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Published: Saturday, 7/19/2008

Customers are key for longtime waitresses

New technology for the food service industry invites restaurant customers to e-mail their orders via a computer screen at their table. The program, designed to lower costs and to attract a young, computer-savvy clientele, is being tested in the United States, Europe, and Japan.

Will it fly?

Those of us who enjoy one-on-one contact with another human being who can tell us if the fish is fresh that day, or which dessert is the best, and are willing to tip accordingly, hope not.

Two Toledo women who together have 90 years of service waiting on restaurant customers agree.

Elaine Nicolaidis and Peggy Spychalski will tell anyone the standard, time-honored service procedure is the only way.

Waiting on both pleasant and disgruntled people in Toledo restaurants, serving them appetizers through dessert, is a great lifestyle, Miss Nicolaidis and Ms. Spychalski attest.

Many of the Toledo restaurants where they began and continued their careers are long gone from the local scene, but they remain vivid in their memories.

For example, Miss Nicolaidis recalls that she was 17 and it was a Saturday night, Oct. 15, 1966, when she spent her first evening waiting on tables. That whetted her appetite for a long run in the restaurant business. You don t get rich, but you make a good living, she said of her 42 years in the business. It s been a good run.

She fondly recalls working for Bobby and Lena Jacobs at Gigi s on Monroe Street. It was located where the Beirut is now; she remembers that porterhouse steaks were $4.95.

She worked at Hot Dog John s at Dorr and Smead Streets until 1970, when her brother, Gus Nicolaidis, returned from acting school in California and opened the Oaken Bucket on Reynolds Road. She reminds that it had been Andy Reynolds Country Inn and that it was named the Oaken Bucket by the late George Mancy.

When the Bucket was closed in 2005, Miss Nicolaidis was the one who locked the door. With a tear in my eye, she said. Everything comes to an end. Mr. Nicolaidis is a partner at the new LaScola restaurant.

Miss Nicolaidis was working as a waitress at Mac and Tong s until May, when she went to Dallas to care for another brother, Nick Nicolaidis, and assist in his return to Toledo. Nick is remembered as the owner of the former Nick s Hungry Eye.

Ms. Spychalski s resume is an even longer review of the local restaurant scene. Her first job as a waitress was in 1961 at Fred Skaff s Roundtable in downtown Toledo, and the late Carl Mazzurco taught her how to tend bar. Now her followers can find her at Smedlap s Smithy in Waterville, where she has been four years. She worked 22 of her 48 years in the restaurant business at the Bungalow, 17 at the Charcoal House, 5 at the Top Floor, and some time at the Mango Tree.

Ms. Spychalski doesn t deny she has a few pet peeves, but overall she never considered any other type of work.

Miss Nicolaidis likens the restaurant business to show business, which coincides with her longtime theatrical desire. There is always action. It never gets stale and you meet people from all walks of life. It s just fun being around fun people.

I have always been an actress and should have left the restaurants for glitz and glamour. When I wait on people it s like show business. I like to entertain my customers, the animated waitress said.

Most of her customers over the years have been gracious, she said, and the regular ones have remembered her with sweets and souvenirs. She takes pride in thinking of everyone as being equal and never to judge a book by its cover. That goes for those who snap their fingers when they are in a hurry and want their food rushed.

All of the years spent in restaurants on a daily basis hasn t deterred Ms. Spychalski and her husband, Don, from going out to eat. I was delighted to see the old fireplace was still there when we went to LaScola, she said, referring to the original Bungalow building on Airport Highway where she worked.

You have to enjoy what you are doing, Ms. Spychalski said of her longtime career. People are the main thing.

It doesn t bother her to write separate checks or to have to recite the specials and all the salad dressing choices to each person at a table of six because the other five probably didn t listen, but she says cell phones are driving me crazy.

When a phone rings when I am taking an order the customer holds up their hand for me to stop. I just leave and go back when they are ready.

She also can be irritated when customers say everything is fine when she asks them how their meal is, but on the way out they complain at the front desk.

Two compliments may please this veteran waitress even more than a generous tip.

Her name is often requested on reservations, and when she waits on someone who says, You re Peggy, aren t you? You waited on my mom and dad, that makes her evening.



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