked their heads open on the dance floor. And the sight of the wait staff mopping blood off the floor with cloth napkins while the DJ tried to calm the crowd will stay with me for as long as I live.
One gentleman slipped on the floor and somehow damaged his genitals so severely he became impotent. Or so said his lawyer. He tried suing the hall over the incident, citing a strain on his marriage and sex life.
But when it comes to dance floor faux pas, the men have got nothing on the overzealous moms. I’ve seen more than my share of mothers cutting loose, gyrating mid-air, as their spray-tanned silicone orbs spilled out of their skintight gowns. Meanwhile, a few feet away, their daughters—you know, the ones getting married?—glanced over nervously, no doubt praying the embarrassment felt at that moment would not surround every memory of their weddings.
The flower girls just looked on in equal parts horror and morbid fascination, surely imagining their own wedding days.
Anyway, it’s June, and thus, another wedding season is upon us. In the coming days, as you sit in your assigned seat, gulping down your umpteenth top-shelf appletini, go ahead and admire the crisp imported linens, the pâté de foie gras, the music, the excitement in the air. Go ahead and think to yourself, “What a magical day.”
But do this, too: Take a look around the room and steal a glimpse into the frantic, harried, psychopathic eyes of your wait staff.
After all, they’re the ones who make the magic happen.