UnderCover Waitress: September 2011

Friday, September 30, 2011

Locked in the Bathroom

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I feel sorry for the 10 year old little girl. Her mother writes to Avvo because the child was locked in a restaurant bathroom. There was a problem with the door handle.

The gist of the mother's letter is that the wait staff were laughing and the manager was not as helpful as she could have been. If my child was in the same situation and scared, and the employees thought it was funny, I'd be angry too.

It reminds me of a time that really was funny; it was funny because the customers were laughing. They were a couple on a rather quiet night and the last two in the restaurant. They were having fun and had enjoyed libations.

She got up to use the restroom, and she took so long that he got concerned. He kept walking back and forth from the bathroom area back to his table and back again. Finally, they admitted to us that she was locked in the bathroom.

People go in but they don't come out! 
It took awhile, but if I remember correctly the hostess had to unscrew the hinges of the door; I know she got out eventually. Both of them seemed to think it was the funniest thing to ever happen to either of them. They even came in another night and reminded us of the "great joke." Personally, I would have been happy to forget, but I was glad they were not upset with us.

Perhaps restaurants should maintain our bathroom doors a bit better...




Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Discrimination at The Tilted Kilt

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a lawsuit against the Tilted Kilt in Roswell. It seems that the hallowed patrons of this high-class eatery prefer gawking at white belly-buttons and boobs.

Authentic. 
According to the suit, an unnamed former general manager objected to being instructed to fire Najila Salaam for having "too dark" skin. Salaam, an African-American, had been trained but was never put on the schedule. Salaam was told that there were too many black women already working at the Roswell Tilted Kilt location, according to Alexis Stevens at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Tilted Kilt refers to waitresses as "cast members" and the skimpy uniforms as "costumes." There may be some good psychology behind these labels. Perhaps it is easier to play the role of little sex-pot when using theatrical terminology to describe what is supposedly a waitress job.

This company can't seem to stay out of trouble or out of bad news.




Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hunger and Waitresses

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Discussion of food service jobs on a forum I frequent included this comment by one participant: "The good thing about food service is you never go hungry." I beg to differ.

In the world of low-wage waitressing, Ehrenreich in Nickel and Dimed introduces us to "Gail," a full-time waitress who lives in her truck. The money she makes is not going toward square meals; the poor woman is barely getting by. The hostess at that restaurant also lives in her vehicle, and showers in the motel room/home of another waitress. These people were hungry.

Coffee shop laborers and fast-food laborers may get to bring home stale items that are no longer able to be sold. Depending upon where a person works, she may be allowed more to eat by a more generous manager.

Even in the world of well-paid waitressing, some restaurants are less generous than others and wait staff may go hungry. Some have staff meals, but some don't. Some allow employees a discount that they may or may not be able to afford.

I remember serving a Mother's Day brunch and a happy patron asked me, "Oooh, have you eaten yet?" I smiled and told her I had not. I didn't tell her that my employer had no intention of allowing me to.

I am not saying that every restaurant must provide employees with three course meals. But never assume: just because one works around food does not mean she is not hungry.


Monday, September 26, 2011

My Brother's Keeper

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Biblical stories are our folklore, our stories, our myths that our elders have told us for generations because they teach a value or a lesson. I am no religious fanatic, but I remind you today of the story of the brothers Cain and Abel.

Jews were a nomadic tribe in our humble beginnings. Cain, the older brother, was an agrarian. He grew grain. Abel, the younger brother, raised sheep like a good little nomad. When the brothers brought their offerings to sacrifice at G-d's alter, G-d liked Abel's offering of a lamb better than Cain's grain and flour.

Cain was embarrassed, jealous, and angry. (Let this be a warning to parents who communicate such preferences to their children.) Cain took his anger out on his little brother, and killed him in a fit of rage. When he saw what he had done, Cain ran and hid.

Abel's blood spilled onto the land and screamed to G-d for justice. G-d heard, and he found Abel's limp, cold and lifeless body. G-d was outraged, and he searched for Cain. He found Cain in the fields.

"Where is your brother?"

"Am I my brother's keeper?"

And G-d marked Cain's forehead as a punishment.

Not only is murder wrong, but the concept "Am I my brother's keeper" has been discussed by philosophers for thousands of years.

Recently, Tea Party and Grand Old Party members cheered at the concept of letting an uninsured man die rather than picking up the tab for his hospital care. When I think of the Tea Party and the GOP, I often think of religious fanatics. You'd think they'd know that we are our brothers' keepers. They may thump the bible, but I question if they ever read it.

I am not a religious fanatic, but I do have ethics.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Disagreements

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Interesting comment the other day: "I know you don't like people to disagree with you." 


Really? Actually, I can see how one might come to this conclusion.

I am opinionated, passionate, and I love to argue, discuss and debate. In my younger days, I was bull-headed (yes, it was worse back then.) I question, think critically, and love to turn a concept inside-out and upside-down while figuring out what I think. I have finally learned to let other people have the last word -- sometimes.

And those are just my good points.

I am not all sweetness and light. While I love a good debate, I don't waste time with "Gee, no offense but..." or "I don't want to make anyone mad..." I much prefer well-thought out, even researched, opinions and arguments expressed with eloquence, gesticulation and occasional objects thrown across the room. I'd much rather spend my days with somebody who thinks critically and disagrees with me than some stupid cheerleader who just agrees with me all the time.

If you want to post that you disagree with me, go for it. It makes the discussion more interesting. Just don't expect me to send you a unicorn that poops skittles in return.

I live for the debate. At the end of the day, I don't give a rat's hindquarters whether other people agree with me or not.

And on that note... Have a great weekend, everyone!


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Legumes and Peanuts and Tree Nuts, Oh My!

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Did a little digging after reading all of the comments on my last post.

Peanuts are part of the legume family which includes peas and beans. A person may suffer with a peanut allergy and not be allergic to lentils, pinto beans, and other members of the legume family.

Pecans are tree nuts, as are walnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, macadamias, hazelnuts, pistachios and chestnuts, among others. Being allergic to one tree nut does not necessarily mean you are allergic to other tree nuts. Also, you may be able to eat peanuts if you have a tree nut allergy.

Many professionals advice people with any one of these allergies to simply avoid all tree nuts and peanuts just to be safe, according to advice columnist Alice at Columbia University. People may discover exactly what foods they are allergic to by visiting an allergist for medically supervised testing.

(And don't forget to tell your waitress.)

Go Ask Alice!


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Listing Peanuts As An Ingredient

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Avvo is a website on which people may post questions and receive public answers from lawyers. Here is a recent post from a woman whose little girl has a peanut allergy. They were, of course, dining in a restaurant.

I ordered my daughter (2 yr) a kids meal ( multi gran pancake) and she took a bite and bit into a pecan. She is allergic to peanuts. Her eye swelled shut and she complained that her face itched. I spoke to the server and the manager and they just said sorry and i did not have to pay for it. I then gave my daughter her epi pen shot and swelling started to decrease. Is there a law in place that requires restaurant to list ingredients? was there something more they should have done?


A lawyer from New Jersey simply told her to contact a local lawyer. D'uh. Why bother taking up space with an answer if you are not going to say anything interesting?

This incident happened in California. Two other, much more interesting answers have been offered, one from Florida and one from California. The California lawyer included in his response, "...while there is no law in place..."

Both of these guys got very excited about how dangerous peanut allergies could be, and how of course the restaurant should have done so much more, how negligent can you possibly be? I won't downplay the potential severity of allergies; I remember Chen Efrat's tragic story.

But I notice some things in the Avvo post that our esteemed esquire friends fail to mention. For example, the mother doesn't mention alerting the waitress to her daughter's allergy. I don't know about this particular establishment, but our menus state that we cannot be held to list every single ingredient in our made-to-order dishes, and to please tell your waitress about any food allergies. Plain as day.

We have a gluten-free menu. We ask you to please tell us your allergies. We will attempt to accommodate any food requirements you may have. We can't do a darn thing if you keep your allergies a secret.

Reminds me of my blue meanie friend who is allergic to rasberries.




Monday, September 19, 2011

Hooters Vindication

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Hooters was in trouble, but the videotape has gotten them off the hook.

In short, a waitress was accused of serving liquor to an obviously intoxicated man. The video, however, shows a patron who does not present the signs of intoxication. The video negates claims made by police in their report as to the behavior of the restaurant patron.

The waitress is an 18 year-old single mother. There are so many social issues at work here that it is hard to know where to begin.

An 18 year-old single mother in today's economy is hard-pressed to find a way to support herself and her child in anything but poverty. Don't know if she even has a high school diploma. She may consider herself quite lucky to be making Hooters money. The young, pretty, and needy know that taking off their clothes is a great way to make money. She may have no other options as lucrative.

An 18 year-old female is more likely than others to be intimidated telling an "assertive" man, "No, I can't serve you." Most misogynists and drunks, alike, are not going to tolerate losing face to "a little girl." The fact that she is a woman and doing her job is beside the point. She is already in a position of inferiority for being undressed. Age and gender also work against her.

To be blunt, I've got a set of brass balls. At 5'1" tall, I have had the experience more than once of looking up at some yahoo who won't take his seat and telling him he won't be getting a drink. Fortunately, those times are few and far between.

Don't know how much the young Hooters waitress can rely on management to back her up, but I'll be they do. Restaurant managers and owners understand how easy it is to lose a liquor license. And that means losing a lot of money.

But the real crux is that the video shows the patron wasn't acting intoxicated. The article indicates that Hooters will not lose its liquor license and the case against the waitress will be dropped. So, why did the cops describe a series of events that seem to have never happened? Wonder if this particular Hooters location is being targeted.









Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sometimes It Is Restaurants

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Last Friday, I posted about a local library's lack of concern over stocking soap in the public restroom. Check out the helpful advice a reader left me. This person is so willing to stand by what s/he says that the post is "Anonymous."

If you have ever read the studies on hand washing - it has been proven that if you are without soap, hot water can kill the same amount of bacteria as soap and tepid water.


So, if you find it necessary to use public restrooms try plain hot water or carry your own sanitizer. You can also fill up a small, empty santizer bottle with hand soap if you prefer.


Sorry she didn't jump once, twice, three times - but there are other options.


Our bathroom soap dispensers are hard-pressed to become empty because it is our job to refill them, not once but twice per day. (They get refilled at the end of each shift.) However, if I ever do have the experience of a customer alerting me to a lack of soap, I will take apply Anonymous' wise, helpful advice and:

1 -- Tell the customer to run her hands under extremely hot water. I will add the disclaimer that the restaurant will not be held responsible for any burns incurred.

2 -- Insinuate that she can choose to hold it until she gets home. (if you find it necessary to use public restrooms.) 

3. -- Suggest that she bring her own soap or hand sanitizer next time.

4. -- Give the customer my biggest, most sugary smile. Tell her that I am so sorry I can't jump once, twice, three times to provide basic, everyday hygienic supplies in a public bathroom. Remind her that she has other options.

I invite you all to take bets on how long I will remain employed after.

      








Thursday, September 15, 2011

Probably Not Plagiarism

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More likely, this is a case of great minds thinking alike.

I chastised a waitress on this blog recently for getting her undies in a bunch over people asking for water and not drinking the whole glass. Far from being a devout environmentalist, I believe she is simply and understandably tired. Glasses with water are heavier than empty glasses, and she doesn't want to have to clear them. She considered this an important enough problem that she wrote to an advice columnist in the paper.

It turns out, I am not the only person who noticed. Ask Amy has another reader who responded with this helpful suggestion.

DEAR AMY: I have a suggestion for the "Frustrated Waitress" who complained about the waste when customers who ordered water didn't drink it.
Instead of throwing out that full glass of water, pour it into a container to water the plants in the restaurant (or outside). At least the water wouldn't be wasted. -- Deb
DEAR DEB: Great suggestion!


Excellent suggestion if I say so myself. It was the first of two that I offered "Frustrated Waitress." I sincerely hope she took my second suggestion.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

To My Fellow Germophobes

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A rambling post from the Chicago Sun-Times begins with a true story that I dedicate to all of my fellow germophobes.

In a popular restaurant in the Chicago area, a waitress arrived back at her table with a tray of drinks, and just stopped herself from dropping it. Mom was changing the baby's diaper on the table. Dad was fine with it.

I welcome children in restaurants. I like children. They are funny and cute. Sometimes, I like them better than their parents.

I'll bet that waitress scrubbed the table when she turned it. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sales Calls And Waiting Tables

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20 Things NOT To Do On A Sales Call by Geoffrey James on BNet has definite correlations with things not to do while selling food and taking orders in a restaurant. I thought I 'd have some fun with 10 of them.

#1 Flirt With The Admin.
This can backfire in restaurants, as well. While the job of the Hooters or Tilted Kilt waitress is to titillate, most restaurants hire wait staff to serve tables in a professional fashion. Managers in upscale restaurants will sanction or even fire waitresses and waiters who act cute and friendly or flirt with tables.

#2 Talk More Than You Listen.
This one is a no-brainer. If you don't know how to shut up and listen to the customer, then you don't know how to sell. Have often been on the receiving end of a talkative, "This is me being upbeat" server and it brings out my more murderous tendencies.

#3 Overstay Your Welcome.
Contrary to some wait staff's belief, diners come to visit with each other, not with the wait staff.

#4 Answer Your Cell Phone.
I'm only including this one because of the number of restaurant patrons who talk on their phones at the table or, best, while I'm telling them the specials. Guys, it goes both ways. I'd love to watch a customer's response if the waitress answered her cell phone while taking an order.

#5 Argue With The Customer.
You want ketchup with the delicately seasoned Eggs Provencal? And a side of horseradish? I'll bring those right away.

#6 Discuss Politics Or Religion.
Some of you may think this is a no-brainer. And those with no brains continue to jump in to customer conversations.

#7 Dive Into Your Product Pitch.
Slowly, slowly, catchee monkey... Never be eager. Always pretend to think about "what would go best with this meal?" before recommending the finest, most expensive wine.

#8 Lack Requisite Product Knowledge.
If the waitress doesn't know the menu, I always wonder what else she doesn't know. And then I get nervous. Not to mention what must be wrong with management to let a waitress who doesn't know the menu on the floor in the first place.

#9 Fail To Check Your Appearance.
Many a night, we check each other's teeth for salad greens or lipstick after grabbing a bite in the dish room.

#10 Ask Personal Questions.
This seems unfair, but we wait staff have no business asking customers personal questions. The only time I want to is when they start asking me a bunch of personal questions. I resent the one-way flow of information and the fact that I can't say, "None of your business" without getting in trouble.











Monday, September 12, 2011

Hands As Utensils

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An extremely important hygiene issue caught my attention in Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed. This should come as no surprise to those of you who are aware that I am a germophobe.

She discusses the fact that in the second restaurant she works in waitress hands are often utensils. It is a busy environment and they use their hands to move food, such as chicken fingers, from one plate to another. They use their hands in many ways to touch other people's food.

One of the first things a sous chef said to me when I was new to waitressing was never, never touch other people's food unless you absolutely have to. In our kitchen, the cooks and chefs avail themselves of gloves to prevent excessive touching of food. We also have hand-washing stations in both the front and back of house. Not all restaurant owners are willing to spend the money on gloves or other hygienic tools, unfortunately.

Take Ehrenreich's place of employment, for example. She claims that every bathroom must be stocked with three things: soap, toilet paper, and hand towels. Of those three, her employer's restroom is always missing at least one. I must say, it does absolutely no good whatsoever to hang a sign reminding employees that they have to wash their hands if you don't buy soap.

And then these employees use their hands as utensils. Yuck.

As diners, I recommend you look around at the cleanliness of the eatery before deciding to enjoy a meal. If tables or booths are sticky, leave. If the bathrooms are not clean and well-stocked, leave. If you see employees touching food, biting their nails or wiping their faces with their hands, leave. Management levels of cleanliness are communicated and taught to workers, so if a place gives you the impression it's dirty, it's because it is dirty.
  

Friday, September 9, 2011

Bathroom Breaks

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Ehrenreich includes a footnote in her discussion of waitresses covering for each other when one needs to use the restroom. Nickel and Dimed, footnote no. 5 says, in part:

Until 1998, there was no federally mandated right to bathroom breaks. According to [Void Where Prohibited],"The right to rest and void at work is not as high on the list of social or political causes supported by professional or executive employees, who enjoy personal workplace liberties that millions of factory workers can only dream about ... While we were dismayed to discover that workers lacked an acknowledged right to void at work, [workers] were amazed by outsiders' naive belief that their employers would permit them to perform this basic bodily function when necessary ... A factory worker, not allowed a break for six-hour stretches, voided into pads inside her uniform; and a kindergarten teacher in a school without aides had to take all twenty children with her to the bathroom and line them up outside the stall door while she voided." 

I must admit, I had no idea. It was 1998 when I landed clear across the country from where I grew up. One of the jobs I held while we got on our feet was a factory job at a progressive bread factory. Unlike the type of work that Ehrenreich sought to do for her book, this place paid relatively well, took care of its people and produced a good product. For the record, I made more money at the bread factory than I did teaching preschool, which I was qualified to do. Anyway, it was my first and only factory job.

Memories of the bread factory came back to me while reading the above section in Nickel and Dimed because of a rather painful and embarrassing memory. I was on the bread line pulling pans in or out of the oven. I had already had a break not long ago, and was not due for one again soon. Out of the blue, my bowels started screaming that I had to void them, now.

I kept thinking I could hold it, I could hold it... I started to panic. I couldn't leave my post. I caught the eye of a roaming worker and said something about needing a break. He looked skeptical because he knew I had just had one. I had to shed the teachings of my upbringing which prohibited me from discussing such sordid details and said, "Just to use the bathroom."

His entire demeanor changed. He gladly took over my spot; I took care of myself, returned, and everything was fine and dandy.

I thought of it because of the millions of factory workers who may have found themselves in the same position with a less positive outcome, especially before 1998. And even after, as employers are not always especially communicative with their employees about worker rights. Often, there is a poster with tiny writing hanging on a wall somewhere. Sometimes I wonder if I am the only employee who ever reads the darn thing.

In the restaurant, we communicate and cover for each other. If the hostess, who usually answers the phone, needs to visit the ladies' room she just tells a waitress who isn't too busy to listen for the phone, please. We waitstaff duck away as need be when we get a chance. When everybody is busy, we wait and hold it. But I have never felt trapped in the restaurant the way I did on the bread line.

Both of these links take you to a page on which you may purchase a real copy or a kindle version of the book.
  



Thursday, September 8, 2011

Serving in Florida

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In "Nickel and Dimed," Ehrenreich's first job is waitress. She writes about her surprise that a co-worker will spend $60 a night to stay at a local motel instead of renting a cheap apartment. The woman's response is eye-opening for the author: the woman wonders how Ehrenreich thinks she can save up enough for first month's rent, last month's rent, and deposit. Sometimes, however, the waitress chooses to simply live in her car.

Ehrenreich writes that the combination of her base wage of a little over $2.00 per hour and the fact that she had to tip-out other employees often resulted in her making minimum wage. She also mentions that no manager ever breathed a word about tip credits to her. Legally, employers at a restaurant may not let waiters and waitresses make less than minimum wage. So, if minimum wage is $5.00, and the waitress is paid $3.00 per hour, she has to make at least $2.00 per hour in tips. If she does not, the employer is required to pay her extra to bring her up to minimum wage. That's the law, but nobody tells waitresses this.

Many of us are lucky enough to work in busy, more expensive restaurants and have the opportunity to work great shifts that bring in $150 - $200 or more per night, at least in the busy season. It is humbling to remember that not all waitress jobs are so lucrative.

In our restaurant, it is a massive feast in the summer and famine in the winter. Sometimes I feel like we waitresses are playing the grasshopper and the ant. Some employees save up during the good seasons so they are less hungry in the winter when the restaurant is slow. There are also the summer spendthrifts who will scratch your eyes out in the winter over a shift, a section, or a good table.

But in Ehrenreich's world, it is a moot point. There are no great shifts.

  

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Nickel and Dimed

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Just started reading Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed. Ehrenreich went "undercover" as a low-wage earner, working various jobs including waitress. Her experiment was to see how easy or difficult it really was to support oneself on the wages that so many subsist on.

As she switched from place to place and job to job, she would tell co-workers that she had bonded with that she was leaving because she was a writer. She let them know that she was taking notes for a book. Ehrenreich admits in the Introduction that she was surprised by her new friends' reactions. Rather than being shocked or surprised, they were simply disappointed that she wouldn't be back. "Does this mean you won't be here for tomorrow night's shift?"

Poor people may be intelligent and creative. They may have various talents and abilities. They simply cannot make enough money to dig themselves out, not because they are stupid, but rather because it is too difficult to save when you are earning next to nothing.

The book is a great read so far.





Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day

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Many roll their eyes at the irony of all of the shops and restaurants that are open on Labor Day. The following is a direct quote from the United States Department of Labor:

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.


Sure, we honor them, but how many of us give them the day off? And with pay? Any other tribute is lip service.

If you are waited on by a laborer on Labor Day, please tip double. Thank you.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Blue Waitress

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Found this little gem on HubPages. Young woman has somehow survived five years working as a waitress, and is offering her advice to new recruits.

Blue, I like you, but five years is nuthin', honey. Talk to me in another fifteen. If you're still on the floor at that time.

Blue offers five ways to remain sane and relieve stress on the dining room floor:

Share With Others. 

Absolutely. That's what this blog, and many others like it, is all about.

Take a Moment and Figure Out What You are Making Per Hour. 

This is excellent advice. It has gotten me through many a night when I was drafting my resignation letter in my head. When I saw what I pulled in from 4:30 to 10:30, well, that letter never got written.

Be Proud.

Hey, I rock at my job. I separate people from their money. And quite often, they thank me for it!

Develop F*** It Mode.

Many a woman has gotten in touch with her inner bi*** on the dining room floor. Actually, it's a survival skill. I think some restaurant people eat their young, but that's another story.

Sometime, With Some Tables, Let Go of the Tip. 

Yup, agree with this one, too. Sometimes it is more fun and more satisfying to give diners a real response and make them see that a real, intelligent person sees them for what they are. Stupid and rude.

Good luck, Blue. Keep you back to the wall. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Employment

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It's an old joke and a good one:

An employer takes his employee up to the top of the mountain. He puts his arm around the employee's shoulders as they look over the expanse of land and town. The employer tells his employee,
"Look around at all of this. If you work very hard, and do exactly as I tell you, then someday, someday... all of this will be mine."

::rimshot::

At the end of a long evening, it can be nice to put your feet up for a few minutes, enjoy a little dinner with a co-worker before cleaning the place up and going home. Have a colleague who likes to play martyr and jokingly talk about how hard she works while the rest of us sit around. I like to tell her this joke.