It’s a slow lunch shift. I’m busy at the front window comparing the hemlines of various female pedestrians when the phone interrupts my studies.
“Good afternoon The Bistro,” I say, filtering the annoyance out of my voice, “how may I help you?”
“I want to speak to a manager,” a gruff voice demands.
Uh oh. This can’t be good. I take a deep preparatory breath.
“I’m the manager,” I reply, “How can I be of service?”
“I was in last week and I was highly dissatisfied with my experience,” the man says.
“In what way sir?” I ask.
“I was grossly overcharged for my salad and you had the audacity to charge me a dollar to split it in the kitchen.”
“It’s our policy to charge for splits…..” I start to explain.
“Well its bad business and the waiter I complained to demonstrated poor customer service skills and a low mentality,” the man continues.
Ah now I remember. It’s Red, the guy from last week. I’m surprised it took him this long to call.
“Well, I was the waiter you talked to,” I say evenly.
“Yep, I’m the guy with the low mentality.”
I let Red chew on that for a few seconds. After a long pause he says, “Lemme speak to the owner.”
“Please hold,” I chirp – banishing Red to Muzak hell.
Fluvio’s in the back reading his Italian newspaper. I wave him over.
“It’s that asshole from last week still bitching about his salad,” I say. Fluvio already knows the whole story.
“Let me speak to the son of a bitch. I’ll tell him what he can do with his salad,” Fluvio grunts grasping for the phone.
Now Fluvio’s a big boy. You can criticize his food, bitch about your table, complain about the AC – he’ll be polite and professional. But tell him he has bad business sense and he’ll flip the fuck out.
“No,” I say pulling the phone away from him,” you’ll just curse at him. Let me talk to him.”
“It’s my restaurant!” Fluvio fumes.
“And you have to be the nice friendly owner. I’m just the waiter. I can afford to be a prick. You can’t,” I explain.
Fluvio decides that makes sense. “Ok, you take care of it.”
I take Red off hold. “Hello sir? Are you still there?”
“Is this the owner?” Red asks.
“I’m sooo sorry but the owner is indisposed at the moment,” I say, trying not to laugh as Fluvio wags his middle finger at the receiver.
“Well I’ll call back.”
“Actually I speak for the owner in this matter so we can resolve it now.”
“The resolution I want is to get my money back,” Red says.
“The owner won’t do that,” I reply.
“Because you ate the salad knowing the price. Your buyer’s remorse is not the owner’s problem.”
“But…..” Red sputters.
The reason the salad’s so expensive,” I say talking over Red, “is because we use premium ingredients in our food. That’s why it’s so good. And because the food’s good that’s why we’re so popular.”
“Yeah but $11.95….? Red whines.
“I mean we could use cheaper stuff but then the quality would suffer and we would lose customers. And that sir is bad business.”
“But in my case…….” Red puffs.
“This is a business,” I declare, “And we are entitled to make a profit.”
“But not an excessive one,” Red corrects.
“Our profit’s not as high as you think.” I drone on, “It’s an age old struggle. How do you attract and keep customers with excellent food at a price they will pay and still make a living?”
“Sir, if you’re uncomfortable with our pricing structure I can recommend some excellent low cost alternatives,” I say rattling off the names of a Chinese buffet, two coffee shops, and a diner. Mentioning the Wendy’s drive through window is probably overkill.
“That’s not what I want to hear,” Red sputters. Feel the rage pal.
“I’m sorry but I have a call on the other line,” I lie, “I have to go.”
“Wait!” Red yelps, “And your computer overcharged me a nickel!
“I added up your bill. The computer was correct,” I reply dryly.
“I can’t understand how….”
“Thank you for calling the Bistro. Have a nice day.”
“Now wait…..” Red sputters in disbelief.
“I said GOOD DAY SIR.”
Man, I sounded like Phil Hartman just then.
I look at Fluvio. He looks at me.
“I hope you’re never my waiter,” he says smiling.
“And vice versa,” I reply.
Red never called back. Good. Customers like him are the bane of restaurant owners everywhere. Most people have no idea how thin the profit margins are for an independently owned restaurant. We don’t need this kind of shit.
Goodbye Red you nickel and diming bastard.
And good riddance.