Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Waiter Worries

Seventeen years ago, when my wife got pregnant, I took on a part time job as a waiter. The owner hired me even though I had zero experience as a waiter or even in a kitchen. That is if you discount the ninety days in the U.S. Navy when I worked in vegetable preparation and assisted with the “Jack of the Dust”.
            But, she hired me and I went straight to work. I had a trainer for my first two shifts and then I was cut lose on my own to take orders and bring food to tables. Basically, I became a delivery boy for good food at a good price. To be truthful, the food is great and the price is more than reasonable.
            It didn’t take me long before I started recognizing the regular customers and building a regular customer base myself. Also; it didn’t take me long to discover the unspoken fact of waiting tables… All waiters know who tips well and who doesn’t. We all struggle to give the same quality service to the known shitty tippers as we do the good tippers.
            Where does all this information come into play… standby.
            It was maybe three or four years ago when a teacher from a local university located across the river from where I live and wait tables, let’s call her Bessie, came into the restaurant and I had the pleasure of waiting on her. I gave her the best service I could, made sure she had plenty of sweet tea, her drink of choice, and that her food was served hot and the way she wanted. Her check wasn’t large, but she left no tip. I didn’t think much of it. I’d been stiffed before and I’m sure I’d be stiffed again. It’s not uncommon for this sort of thing to happen but as a waiter, you quickly become immune to that sort of behavior. It is something you learn to not take personal.
            Besides, if you take that sort of behavior personally or if your skin doesn’t thicken up, then you are doomed to spend many hours on some therapists couch questioning yourself and how others view you. To be truthful, after Bessie left, I hoped she’d never come back. If she didn’t like her food, which a waiter has no control over, or if she thought I didn’t give her good service, then why would she come back? Good question, I know.
            However, two weeks later, she darkened our doorstep again and I waited on her again, and, I got stiffed again. To be honest, when I was waiting on her, I thought, fuck it, I’m not going to give her good service. But that sort of behavior is not in me. I can’t hold a grudge. I wish I could but I can’t.
            When she left, I once again hoped she would never come back.
            But she did.
            Only this time, she brought a woman who I assumed was her daughter, a woman I’ll call, Tameka.
            Tameka had a baby boy with her. Both women ate, the baby made a mess of some crackers on and off the table. They also made a huge mess with their appetizer, ordered extra napkins, ordered extra sauces, extra napkins, extra silverware, extra drink glasses, extra plates, extra napkins, extra bread, extra butter, extra napkins and well, anything and everything they could order extra of.
            The next time they came in, there was a young girl with them, maybe eight, maybe nine. They ordered her a child’s meal. Now, to be honest, our children’s menu is for kid’s age six and under. However; we sometimes make an exception. Once again, they wanted extra everything, we in the food service industry call this “Being Run”. The table of these women and one toddler boy basically wanted me to stand by their table and get anything and everything they want or think they need all the while ignoring my other customers. Also, they don’t want to pay me for my service.
            Which brings me to a conclusion of my first encounter with Bessie, if she didn’t like the food, she wouldn’t have kept coming. If she didn’t like my service, she would have requested a different waiter. No, her continued patronage of our restaurant and her lack of tipping told me one of two things, either she didn’t know how to tip, or she knew she was supposed to tip but was just cheap. I believe now, she is just cheap.
            Which brings me to tonight.
            She came in with her niece, who is now fourteen years old. I know this because I overheard her tell another table I was waiting on the child’s age. This is of course after Bessie told me the girl was only twelve and would be ordering off the child’s menu. When I told her that the cut off for the child’s menu was six, she looked at me like I was a slug.
            When Tameka arrived, she ordered a kids meal for her young son who is four maybe five. She ordered for herself the same meal her mother ordered. The twelve/fourteen year old wanted a kid’s meal. I couldn’t sell her one. Why? Because one of the owners had told me not to. Also, how many times do you have to cater to someone before it becomes abuse? Whether in the service industry or in life itself?
            Now, I feel it is in my best interest to say that I am not the only waiter to have waited on Bessie and Tamika over the years. No, they are well known in our restaurant and I assume in most restaurants they frequent. I’m also pretty sure that most servers don’t care for them. After all, how can you like someone who doesn’t tip or if they do, it is always just a couple bucks on a check that when the math is done should be in the double digits? It’s difficult to say the least. And when the owners or managers discover this fact, they lose any and all respect for the customer. I can’t say I blame them. After all, if someone treats an employee badly, how can you respect them?
            Needless to say, Bessie and Tamika didn’t like the fact that they had to pay full price for a meal for a fourteen year old, or that they were charged for everything extra they asked for, except for the napkins. They also, on this occasion split the check. Between the four of them, they drank two soda pops, nine glasses of tea and one glass of apple juice. I made sure I was as attentive as I could be and when they complained about the price of the food or the portion size of the food, I informed them I was just a waiter, that I had no control over portions or how the food was prepared.
            They were quite unhappy. Especially when the bills were placed in front of them.
            They paid, they complained, they left.
            I didn’t expect a tip. I never do with them.
            I wasn’t disappointed.
            And this is where things get interesting.
            Two of my other tables had witnessed everything these women had done to me and heard every question they had posted to me. They also heard all my answers. One table, a couple and regulars to boot, started to question me about Bessie and Tamika. I just put on my best fake smile and nodded or shook my head to answer their questions.
            Which is when the man lowered his voice, placed his hand on my left forearm and said “You can tell us.”
            Which I did. I told them a bit of the history of the table, when they come in, what they order and how they don’t tip or on the rare occasions they do, the it is a mere pittance of what they should be tipping. The woman laughed a bit and then said “Bessie said “God Bless You. To me. Yet she treats waiters like garbage? That makes no sense.”
            I just smiled and nodded. After all, what else could I do?
            When I dropped the check off to them the woman touched my right arm and said “I’m going to tip you what they should have tipped you. How much was their bill?”
            I shook my head “No, you don’t have to do that. It is not your place to do that.”
            “I want to. Besides, you have no control over what you should be tipped. Now, how much was their bill? Thirty? Forty?”
            “I can’t tell you what their bill was.”
            “Forty it is.” She said as she pulled out her wallet and placed a pile of money in the bill holder.
            Then they got up and left.
            When I delivered the check to the other table that had been sitting near Tamika and Bessie, the man just smiled at me, nodded and said “I heard what that table did to you.”
            “Don’t worry about it Sir. Happens all the time.”
            “It shouldn’t.” he said. The woman seated across from him nodded in affirmation.
            He picked up the check, pulled out a wad of cash and said “No change. Have a great night.”
            I took the money. After all, what else could I do? It’s not like I could chase them down and hand them their change that they didn’t want. That would be awkward to say the least.
            To wrap the night up, the owners both expressed opinions that they hoped customers like Bessie and Tamika would never return. After all, what sort of precedent does it set for customers and waiters alike when they get treated like garbage by those depending on them for their sustenance?
            After all, what does it really say about a person when they treat not just strangers like trash but strangers they are asking to do things for them like trash?
            It tells me they are small minded and have no real respect for their fellow humans. That they think they are the most important person in the world and that their own hubris will undoubtedly be their downfall.
            Which is why I always try to be as nice as I can be when I meet new people. It’s when I begin to know a person when I become a jerk to them. So, if I’ve ever been a jerk to you, it’s because I know you and like you.
            Have a great week. And don’t forget to be nice to the people who bring you things

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