No Waiter is an Island
Hi Guys. Sorry for the lack of posts. I’ve been sick and it’s the Holidays. Between work and shopping I’ve had no time to write. Here’s a story I was working on last week. In retrospect, with the MTA strike, the title is prophetic………………….
I have a problem with table 3,” Beth says.
“What’s the matter?” I reply, glancing at the two top. It’s an older couple on a blind date.
“Didn’t you hear the guy yelling?” Beth asks.
“The guy was screaming at me!”
“I must’ve been in the bathroom,” I reply. I knew I should have stayed there.
“Guy’s a douchebag,” Beth says, trembling with rage.
“Tell me what’s going on.”
Beth explains what went down. It’s a long story – but the end result was the lady got the wrong food.
“Ok, it happens,” I say. “We’ll get them the right dish.”
“You don’t understand,” Beth pouts. “He scolded me like I was a nine year old girl.”
“He’s on a blind date,” I reply. “Probably wants the evening to run smoothly.”
“The man said this isn’t a good restaurant!”
“Ok, let’s work the problem,” I say. “Did the lady order something else?”
“She ordered the rack of lamb.”
“Poppy!” I say turning to the sous chef, “I need a rack of lamb on the fly, Table 3!”
“No shit carbon,” Ernesto says, shrugging.
“Can you go talk to them?” Beth asks.
I take a deep breath. This is what I get paid for.
Slipping into apologetically subservient mode I walk over to the aggrieved table.
“Good evening,” I say. The couple looks at me like I’ve crawled out from under a rock.
“Good evening,” the man replies.
“I’m sorry about the mix-up,” I say. “Your entrees will be out shortly.”
The man stares at me, face flushed beneath his Miami Beach tan, he wants to yell at me too.
I politely look him straight in the eye. The man thinks the better of it and smiles.
“This restaurant has a great reputation,” Miami Beach says, “but somehow I knew you guys wouldn’t live up to it.”
Ah, passive aggressiveness. I love it.
“Well,” I say, “When you eat your entrees I’m sure our reputation will be restored.”
The man blinks. “We’ll see,” he says.
The bell rings. Beth brings them their food. After a few minutes I go over to the table.
“How is everything?” I ask.
“Good,” the man says between mouthfuls.
“Excellent,” I say, “Enjoy your dinner.”
I go back to the kitchen where Beth and Louis are drinking coffee.
“Everything all right?” Beth asks.
“I think the worst is over,” I say pouring myself a cup.
“That guy is such an asshole,” Louis says.
“So I’ve heard.”
“He said we weren’t a fine restaurant,” Beth repeats.
“And yelling at the waitress is how you act in a ‘fine restaurant?’” Louis snorts. “Please.”
Suddenly Miami Beach walks into the kitchen like he owns the place.
“Hey,” he yells, “Turn down the damn music. My date can’t hear herself think.”
“Right away sir,” I say.
The man walks out of the kitchen. Louis is livid.
“What a dick!” he says.
“I know, I know,” I say, shaking my head.
I walk over to the stereo and turn it down. When I return to the kitchen Beth and Louis still look pissed. I think back to when I was a Padawan waiter at Amici’s in the Jersey Burbs……………
An older couple comes in for dinner. They tell me their daughter’s going to join them at nine o’clock. They order a bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese in advance.
“Make sure it’s ready when she comes in,” her father, a fat bearded man with an overarching air of self importance, says.
The daughter shows up at 9:15. Her parents are already eating. I tell the kitchen to fire the pasta. While I’m waiting I go over to the table and ask the lady if she wants a drink.
“Where’s her dinner?” her father barks.
I told you to have her dinner ready the moment she came in,” he says accusingly.
“I’m sorry sir,” I reply. “Your daughter came a little late so I had the kitchen hold it until she got here.”
“I WANT HER PASTA RIGHT NOW!” the man yells.
“Sir,” I say calmly, “It’ll be ready in two minutes.”
“Do you speak English?” the man asks.
A hot flush of anger creeps onto my face.
“What part of my instructions did you not understand?” the man says.
“Don’t worry sir – pasta takes no time to cook.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about. I wanted her dish the moment she came in.”
“You’re obviously an idiot,” the man grunts.
I was recently fired from my corporate job. A few weeks ago I was the one sitting at the table ordering wine off the company expense account. Now I’m the waiter.
The adjustment has been……difficult.
“Would you say that to me if I was just some guy on the street?” I snap.
“What?” the man says, recoiling in shock.
“I said – if you and I met on the street would you talk to me that way?”
“Now wait a …….”
“Well, would you sir?” I ask pleasantly. When I’m really mad I get all Hannibal Lector.
“I’m a customer!” the man yelps. His wife puts a cautionary hand on his shoulder.
“I thought not,” I reply. Our eyes lock. You pussy.
At that moment the food runner brings out the girl’s pasta.
“Here’s your dinner Miss,” I say. “Now, may I get you something to drink?”
“No thanks,” the girl says, terrified. The waiter has gone loco.
“I want to speak to a manager this instant,” the man screeches.
“But of course you do,” I say sarcastically. “I’ll go get him.”
Jim, the assistant manager and a really nice guy, is on duty that night. I tell him what happened. He goes over to the table and calms them down. When he’s finished he and I have a little conversation.
“Did you ask that man to step outside?” Jim asks.
“I asked him if would treat me like that if I was just a guy on the street.”
“Of course he wouldn’t,” Jim says. “He’s a bully.”
“But,” Jim says, “You were stupid to get into it with him.”
“He was being verbally abusive.”
“That guy’s an asshole,” Jim agrees, “But you just made my night harder.”
“Sorry Jim,” I mumble.
“The next time you want to get into it with a customer,” Jim counsels, “Remember this advice – in a few hours the customer will be gone, but the restaurant will still be here.”
“Thanks Jim,” I say. In retrospect I’d should have been shitcanned right there……………
Now, seven years later, with two pissed off waiters in front of me, I recycle Jim’s advice.
“Yeah, the guy’s an asshole. But he’ll be gone in a few hours. And the restaurant will still be here.”
Beth lets out a deep breath. “I guess you’re right.”
I know I’m right. I’m no longer a Padawan. I’m a fucking Jedi Master.
“Just let it go,” I say beatifically.
The night wears on. I give Miami Beach a free dessert. When he leaves he’s happy.
I walk over to the table and open the checkbook. The guy left 20%.
“Ah,” I say, waving the check in front of Beth, “You can catch more flies with honey….”
“He’s still an asshole,” Beth snaps, grabbing the receipt. I let out a small chuckle.
Now, those of you who’ve read my entire blog are thinking I’m a complete and utter hypocrite. You’re right of course. I’ve flipped out on customers. I don’t always practice what I preach. But I learned something in the seminary. When you’re in the pulpit you’re not just preaching to the congregation – you’re preaching to yourself. The day will come when I want to explode on a customer. And on that day I hope Beth and Louis remind me of my own advice.
Dealing with the public can be exasperating. Waiters are only human. At my Bistro I encourage the use of the buddy system. If you’re having a bad day and a customer is getting on your last nerve, have a calmer co-worker deal with them. Sometimes you need to acknowledge you can’t handle it. Louis is my safety person and I’m his. It’s how I stay sane. No waiter is an island onto himself.
And the restaurant will still be here tomorrow.