Tales from the Restaurant

Tales from the Restaurant
Where you'll find all the restaurant dirt you'll ever need.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The High-Horse Regular

In any restaurant, there are "Regulars." These are the people who come in semi-frequently, order the same thing, tip the same way, and who are either easy to take care of, or utterly impossible to deal with.

In the latter category, you have the basic type of person who wants to sit in the exact same seat every time, order the same thing with over six thousand guidelines for how to prepare it, and often won't tip generously, but assume that he or she is doing everyone a huge favor by coming back over and over again.

When something doesn't go right, they tend to become irate;

One of the bartenders I know had a great story for me about one of these crotchety old attention magnets. He sat down at his usual seat at the bar, and instantly began making demands;

Instead of conceding to the regular's demands, the bartender responded with care and concern for all of the bar's patrons. It went well.

As expected, the old fart didn't pay any mind to the offer the bartender made for another spot at the bar that had a television for his own personal viewing. He expected that he didn't have to move from his seat, and wanted the other people at the bar who were watching world cup soccer to lay down dead for him and his baseball game.

Now I agree that soccer is gratuitously boring. But I disagree wholeheartedly with anyone who comes into an establishment and demands that he get his way (no matter how unpopular) just because he's been there a few more times than the others. I will say one thing for soccer, though; it has the rowdiest fans in the world. I would have loved to have seen what would have happened if the bartender had changed the TV to the baseball game this guy demanded. The soccer guys probably would have kicked that prick's wrinkly old ass inside out.

Seemingly in an effort to convince the bartender that an extra ten minutes of equivocally boring baseball was worth an eternity of shouldering the identity of "complete fucking douche-bag," the regular demanded a pen and paper to begin mathematical calculations of his tips for the past year.

If he were trying to assert that he comes in enough to place a monetary value on his time there, it would mean that if the two soccer fans had tipped $201 dollars on their meal (not so unreasonable--people have left tips of this magnitude before), it would mean that they should now have a say over what everyone else at the bar watches.

If those two soccer fans were regulars themselves, the regular probably would not have had his way either because it would have devolved into a pissing battle between the opposing customers. There would be no civil way to determine who was more 'regular' than the other.

The only fair and sane way to determine who gets the TV is to simply allow those who arrived first to control what goes on. When they leave, someone else can request something to watch. Speaking of what to watch, the regular changed the channel after the soccer-viewers left just in time to find that there WAS NO BASEBALL GAME. It wasn't even on that evening.

Just goes to show you that just because you're a regular doesn't mean people there are forced to respect you, and it CERTAINLY doesn't mean that the people there LIKE you. Bear that in mind if you frequent a place you really enjoy going to.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Higher-Than-Thou Health Inspection

The pervasive cliche of the "Health Inspector" is a notion that scares restaurant managers into operating their kitchens as strictly as possible. It makes waiters, chefs, and other assorted employees do things like wear gloves when they touch silverware, not eat twizzlers while operating the deep fryer, and not serve chicken cutlets to guests that have since been accidentally dropped on the floor in excess of four times.

Some restaurants take this notion to the next level on their own volition, seemingly to make it seem like Jesus Christ sits down to dinner there every Sunday afternoon. These restaurants bring their own health inspectors, paid for by the company, just to come in and "make necessary health changes to the restaurant's operating procedure." Oops, that was a typo. What I meant to say was "fuck with everyone for absolutely no reason."

A health-inspector came in recently to one of the restaurants I work at. She wouldn't be worth her six-figure salary if she didn't come in and fuck with everyone and the fruits of their labors at completely fucking random.

They do this to reassure their mass market that they are completely perfect and would never put food in front of you that would put your health or well being at any risk.

Talking points;

-If you throw out hundreds of dollars worth of food that is one or two degrees warmer than specified temperature, the company is losing money. And wasting food. In a time when being green and non-wasteful is a selling point, potential customers will look down on you for committing such heinous acts of waste.

-By tearing apart a restaurant that you spend less than 1% of your time at, you are effectively tearing down and destroying the hard work that people who make 1/50th of your salary are spending their mornings and evenings doing. This creates unnecessary resentment, and could possibly endanger your life.

-Many of the issues that you are "circumventing" are trivial and uncontrollable, and should not be blamed on employees. They deal mostly with the poor functionality of equipment and appliances. Explained; if you fail restaurants and suspend employees for things like refrigerators not being cold enough, you are misdirecting blame and targeting the wrong issues to "resolve" the problems.
Try fixing the refrigerators and replacing the air conditioning in the sweltering kitchens instead of firing the line cooks.

-Instead of tying the management of the restaurant up in meetings to address problems during business hours, try remembering that there are people trying to have lunch who aren't getting their concerns addressed by the people who are paid to reassure them.

-Because the health inspector was yelling at various members of the kitchen staff, a 5-minute dish which was supposed to get to a table that was in a half-hour hurry took more than 40 minutes to arrive. Instead of having a quick lunch, they spent the better part of their lunch break thinking their waiter was an idiot and couldn't handle a simple task. And they left hungry.

If you don't work on the restaurant level, it isn't that hard to pay simple attention to the basic things that pay your salary every week. While breathing down the necks of people who are trying to provide a good evening to the everyman, you are ruining the experience(s) of the people who pay your overblown salary.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Classic Dine-and-Ditch

A lot of things I write about are severe annoyances to restaurant staff, but what happened to me recently really tests the limits of what most servers are trained to address with any amount of optimism.

I definitely had the worst day in the history of restaurant work on this particular day. Not only were there no English-speaking people around for me to take care of, they all conveniently used cash to pay for their checks. This means there was no possible way I could get any kind of a tip greater than two bucks and thirteen cents worth of "keep the change."

But then this gem of a human being came in to eat. Something wasn't quite right about him, but I don't think I could have decisively said what it was. He was an older bloke, not terribly perceptive, prone to conversational redundancy and verbal self-contradiction.

On second thought, I'm completely convinced he was retarded.

He asked for his bill, and I gave it to him pretty quickly. The convo happened like this;

Crazy guy; Hey, don't go anywhere sonny! I've got money for you I think.

Me; Ok. I'll wait right here.

Crazy guy; (Rifles through wallet for about two excruciatingly long minutes) ...Urmarm...I guess I don't have the money I was going to give you for the food. Oh wait, can you change this hundred dollar bill I just found?

Me; Sure can. Leaving now.

After I went and broke his hundred dollar bill, I considered my options. In any other circumstance, I would have take the cost of his food out of the change, but I thought in this particular instance that he wouldn't have quite understood what I did. Which actually could have potentially turned out in my favor, come to think of it.

Instead I did the opposite of what made sense, guided by my compassion and concern for this man's ever-weakening grasp on the world around him. I walked back with all $100 dollars of change and proceeded to count them out right in front of him. I finally concluded triumphantly with "...99, and one hundred! All there sir. I'll pick up the check in just a second."

I returned several seconds later to find that he had left three of the dollars on the table, but not any money toward the actual bill. I instantly got angry. Did he NOT see me give him back all of the change? Is he really that far gone? Why wasn't I not stupid and why didn't I just do what I would have normally done?

The worst part was, given the horrible 5-6% tipping on the other three tables I had, I now was indebted to the restaurant for this particular table. Coming into work yesterday for six hours actually COST ME MORE than if I had stayed in bed eating graham crackers and watching Maury issue paternity tests to deadbeat fathers.

In most restaurants, there is a specific policy for what happens when people ditch you on a check. In the last restaurant I worked in, the Chinese people in management made it clear that if someone leaves without paying, the waiter was charged with paying HALF of the bill out of that night's tips. If it happens again? The waiter pays the WHOLE bill. I didn't even want to imagine what the third offense was.

In a corporate chain, I imagine the rules are slightly different, but I suppose I'll find that answer out soon enough.