This is a story of one dinner that I ruined and one that could have been ruined by… me. My first job was a busboy/food runner at a fairly upscale restaurant (linen tablecloths, complimentary sorbet between course).
Incident #1 (dinner ruined): I was going around changing ashtrays at the tables. I had a tray of clean and dirty ashtrays in one hand. When I went to a table with a dirty ashtray I would use a clean ashtray to cover the dirty one, bring both back to my tray and then place the clean one back where the dirty one was.
I was having some trouble with an eight top round table. The chairs were fairly tight (I think it may have been a six top with two extra chairs squeezed in) and the dirty ashtray I was after was near the center of the table. I leaned, I stretched. Just as I got the ashtray one of the full dirty ashtrays slides off of the tray in my hand… right down the low cut back of the dress of one of the customers!
She jumped up, I apologized profusely, her husband/boyfriend jumped in my face (I think he was really close to decking me). The table was furious and being new to my first job I was pretty sure I was going to be fired. The manager sent me to the back and I think wound up comping the table at the very least, but I am pretty sure their dining experience had been ruined for the evening. The manager assured me that I was not fired and had me practice using the tray in the back until the table left the restaurant.
Incident #2 (dinner could have been ruined): Still the same job and still fairly new, I am happy to say that in my whole career following this was the second and last time I lost a tray (or something from the tray). A four top in a corner booth; mother, father and two 7 to 10 year old kids. I approach them with a tray with four full water glasses. I don’t know if I was moving too fast, had the tray at an angle or both, but when I stopped at the table the four glasses of water kept going and all fell over onto the table.
The family valiantly tried to exit the booth before the waterfall hit the edge of the table, but because it was a corner round booth they never had a chance. They all got drenched. I was expecting the worst when all of a sudden the father burst out laughing. His wife and the kids joined in and they assured me (while I am profusely apologizing and grabbing extra napkins from the empty tables near them) not to worry, and that it would be a great story to tell when they got home from their vacation. I made sure to let the manager know and I believe he gave them all free desserts for the trouble.
Could have been a disaster and another ruined dinner, but the customers decided not to let it ruin their night.