Tales from the Restaurant

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

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Restaurant Gemini

A restaurant is a business where you are required to market your personality. Although this is true in many jobs, one distinguishable trait about restaurant employees is that the personality they market to strangers drives them to become the opposite of the person they portray.

I’ll clarify.

A slick businessman might find that his success in his job is credited to the same traits that make him cunning and shrewd in his personal life.

A waiter who goes into restaurant work with a shining and upbeat personality may find himself trying to escape that personality in his off-time by being miserable and emotionally taxing around others.

It can also go another way.

I remember last summer, a group of my coworkers and I were having a particularly bad evening. There had been large parties right after big functions, there were lots of mistakes made, high-strung management figures had been laying down the discipline, and in general, nobody was in a very good mood. The whole lot of us (totaling about fifteen people) had just been asked to leave our favorite after work watering hole for a combination of reasons, and we proceeded to drunkenly stand outside of the bar, continuing to gripe and smoke cigarettes like a discombobulated group representing every role ever played by Clint Eastwood.

Before long, some Irish girls randomly walked by and asked us for directions to a bar that was nowhere near that location.

Because I was drunk and hazy, the above picture is the only memory I have of what the Irish girls looked like. They probably were not walking stereotypes as I portrayed them, but I do remember them telling me they were from Dublin. I do not remember them singing loudly or talking about Guinness, but I think I might have made an inappropriate IRA joke. My friends and I decided to direct them to a form of transit where they could get home (or wherever they were staying), but we were very drunk. And I don’t think we helped them very much.

Suddenly, a gang of punks walked by us to interrupt our being “helpful.” They started being more “helpful” by flirting with the Irish girls better then we were. Since we were all still kind of angry and their “help” was being better received, we became irate.

We squared off with the group of kids who were raining on our international flirting parade. They had tight clothes, jean jackets, and weinery haircuts. We liked our odds.

Needless to say, being outside of the restaurant after it robbed us of our patience, personality, and clemency, we weren’t an agreeable bunch of fellows. Our Nepalese food runner ended up swinging a chair around like a battle axe, one of the crazy female waitresses shoved one of the people over a poorly-placed flowerpot, and our Northern Californian hyphy-gangster bartender damn near dropped someone with a head butt.

At some point, the Irish girls left in terror, never to be seen again. The staff of the bar came out to tell us that the police were on their way. We took off, and so did they. Strangely enough, a few of the opponents were parked right in front of where we were parked. We approached our car, and they stood ready.

Instead of a fight (which we fully expected in rebuttal), we squared off again while my buddy reached into his pocket. He pulled out his keys and unlocked his car. As soon as it happened, both parties entered their vehicles and left. It was incredibly anti-climatic.

We left. I guess both parties just needed to blow off some steam. After all, we were all probably working doubles tomorrow at different restaurants.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Happy Medium

I was reminded of something as business in the restaurant wound down late last night. I was waiting at the front, thanking restaurant guests as they left. One woman in particular left and then re-entered about ten seconds later. She looked to be in her mid fifties, had grayish hair, and probably wore a fanny-pack. Or didn't, I don't know. Even if she didn't actually have one, something definitely made her seem odd. She stared at me for a few excruciating seconds.

After a prolonged stare, I decided to re-break the silence.

Me; "Coming back for a second dinner?"

Her; "No....there's someone smoking right outside and I don't want to walk by him."

In situations like this, I realized that sarcasm is not only a necessary way to cope with odd people who go out to eat, but a fantastic security blanket. I let the conversation progress naturally.

Instead of offering her a sensible solution, I decided to push against the boundaries of her ridiculous needs with equal and opposable force.

I knew there was something off about this woman. She even continued having a conversation with me about how to solve the cigarette-smoking problem after I proposed that she instead take a fire elevator that smelled like fish instead of just walking out the front door. Then I remembered that I had waited on her before...

Granted she probably didn't react as drastically as I portrayed her in the dramatic recreation posted a half-inch upward, she definitely freaked out about having to touch receipt paper.

Me; "Now if you'll just sign your credit card receipt, we'll be all--"

Her; (Disgusted look) "I'm not touching that."

Me; "Why not?"

Her; (Throwing her hands in the air) "Haven't you heard the news? There's a chemical in receipt paper called CHT that gives you cancer!"

Me; (Audience participation--choose your favorite line)

A - "I don't watch "Hippie News."

B - "In that case, I probably have 8 cases of cancer in my index finger alone."

C - "Then why did you use a credit card? Or is that same chemical even more abundant on American currency?"

(Please post your vote in the comments)

The truth is, I don't remember what I said to her on that particular occasion. All I know is that on both occasions, I employed subtle sarcasm to help keep me from rolling my eyes and saying something that would inevitably get me fired. With most people older than 40 who have little else to worry about than hypochondriac cancer, your best bet is to feign some kind of concern while subtly implying that they are overwhelmingly easy to make fun of.

When you go out to eat, you'll do well to notice if your server is making fun of you. If you have a request that is extremely particular but are mildly afraid to ask it, see how your server reacts. If he or she reacts with an extremely acute attitude of concern but offers grandiose solutions, you're probably being made fun of but don't realize it. Joke's on you.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Importance of Saving Bacon

You’ve probably been to a restaurant at some point in your life. If you haven’t, then one item on this list is true about you;

A) You’re a liar
B) You’re bedridden
C) You have no knowledge of the order/eat/pay/leave process
D) You’re indefinitely imprisoned against your will

I had the pleasure of waiting on a fellow a few weeks ago who I felt embraced the letter ‘C‘ on the above list. He was a gentleman in his late fifties who came in with his eight-year-old son.

Everything was going normally. The older gentleman asked me to add some crushed bacon onto his salad, so I obliged him. I pressed the button on the terminal for ‘bacon,’ and thought nothing of it until I handed him his check. He summoned me over.

Him; “I didn’t know the bacon was going to be three extra dollars.”

I had never rung it up before, so I responded somewhat innocuously.

Me; “I didn’t either."

Nobody had ever asked me for it.

Thinking that would be the end of it, I started walking away. He held out a hand to stop me, and motioned for me to take the check presenter back. His next question floored me.

Not only had I never before rung up a side of bacon, I’d also never been stunned silent by a diner’s request. Have you ever gone to a restaurant and said to your server,

“I don’t want to pay that much. Can you make my dinner cost less money?”

I’m guessing that if you’ve ever gone out to eat for dinner, you’ve never actually tried to negotiate the final cost with your server. If you have, I’d like to know if it worked.

So I began to rationalize it like this;

If I got his bacon removed from the bill, he might use the extra couple of bucks for tipping me.

If I didn’t remove it from the bill, he might write an angry letter to my boss and get me reprimanded. He might even become irate and use swearing.

Given the infinitesimal amount of money in question, it wasn’t really worth NOT trying. I compromised with nobody in particular and asked my manager to REDUCE the price of the premium-top-notch bacon.

My boss didn’t really care.

Boss; “Maybe he’ll think a dollar is more manageable.”

In most restaurants (including fast food joints), adding bacon costs extra. In a nicer restaurant, it's probably more likely that you'll pay as much for two slices of bacon as a gallon of regular unleaded. At its cheapest, you'd probably pay just as much for a losing lottery ticket. You're essentially choosing what you feel more comfortable gambling with; small bills or a mild heart attack.

So I brought the check to him amended. I let him know that the prices of bacon were now “apparently negotiable” and that I hoped that his check was now “more reasonable.” I gave him a smile and a wink.

Apparently satisfied that he saved two dollars, he paid and left.