The “Ultimate” Threat

August 14, 2009

Dear Petulant Customers,

“I’m never coming back.”

“Well, you just lost my business forever.”

“We won’t be visiting here again.”

In your minds, this is the ultimate threat. It supposedly means loss of revenue to the restaurant, loss of a tip to the server, and, hopefully, loss of employment to the offending employee. However, I thought you should know that, at best, this threat is an ineffectual scare tactic that only gets under the skin of the uninitiated. To the more experienced, your threats mean absolutely nothing.

Would you like to know why?

First: we only ever hear “I’m not coming back” or one of its variations during a temper tantrum. You want something comped, or you weren’t seated where you wanted to sit, or the server forgot something, or you’re just having a bad day and you want to take it out on someone. In other words, you’re an entitlement junkie or just a bitch, you act like a child, and therefore nobody in possession of a spine is ever going to take you seriously.

Second: people who are truly upset almost never make a scene the way you do. If they say anything, it will be quietly to a manager. Most simply finish their meals and leave, the poor or absent tip the only clue to their displeasure.

Third: the people who leave quietly, they truly never come back. You, on the other hand, almost always do. And you almost always find something new to bitch about the next time you’re in. In a pinch, you’ll bitch about what happened the last time you were here. We’re not going to take an empty threat seriously.

We had one of you lovely people come into The Restaurant last night. A beady-eyed woman carrying some shitty hardback novel, who ignored my friendly greeting and instead immediately asked “Do you have any booths?”

We have four booths. We only have four booths. They are immediately visible from the door. All were quite clearly full. No, we don’t have any fucking booths.

“I’m sorry, no, they’re all full. Would you like a table?” I asked her, gesturing at the completely empty table section.

“Ugh, I hate those tables. I really want a booth.” She looked at me as if she expected me to perhaps draw back an invisible curtain revealing the fifth booth that we maliciously hide from customers. Or perhaps she wanted me to tell one of the groups to leave so she could plop her solo ass down for an hour or two at a table that seats four.

“Well, I’m sorry,” I was desperately hiding my exasperation by now. “I don’t have any booths. I could give you the table in the far corner, it’s like a booth.” It also seats three people, but never mind.

“I hate having random strangers sit next to me,” she snapped, and then sat herself at the counter. With her back to me, I just rolled my eyes, got her a water, and went to find the counter waitress so I could warn her of the incoming blowhard.

Shortly after I had seated this bitch, one of the booths left. As our busboy for the evening–a fellow I’ll call The Comedian–passed by her to clean it off, she stopped him and declared, “I’m going to sit there.”

Now, as the name implies, The Comedian is quite the jokester, and he’s also probably my favorite of all our new staff. He’s fun to work with and he does his job well. But like most comedians, sometimes he doesn’t know where to draw the line. His reply to Crazy Lady’s declaration? “They’d rather you didn’t,” said with a big, stupid grin.

Unsurprisingly, she didn’t quite get the joke. And the first words that came out of her mouth were, of course, “Fine, then I’m never coming back here again.”

Astonished, The Comedian tried to placate her, telling her that it was only a joke and of course she could move to the booth. Alas, a joke is never funny if you have to explain it. He walked back into the kitchen, eyes wide and much of the color drained from his face. “I am so fired,” he moaned. I bet that’s what Crazy Lady thought, too, especially after she bitched to the manager for about ten minutes. A victory for the Petulant Customer, right?

No, wrong. One, while the joke was inappropriate (we sure thought it was funny, though), Crazy Lady blew it way out of proportion and was therefore not taken seriously. Two, this woman has threatened never to come back multiple times, and yet she always does. Three, The Comedian is one of our best bussers and The Restaurant’s resident clown. In other words, a valuable employee.

What happened to him? Oh, he was taken aside and told not to joke with the customers anymore. He might lose some hours for a little while; we’ll see what happens. But he’s not going to be fired. You see, we like him. And we don’t like you, Petulant Customers. We would all be much happier if you actually made good on your threats and never graced us with your presence again.

Sincerely,

K.

So here’s what I think happened:

At The Restaurant, our clientele is largely made up of old people. The elderly are notoriously bad tippers, thus why Sister B only received $2 on a $30 check. When Sister B is stiffed or receives a bad tip, she tends not to accept it. After all, she’s such a fantastic waitress that no one would ever dream of leaving her less than 20%. And never mind that she often reads Us Weekly instead of getting her customers refills.

As for Sister C, I’m not entirely sure what happened. I am leaning towards the idea that Hipster either was mixing up tips or had simply not given them out yet. I do know, however, that after her shift, Sister C was still complaining that she hadn’t gotten her money.

Fortunately for me, that isn’t true. When I called for my schedule yesterday morning, Owner informed me that the register came out even and no one owed or was owed any money. At the very least, if Sisters B or C decide to get in my face about this shit again, I’ll have that little nugget to share. In short, the waitresses felt they weren’t making enough money, and instead of accepting the blame, they attempted to point the finger at the carryout girls. Sisters B and C are usually pretty good at intimidating everyone, including me, so they may hate me forever for actually standing up to them for once. And being right.

Additionally, I seem to have been rewarded for my instincts being correct, as Owner gave me five shifts this week instead of three. Granted, one of them is tomorrow at 7:30 AM, so that one might be punishment for losing my temper.

As for Hipster, she’s incompetent, and I mean that in the nicest way. I just feel like she might be better off out of the foodservice industry altogether. She’s laid back enough for it, but she freezes under pressure and she can’t seem to get organized. I have no desire to work with her anymore, as I don’t like playing babysitter to someone who just doesn’t get it.

I apologize that this story wasn’t especially funny–just frustrating, really. Hopefully over the next five days I’ll encounter some stupid people to write about.

Yesterday’s morning shift was drama-tastic. Because it is such a long story, and requires a lot of background information, I’m going to divide it into two parts. This first part is the background—the part actually dealing with the incident will be posted tomorrow.

I did, indeed, have to work with the new girl. I will say this much: my initial impression of her was a little flawed. It’s not that she isn’t trying; it’s more that she’s dumb and disorganized. She’s been at The Restaurant a month, but has yet to internalize even the most basic concepts of running carryout, let alone begin to pick up on some of the subtleties. She’s very nice, she seems well-meaning, she’s just not very clever. She’s also an aspiring art student, and while I have nothing against artists (Boyfriend is an art/animation major), she strikes me as being the kind that has more style than substance. I wouldn’t be surprised if, five years from now, she’ll have acquired a taste for Parliaments and Pabst, a few facial piercings, and an obsession with irony. In short, she’s a nascent hipster, and will heretofore be referred to as such. 

Hipster is also a bit of a drama magnet. Apparently, sometime last week, Sister B went off on her because she hadn’t been distributing tips correctly. The Restaurant handles credit card tips strangely. When a customer chooses to pay with a credit card, the carryout girl asks them if they would like to add a tip before the card is ever run. While this seemed odd and somewhat impolite when I first started working there, more people have actually thanked me for the reminder than have ever been offended.

After totaling the bill plus tip, the carryout girl runs the card and prints out a receipt. The receipt is stapled to the ticket and the amount of the tip is written into the margin at the bottom of the receipt. It is then the carryout girl’s duty to retrieve the tip from the register and give it to the waitress.

It’s an odd system, but not one that’s particularly hard to deal with. The only trick to it is keeping track of the tips you have distributed and the one’s you haven’t. Some girls put checkmarks on the ones they have given out, while others (including myself) physically separate the checks with undistributed tips from the ones that have been given out already. Hipster, who becomes flustered if she has more than one order at a time, apparently began mixing up the tips, causing Sister C to have a minor conniption. I am not sure how the matter was resolved, but what is important is that this incident left an indelible mark on Hipster’s reputation.

Which brings us back to Saturday morning. I spent much of my time early in the shift futilely trying to help Hipster develop some sort of carryout system.

“How long did it take you to get the hang of this job?” she asked me at one point.

“I only had a couple days of training,” I replied, after thinking for a moment. “I guess maybe a week on my own before I really started to get it down.”

Her wide eyes and nervous laughter told me more than anything she might have said. This girl is in over her head.

As the morning turned to afternoon, carryout began to get a little busy. Not too busy—we never had more than two or three easy orders at a time. Regardless, I had to hold her hand every step of the way. If I didn’t tell her precisely what to do, she would just stand around with a blank look on her face.

Unfortunately for Hipster, I couldn’t always be there to babysit. Owner frequently sent me into the back kitchen to plate specials and make salads, something I am slow at due to inexperience. Every time I walked back there, my stomach turned over as I imagined the kind of trouble Hipster was going to get herself into while I spent five minutes stumbling around, trying to figure out which of our eight massive industrial refrigerators contained the components of a chef salad.

And trouble did come, just as I was beginning to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. I was in the back kitchen, plating our disgusting creamed chicken, only an hour left to go in my shift. Suddenly, Owner called me from the grill intercom.

“K, I need you to come settle something, dear.” Despite the term of endearment (he calls everyone “dear” or “babe”), I could tell from his tone that something had gone very, very wrong.