The phone rings.
“The Bistro,” I answer, “How may I help you?”
“Hello. I’d like to order something to go,” a woman says. She’s speaking with one of those impossible to place European accents.
“What would you like to order Madam?”
“Is your online menu up to date?” the woman asks.
“It is Madam.”
The lady rattles off an order totaling a $100. Unbelievable. A hundred bucks for takeout. Next thing you know we’ll be installing a drive thru window and selling polenta fries.
“Very good Madam,” I reply, “Your order will be ready in half an hour.”
“There’ll be no charge for my order,” the woman says.
“Excuse me Madam?”
“Last year we were visiting from Florida and you screwed up our takeout order,” the woman says.
“I’m sorry to hear that Madam.”
“And your boss told us that when we came back we could order something on the house.”
“Did he really?”
“Well madam I’ll have to confirm this with the owner first.”
“I assure you I am telling the truth,” the woman says. Her diction is overly precise. Like she’s trying to come off as someone she isn’t. I’ve heard self educated guys out of prison talk like that.
“I don’t doubt that Madam but I have to double check. What’s your name?”
“May I have your last name?”
“We don’t give out our last name.” Ah, the royal “we.”
“Ok…..” I say. “Can I have your phone number then?”
“We don’t give out our phone number.”
I glance at the caller id. This woman’s number’s unlisted. But I suspected as much.
“Listen,” I say, “I was born the day before yesterday.”
“Excuse me?” the woman says.
“I won’t put this order in until I confirm your story with the owner.”
“Are you calling me a liar?”
“Well, your refusal to give me a phone number is very suspicious.”
“My husband is coming to pick up the order right now. He’ll be upset if it’s not ready.”
“Lady,” I groan, “Gimme a break.”
“Call the owner!” the woman yells, “I’ll call you back in five minutes.”
She hangs up.
I call Fluvio. The woman’s story is complete bullshit. She never calls back. But why would she? I wasn’t an easy mark.
If you work in the restaurant industry long enough you’ll run into these characters, con artists, grifters, lazy, shiftless, pathological morons who love to steal. Overly romanticized in literature and film, to me they’re nothing more than common criminals, the bane of every waiter in the world.
Because if someone skips on the check guess who has to pay the bill? The waiter does. Oh, I know it’s unfair – but that’s the way it is. Every waiter has been burned at least once. You never know who it’s gonna be. Sometimes it’s a kid, a family of four, or a sweet old lady. Sometimes the grifter’s a Yuppie in a three piece suit.
A few weeks ago a guy came in for a business dinner. Well dressed, elegant, flashing a fancy business card, he had four guests and paid by check. Normally we don’t accept checks. But Fluvio copied the guy’s license and got a credit card number.
Guess what? The guy’s check bounced. The driver’s license and credit cards were bogus and the business address on the check was non existent.
Well. Fluvio isn’t stupid. But the con man was. Turns out one of the guests at the business dinner’s sister was a regular customer. Fluvio tracked the jerk down and forced him to pay DOUBLE the bill or risk arrest. A little reverse extortion. It was beautiful.
Another time, when I worked at Amici’s, a sweet old lady refused to pay her bill.
“Why won’t you pay?” Sayeed, the manager, demanded.
“The food wasn’t good.” Old Lady said.
“But you ate the whole thing!”
“I’m leaving,” the woman said primly, getting up to leave.
“Lady,” Sayeed said “I’m gonna call the cops.”
“You do that!” the lady yelled, “And we’ll see who they believe!”
Grifter rule #1 – make a scene and hope the manager decides you’re not worth the ruckus. But the lady underestimated Sayeed. He hated white people. He called the cops. And they believed him.
As the lady was being cuffed and thrown into the patrol car Sayeed cheerfully waved saying, “Have a nice day Madam!”
“That was fun,” I said watching from the sidelines.
“You know,” Sayeed said, ‘These assholes all know each other. Once the word gets out that your restaurant’s an easy mark – you’re finished.”
And he was right. Ever since then I’ve been vigilant.
Come to my Bistro. You’ll have an excellent meal and great service. But if you try and rip me off you won’t end up doing dishes – you’ll go to jail.
You’ve been warned.
Have a nice day.