Tales from the Restaurant

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

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

An Italian Christmas Eve

Think of the Italians. What things immediately come to mind about these refined, culturally historic people?


Here are some things you may not have thought of:

-Fine dining
-Responsible pet ownership
-Hand washing

Confused? Let me give you an explanation.

I will likely always remember the first blizzard of 2010. In the week following Christmas, over two feet of snow fell, blocking the roads and doorways of the establishments I most frequent (my house and my job). Regardless, I still had to come in and work. More importantly, I’ll always remember the family of Italians who came in and ruined that ordinarily fabulous occasion.

After a relatively uninspired and uneventful shift, I was about ready to go home. Myself and two other people were the only ones left in the restaurant, and it was a mere 30 minutes until the doors were locked. It was almost closing time.

I remember coming back from the dish room clean-handed when I saw four people standing awkwardly at the entrance. There was an older, balder man (who looked confused), a younger man about my age (who looked confused), and two women about my age (who looked confused, and also alarmed). One of the women was carrying a small dog. The dog was wearing a sweater.

Also come to think of it, the dog didn’t look very happy.

A coworker of mine escorted them to a table, but he was weighed down by a few too many requests from both the kitchen and his final tables. So I approached the four and proceeded to ask them what beverages I could bring to the table to help warm them up.

I was confronted with the type of silence normally reserved for mourning the dead.

As a server, you can ascertain one of two things when you are greeted with deathly silence. Your guests are either deaf or foreign.

I decided to come back in five minutes. I also decided to keep it conversationally simple, mostly out of fear of strike two in “Deaf-or-Foreign Baseball.”

“Yes?” I said.

“4 lobster. And Perou!” (I later learned that this was some kind of European word for sparkling water).

Our interaction quickly became a pointing war, the menu being the main casualty. They each ordered lobsters, and from what I quickly gathered, had no idea how to order side dishes. Try as I might, I couldn’t convey the simplistic notion that with each lobster, two side dishes were included. So I picked for them--like it or not, they all got heaping piles of mashed potatoes. Welcome to America.

As the dog sat peacefully under the table, I wondered if he and I shared the same predicament. We both were well-behaved individuals, standing by as our masters spouted complete gibberish. We each contemplated our fate, and as I glanced at the dog’s big, round eyes, I found common ground--we both wished these idiots would just go home.

After dropping hot towels and physically demonstrating what their purpose was (digital hygiene), I gave the Italians their bill. Since English wasn’t a common denominator, there was no possible way that I could tell them that leaving $170 dollars on a $169 check was not in any way acceptable. There was no way that I could make them understand that I had had the power to kick them out for having a non-service animal inside the restaurant. There was no method of explaining the industry standard, and there was no hope for me to forcibly make them comprehend in this lifetime that entering a restaurant on Christmas Eve right before it closed and ordering a labor-intensive meal was an inconvenience deserving at very least the smallest gratuity for their kind host.

So I forgave them, and did what any normal person would do.

I immortalized them.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A lack of compassion during the holiday season

It was a waiter's worst nightmare; The quintessential shift where everything went wrong. It wasn't a dream this time.

My shift started with an influx of tables. A fifteen-top here, a six-top there, a seven here, and a two-top in the last table open.

Normally, it’s not a big issue to have a full section. When each of the people you’re taking care of have specific needs and requests that change the amount of time you can devote to the others, it rapidly becomes a big problem.

My table of seven told me they wanted to catch a show in town in an hour and a half. That wasn’t a major ordeal, because I hear that all the time. I took a beverage order. The older women at the table told me they enjoy Maker’s Mark bourbon. Being a bourbon guy myself, I joked rather ironically that “we were going to get along great!”

Little did I know.

Cue the first real problem.

With a full section and a whole list of other things I need to prioritize, it isn’t easy to divide a large party into three or four separate checks. It makes it even more difficult when each person wants to pay for specific things.

During my attempt at sorting out this mess, I had asked a manager to present a bottle of wine to another table that had sent the first bottle back. The reason for that?

Now, I agree that 2008 wasn’t humanity’s proudest year.

Normally, most average joes aren’t sophisticated enough to be able to find unpalatable differences between two neighboring vintages of the same wine. The difference between an actual wine expert and a complete pile of dicks is that the expert won’t send back two different bottles of wine when he sees that his server is swamped with requests on a packed Saturday night in a restaurant.

He ended up sending back the second bottle as well. The reason?

The reasons that is an unacceptable answer are as follows;
-On a busy Saturday, requests inevitably take longer.
- In this particular case, the gentleman wasn’t even finished eating his appetizer course. His wine had arrived right on the cusp of transition between his appetizer and his dinner.
- Sending back wine twice is the trademark of a complete twat waffle. Especially when the only reason is because it’s arrived 3-5 minutes later than you ordered it.

In the meantime, my two-top table had multiple allergies. I, by the regulations imposed on me by the company itself and punishable by firing, could not take or send in the table’s order without discussing the allergies with the management and the chefs. The guests themselves (A middle aged married couple) were overwhelmingly patient with me and the time I needed to make that whole process happen, but I was interrupted twice by women from the original table (the elderly folks with multiple checks and a massive time constraint) so that I could be rudely reminded that they were not only in a hurry, but needed to settle their towering pile of checks that second.

This jumped to the top of my priority list -- I immediately started accepting the multiplicity of payment forms that only ONE of the ladies wanted me to process. I felt like I was accepting a feudal dowry.

One of the other old ladies in the party had found my manager and proceeded to tell him that “everything had gone wrong.”

When he asked what specifically had gone wrong, the grouchy old crone just shook her head and exclaimed, “EVERYTHING. Just--everything.” Which, to me, meant ‘in all reality, not that much.’

If I had to inconvenience a server by having multiple checks, I would give him or her the peace of mind he deserves by having an even split, and processing one form of payment each. These disheveled old women were outrageously particular in what they wanted to pay for, and used a combination of cash, credit cards, gift cards, and paper gift certificates. I absolutely couldn’t deal with it, so I handed them all to the nearest manager. You correctly guessed that any tip I had any chance of getting was forced through the cracks underneath the weight of all of those convoluted forms of payment.

All of a sudden, the six top with the wine snob wanted to leave. Another waiter had gone by while I was settling payments and swiped the man’s credit card. Apparently, I had forgotten to remove ONE of the bottles of wine from his check.

He angrily spouted to me about how he didn’t end up getting that bottle of wine, and about how he wanted his credit card transaction voided and then have his card swiped for the correct amount. The cherry on top of this sundae of polite requests?

When things started slowing down, I was able to catch up. I was so gracious to have customers who were treating me not only cordially, but with undue compassion that I became way too friendly. My service became exceptional--waiting nearby with beverage refills, offering warming hand towels after every course, inquiring fully about all of the little details of everyone I was serving, et cetera. I made more money in the last leg of that evening than I made in any normal busy Saturday, and I blame it completely on the contrast of the evening’s events.

When Christmas approaches, you would expect that people would be more lenient, show patience, mercy, and all kinds of positive emotions as they prepare themselves for the very holidays founded on the principles of the finest human graces. People eat with family members they haven’t seen in a while, they have time off of work, and they give gifts and take care of each other. Alternatively, do people tend to have shorter fuses when that holiday sanctity is even modestly threatened, even with a less-than-perfect dinner?

I’d like to know what you think.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Paying the Bill; A Duel of Honor

There are very few situations in the daily fray of serving tables that put you uncomfortably on the spot through no fault of your own. People usually don't go off on you if you've done nothing wrong, but very occasionally they do. Sometimes, all it takes for you to be put on the spot is something simple like dropping the check.

From here, there are a couple ways it can go down.

You don't even have a chance to let go of the check before the tug of war begins.

This situation is a bit awkward because people will try to steal the check from you before you put it on the table. If multiple people go for it at once, you could be in the middle of a violent scuffle. When one person tries to put his or her card in the book and give it to you, it's usually a combination of them smacking you with it and fending off the grabbing hands trying to supplant the card in the book with their own.

After getting the wind knocked out of you by a checkbook, you also get displeased grimaces and slow, patronizing head shakes from the others at the table who wanted to pay.

It could also go down like this;

If you get approached, someone (usually a foreigner) will discreetly hand you a card so that nobody else gets a chance to pay.

The problem is that when you go back to announce that someone else has already paid, you get the death stare from everyone else at the table.

The check drop can also be a bit perilous because of the pending hazard of samurai-like dueling between the restaurant patrons.

When people start fighting over a check amongst themselves, I find that it's best to back away slowly and without saying a word. They'll sort it out eventually, and hopefully you won't have to witness an actual decapitation before you go to process the payment.

The best part is, I do this when I go out to eat too. I have no idea why.

One of the things that stands to reason when people fight over the check is that they are typically generous. Since they have no reservations about paying for the dinner that their families and friends just had, they probably won't mind giving you a generous tip for all your hard work.

That's a myth--I've had people fight tooth and nail over paying the bill, but then left me maybe 5%-10% maybe about a third of the time. It simply doesn't make any sense.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Rules of Booze

In the service business, there are guidelines. Not only are there rules you have to follow within the restaurant organization, but there are often laws which dictate how you are to do your job that are regulated by some level of government. Exactly how you have to navigate these rules varies when you’re confronted with restaurant guests who are not only ignorant, but irate becomes tricky.

First exhibit; An unruly old bag.

The woman of about sixty approached the bar from one of the tables in the restaurant, and in what was later determined to be her most polite tone of voice, demanded four glasses of champagne for her table. The problem? Everyone at her table had just received beverages, and they hadn’t been touched. The state law where this restaurant is located strictly prohibits having more than one alcoholic beverage at a time on the table.

Her response?

Of course she hasn’t heard of that law. So by no means is she obligated to follow it.

The woman kept crooning over and over to the bartender about how someone at the table recently got engaged, and that it was absolutely ridiculous that she couldn’t have the champagne. The reason she left the table and went up to the bar was because her server told her the same thing the bartender had just finished telling her. Instead of embracing this new knowledge (that was reaffirmed by two separate people nonetheless), she continued being irate.

If you've "never heard of a law," it doesn't make you exempt from obeying it. Just because you're celebrating, it doesn't give you a free pass to demand that a server risk his or her job to placate you. If an officer stops you in your car for running a stop sign, it wouldn't quite pan out in the field to say that you've "never heard of any law" that says you have to stop at a stop sign. You'd get a ticket.

The bartender walked away and proceeded to take care of his other patrons, because those were the ones who were paying him, and as an added bonus, not ridiculing him.

She shouted for him again.

So the bartender did what any level-headed server would do. He approached her again and greeted her as if they had never spoken.

Eventually, after complaining loudly and apparently ruining someone's engagement party, she returned to her table. The cranky bitch was approached by a manager, which is the next step in the issue-resolving process. Instead of four glasses, the manager suggested that he could bring over a bottle when they were finished with their current beverages (running the total number of people reaffirming the existence of this law to 3).

Her response?

....my God.

"Just give us the fucking champagne."

The fact that this woman sunk so low as to not only demand her needs be met, but to order someone to violate a state law, and then swear at someone who was trying to help her makes her in a class of her own. The type of evil bitch this person is deserves to be locked away in the deepest pit of special Hell to be tormented for all eternity. On a celebratory occasion like an engagement, you ruin everything when you get carried away forgetting that you are not the center of the celebration.

The rules and guidelines of the restaurant business as well as of the state and country leave you few options for dealing with scum like this. You simply have to placate them as they continue to scream, cry, and throw fits like infants until they get their way. Any retributive action on your part, such as telling her to "shut her pie hole," flipping over her table, or using violence to teach her a lesson would get you arrested, or more likely, even fired.

There must be something we can do. For those reading this? Don't be that lady.