Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant knows it is an experience that will never leave you. It’s been ten years since I last worked in a restaurant, but I still regularly wake up in a panic after having the nightmare in which I get slammed with tables when I’m the only one on the floor, and I’m running around with a tray full of drinks, inexplicably unable to serve them to anyone.
The majority of my restaurant career was spent at Red Robin. I worked there for nearly seven years, first as a hostess and then, once I turned 19, a server. Even now, after the many jobs I’ve held, I still believe that many of my most important life lessons were learned at the Robin. Some are oddly practical, like investigate every bottle of ketchup for the tell-tale signs of over-marrying — a gray tree-like rings creating layers in the ketchup and the presence of bubbles. I’ll bet not too many people know that when ketchup gets old it can literally explode right out the top of the bottle. It’s true. It’s happened in my hands before. Other lessons are more profound, like kill everyone with kindness. And there’s no use crying over spilled milkshakes…especially when they tip over on the tray you are holding and you end up with whipped cream in your mouth and ice cream in all the pockets of your apron.
So much of the years spent at Red Robin are etched in my brain. I still remember many of the thousands of numbers in the ridiculous computer ordering system. Case in point: Monster Burger =14, No Mayo = 9 modify, 27 modify. Seriously, what is that information still doing in my brain?
But nothing takes me back to the Robin faster than hearing certain songs. I usually encounter them while shopping at Walgreens or Walmart or riding in an elevator, thanks to the glorious selection of Muzak channels management had to choose from.
The list is vast and varied, but here are just some of the songs that make me stop in my tracks and want to ask someone if they want a fry refill to go with their California Chicken Burger.
The Year of the Cat and Time Passages, Al Stewart
I honestly don’t know if Al Stewart exists outside the brass-handled doors of Red Robin. But there’s one thing I do know: this guy, with his smooth as Belvedere voice, was seriously preoccupied with time.
Stumblin’ In, Suzi Quatro
No one is cooler than Leather Tuscadero. This is exactly what makes this goofy song by Leather’s alter ego, Suzi Quatro, even more of a mystery.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered, Stevie Wonder
Before it was the official song of the United States Postal Service, this peppy tune kept all the Red Robin employees tweeting as they delivered breaded and fried taste treats to the masses.
Jessie, Joshua Kadison
Who the hell is Joshua Kadison? Apparently he’s a one-hit wonder who enjoyed some success in 1994 with this sappy as all get-out song of unrequited love. But I can still see those pictures Jessie painted…
Pets, Porno for Pyros
Every now and again, management would indulge our need to hear music that was actually produced in our lifetimes. That’s when we got to listen to the cool alternative station. This was the mid-’90s, so the selection was mostly grunge and super-charged pop. This minor hit from Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Ferrell’s side project was always one of my favorites…and one of the oddest choices for a family restaurant.
The Sign, Ace of Bass
I can’t even explain how bad this song used to drive me bonkers while standing at the Red Robin hostess stand. After listening to it just now, I’ve confirmed it still does.
1979, Smashing Pumpkins
This song brings back a lot of memories of college, both at the Robin and beyond. It’s also one of the few Smashing Pumpkins songs I can still stand to listen to. I’m not sure why exactly, but the Pumpkins just have not stood the test of time for me.
And now, for the ultimate Red Robin song…
Morning Train (Nine to Five), Sheena Easton
My love for this song, as well as the accompanying memories of ranch dressing and chick-a-dees and freckled lemonades and mud pies and oyster crackers in my apron pockets, knows no bounds. It is the ultimate in cheese, and Sheena Easton is the cheese ambassador. But to this day this song will turn my frown upside down, no matter how bad a day I’m having. It got me through many bad tips and mean customers and broken glasses and pitchers of iced tea spilled down the front of my uniform. Now that I think about it, I should really add it to my iPod. It’s magic.
To all my Red Robin co-workers, or to anyone who ever worked in a restaurant for that matter, what songs take you back to your food service days?