Friday, January 16, 2009

The Relish Tray

My first student job was at a local Holiday Inn where I worked as a porter. Porters, at least at the hotel for which I worked, do much more than just "port". Aside from helping people with their baggage, I also used to deliver room service orders, set up meeting rooms and halls, clean up after meetings and sometimes even help out busing tables, washing dishes and doing other things that weren't strictly in my job description. It was a good job for a young teenager because, being a bit of an introvert, it helped to bring me out of my shell and develop my social skills. The work was varied which, in my opinion, is better than performing the same monotonous task day after day, and my student wage was supplemented with tips, which is always a good thing.

The nature of hotel work, or any customer service oriented work, I suppose, is such that one soon collects some interesting stories to tell. Take, for example, the time that I delivered a room service order and saw a camera on a tripod pointed at a bed which I couldn't see except for the foot, because most of it happened to be around the corner that was formed where the room and entrance met. Now, I'm not the type to jump to lascivious conclusions. There are many reasons why someone might want to photograph a bed. Perhaps the occupant was a photographer hired to take photographs for a Holiday Inn brochure, or perhaps he was particularly impressed with how neatly the bed was made ("Hot diggity, ah've gotta git a pitcher o' this! They'll nevuh buhlieve me back home in Clanton Alabama!") Conversely, perhaps there was a nasty stain on the sheets or the bed was infested with bed bugs and the occupant was getting photographic evidence to strengthen his case for a refund, or at least a discount on the room. My point is that, during my tenure at the Holiday Inn, I saw a lot of things that gave me pause or caused me to do a double-take.

I also saw some people do some really dumb things. By "some people", I am referring to the hotel's patrons, my fellow staff and, of course, myself. Take, for example, the time that the Assistant Innkeeper asked me to deliver a relish tray to a group of people in one of the meeting rooms.

Being young and somewhat unworldly, I had never heard of a relish tray. Fortunately, I've always had a knack for inferring the meanings of unfamiliar words and phrases based on their usage, or by gleaning the familiar from the unfamiliar. For example, the first time I ever heard the term "wanderlust", I reasoned that it must be a fusion of the words "wander" and "lust", both of whose meanings I understood all too well from my childhood days, when my parents would send me wandering after I surprised them during one of their lustful encounters and so I was able to infer the meaning of the term without having to actually look it up.

And so it was in the case of the mysterious relish tray which I'd been instructed to deliver. I immediately located a stainless steel serving tray, covered it in paper doilies, neatly arranged, and then pulled a large box of individually packaged condiments from the walk-in refrigerator that was located in the hotel kitchen. I next proceeded to carefully and artfully arrange relish packets in an ovular pattern around the outside of the tray. Always the conscientious one and wanting to go that extra mile to please the customer, I also added some mustard and ketchup packets as well, reasoning that some of the guests in the meeting room might appreciate an alternative choice to relish. Finally, for the "coup de grace" (French for "superfluous gimmick"), I added a centerpiece; a small vase containing a simple yet decorative floral arrangement in the center of the tray. This, I proudly wheeled down to the meeting room.

I knocked on the door and proudly announced "Your relish tray, sir!" when it was answered by a smartly-dressed gent in business attire. He watched in dumbfounded silence as I wheeled in my creation. Deftly placing the "relish tray" on a counter next to a tray of half-eaten sandwiches, I paused for only a moment and, when my greeter gave no visible sign of producing a tip, I diplomatically took my trolley and left the room, closing the door silently behind myself. "He was probably anxious to get back to the meeting," I reasoned. Surely they would take care of me later on.

When I returned to the lobby, the Assistant Innkeeper motioned to me to approach him with a beckoning finger. "What the hell did you just take down to Room 101?" he muttered under his breath as I dutifully approached.

"The relish tray that you told me to bring them, sir!" I replied. By this time, though, I could tell from his manner that all was not well. I'm quite good at reading people, you know.

It took some time to convince my boss that the whole thing was not, in fact, my idea of a smart-alec prank and that I truly didn't know what a relish tray was. It all ended well enough. I was escorted to the walk-in refrigerator and shown the relish tray which had, in fact, already been prepared earlier by the kitchen staff and which was, ironically, located on a shelf not far from the condiment box. This I delivered to Room 101. I even offered to let them keep the tray of condiments, but they declined, sending it back to the kitchen with me. I didn't lose my job over the matter although, oddly enough, I never received a tip for that particular service. Ah well. You win some, you lose some.

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