Home > Don't You Forget About Me(3)

Don't You Forget About Me(3)
Author: Mhairi McFarlane

In truth, I put a bit of flair into the performance for my own sake, not the customers’. I am not merely a waitress, I’m a spy from the world of words, gathering material. I watch myself from the outside.

The disgruntled middle manager-type man with a depressed-looking wife scans the laminated options at That’s Amore! The menu is decorated with clip art of the leaning tower of Pisa, a fork twirling earthworms, and a Pavarotti who looks like the Sasquatch having a stroke.

He booked as Mr Keith, which sounded funny to me although there’s an actress called Penelope Keith so it shouldn’t really.

‘Carrot and tomato? Oh no. No, I don’t think so.’

Me either.

‘What do you recommend?’

I hate this question. An invitation to perjury. Tony has told me: ‘Push spaghetti vongole on the specials, the clams aren’t looking too clever.’

What I recommend is the Turkish place, about five minutes away.

‘How about the arrabiata?’

‘Is that spicy? I don’t like heat.’

‘Slightly spicy but quite mild, really.’

‘What’s mild to you might not be mild to me, young lady!’

‘Why ask for my recommendations then?’ I mutter, under my breath.


I grit-simper. An important skill to master, the grit-simper. I bend down slightly, hands on knees, supplicant.

‘… Tell me what you like.’

‘I like risotto.’

Maybe you could just choose the risotto then, am I over thinking this?

‘… But it’s seafood,’ he grimaces. ‘Which seafood is it?’

It’s in Tupperware with SEA FOOD marker penned on it and looks like stuff you get as bait in angling shops.

‘A mixture. Clams … prawns … mussels …’

I take the order for carbonara with a sinking heart. This man has Strident Feedback written all over him and this place gives both the discerning and the undiscerning diner plenty to go at.

Here’s what some of TripAdvisor’s current top-rated comments say about That’s Amore!

This place redefines dismal. The garlic bread was like someone found a way to put bad breath on toast, though they’re right, it did complement the pâté perfectly, which tasted like it had been made from a seafront donkey. The house white is Satan’s sweat. I saw a chef who looked like a dead Bee Gee scratching his crown jewels when the door to the kitchen was ajar, so I left before they could inflict the main course on me. Sadly, I will never know if the Veal Scallopini would’ve turned it all around. But the waiter promised me everything was ‘locally sourced and free range’ so there’s probably a Missing Cat poster somewhere nearby if you follow my drift

Admittedly I was stoned out of my gourd on my first and last visit to this hell hole, but what the f**k is ‘Neepsend Prawn’? This city is not known for its coastline. I would have the Pollo alla Cacciatora at this restaurant as my Death Row meal, in the sense it would really take the sting out of what was to come

I told the owner of That’s Amore! that it was the worst Bolognese I’d ever tasted, like mince with ketchup. He said it was the way his Nonna made it in her special recipe, I said in that case his ‘Nonna’ couldn’t cook & he accused me of insulting his family! I’m not being funny but he looked about as Italian as Boris Becker

That’s Shit more like


‘When did you know you wanted to be a waitress?’ Callum, my only colleague front-of-house says, trying to swill an Orangina in a cowboy manner, re-screwing the cap with a sense of manly purpose.

He has a shadowy moustache, armpit sweat rings and his only hobby and/or interest is the gym, doing classes called things like Leg Death. I often fear he’s trying to flirt. I pitch my tone with him as very ‘older sister’ to discourage it.

‘Uhm … I wouldn’t say I wanted to do this. Or want to do this.’

‘Oh. Right. How old are you, again?’ Callum says.

Callum, being a not-that-sharp twenty-two-year-old, doesn’t realise when his thought processes are fully evident. He once mentioned to me that the step machine was great ‘even for people a stone, or a stone and a half over their ideal weight’.

‘Thirty,’ I say, as he double-takes.



‘No I mean you don’t look that old. You look, like … twenty-eight.’

Lately, I am feeling the fact that I used to be ‘of ages’ with people I worked with in the service industry, but increasingly I am a grande dame. The thought makes my stomach pucker like an old football. The future is a place I try not to think about.

When I took the job at That’s Amore! I was a month behind with my rent and told myself that it was retro, with dripping candles in Chianti bottles in wicker baskets, red-and-white-check wipe-down tablecloths, plastic grape vine across the bar, and Italian Classic Love Songs: Vol 1 on the stereo.

‘Why don’t you get a proper job?’ Mum said. I explained for the millionth time I am a writer in waiting who needs to earn money, and if I get a proper job then that’s it, proper job forever. Somewhere in the back of a wardrobe, I have my old sixth form yearbook. I was voted Most Likely To Go Far and Most Likely To Get A First. I have made it as far as the shittest trattoria in Sheffield, and I quit my degree after one term. But apart from that, spot on.

‘You’re going to be a very old waitress without a pension,’ Mum replied.

My sister, Esther, said supportively: ‘Thank God no one I know goes there.’

Joanna said: ‘Isn’t That’s Amore! the one that had the norovirus outbreak a year back?’

Having sampled the ‘rustic homely fare’, I’m not sure that norovirus wasn’t unfairly scapegoated.

Now, I could take a lump hammer to the looping CD. I want the moon to hit Dean Martin in the eye like Mike Tyson.

It turns out my role is less a waitress, more an apologist for gastronomic terrorism. I’m a mule, shuttling the criminal goods from kitchen to table and acting innocent when questioned.

They told me that a free lunch was a perk of my meagre wage, and I soon discovered that’s an up-side like getting a ride on an inflatable slide if your plane crashes.

What really sticks in the craw is that, due to a combination of confused pensioners, masochists, students attracted by the early bird ‘toofer’ deal, and out of towners, That’s Amore! turns a profit.

The owner, a really grouchy man known only as ‘Beaky’, claims Mediterranean heritage ‘on my mama’s side’ but looks and sounds totally Sheffield. He comes in every so often to swill the grappa and empty the till, and is happy to let it lurch onward with Tony as de facto boss.

Tony, a wiry chain smoker with a wispy mullet, is tolerable if you handle him right, meaning, accept his word is God, ignore the lechery and remind yourself it’s getting paid that matters.

Tonight isn’t too busy, and after bussing the mains to the lucky recipients, I sip a glass of water and check my frazzled reflection in the stainless steel of the Gaggia machine.

A call from across the room.

‘Excuse me? Excuse me …!’

I assemble my features into a neutral-interested expression as Mr Keith beckons me over, even though I know exactly what’s coming. He picks up his fork and drops it back down into the congealed, grout-coloured sludge of the carbonara.

‘This is inedible.’

‘I am sorry. What’s wrong with it?’

‘What’s right with it? It tastes like feet. It’s lukewarm.’

‘Would you like something else?’

‘Well, no. I chose carbonara as that was the dish I wanted to eat. I’d like this, please, but edible.’

I open and close my mouth as I don’t know what the fix for that is other than firing Tony, changing every supplier and razing That’s Amore! to the ground.

‘It’s obviously been sat around while you made my wife’s risotto.’

I’d make no such wild guesses, as the truth is bound to be worse.

‘Shall I get the kitchen to make you another?’

‘Yes, please,’ the man says, handing it up to me.

I explain the situation to Tony, who never seems to mind customers saying his cooking is rank. I wish he would take it personally, standards might improve.

He takes a catering bag of parmesan shavings out, flings some more on to the dish, stirs it around and puts it in the microwave for two minutes. It pings, and he pulls it out.

‘Count to fifty and give him this. The mouth will taste what the mind is told to,’ he taps his forehead. I can’t help think if it was that easy, That’s Amore! would have a Michelin star instead of a single star rating average on TripAdvisor.

Thing is, I’d argue with Tony he should whip up a replacement, but it’ll be just as bad as this one.

I sag with embarrassment. My life so far feels like one long exercise in blunting my nerve endings.

Having waited a short while to reinforce the illusion, I march the offending pasta through the swing doors.

‘Here you are, sir,’ I say, doing the Basil Fawlty-ish grit-simper again as I set it down, ‘I do apologise.’

The man stares at the plate and I’m very grateful for the distraction of an elderly couple in the doorway who need greeting and seating.

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