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.

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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.

New Girl

July 31, 2009

Owner recently hired a new carryout girl, despite having employees (not just me) willing to pick up extra shifts. Tomorrow I’m working a double shift (morning carryout and evening hostess), and I have deduced that I will be working with this new girl.

I fear I may make her cry.

Let me explain–new girl is a mousy little thing with odd fashion sense (why is she wearing tights in the middle of the summer?), faux-black hair that’s even messier than mine, the voice of a man trying to be a woman, and absolutely no work ethic. While I have interacted with this girl very little, I have seen her in action and I have heard some disquieting things:

1) When she came in to interview for the job, she was accompanied by her mother. Who upsold her.

2) She’s a pothead. Lots of people are potheads, I really don’t care. But she comes to work stoned, and that I do care about.

3) Despite having had four days of training (most people get two), she freaks out when she has two easy orders and has to have her hand held the whole time.

4) She spends more time flirting with the busboys and cooks than actually trying to do her job.

5) Did I mention she has zero work ethic?

I initially tried to give this girl the benefit of the doubt, considering she’s new. But I have a very low tolerance for incompetence and she’s already crossed it. I don’t know, am I being mean?

Sorry for the lack of posts lately; being this slow doesn’t provide me with much writing material, and last night I was so pissed off by our goddamn dream team staff that I couldn’t form coherent sentences.

I believe I’ve mentioned several times that The Restaurant is in a slump. When I first started working there about a year and a half ago, slow nights were the exception rather than the rule, and there was no such thing as a dead night. Waitresses made money, carryout girls could regularly expect to make anywhere from $3-$10 on top of their normal salary from keeping the change, and the back dining room was always open.

Then gas prices jumped to over $4 a gallon, and people started freaking out. Food costs and minimum wage went up and by winter, so did our menu prices. Only by 5 to 20 cents per item, but the Social Security Brigade still bitched endlessly about it. Once the Powers That Were finally decided to inform the American public that we were, in fact, in a recession, things got even worse. People stopped tipping carryout, and even worse than that, people stopped tipping waitresses. Worst of all was that fewer and fewer people come in.

Now slow nights and dead nights are the rule. All the good, experienced people are leaving and being replaced by teenagers who don’t care about their job. Morale is down. I started bringing a book or doing a crossword puzzle simply because I had so little to do most nights (I’ve since stopped as carryout at least has picked up a bit). The back room stays closed most nights I host, except for the occasional annoying group of two who want me to open it just for them and then sit at a table for six, or the occasional teenybopper cheerleader convention.

Owner, in a cost-cutting measure, frequently short-staffs the kitchen, leaving the night manager to fill in wherever. Service suffers overall because of this, as the normal job of the night manager is to fill in where people need help. The top two places this occurs are either helping the counter/back room waitress fill orders when she gets slammed, or grabbing the register so the carryout girl actually gets a chance to get her orders put together and her milkshakes made.

I’ve been doing this long enough, and worked enough Saturday afternoons alone (we’re near a park, so think 12 orders of chicken strips and fries and 12 milkshakes to go with that for a Little League team), that I’m generally okay without managerial assistance. Sometimes people have to wait a bit at the window or the register, but I’m pretty good at multitasking. But I watch these new carryout girls struggle and drown when they can’t get help, even though busy for carryout these days is nothing like what it used to be. None were trained during a time when it really was busy, and most of them freak out if they have more than two orders and one person is at the register.

I hope things get better, I really do. I fear if business doesn’t pick up soon, Owner may sell The Restaurant. And as much as I bitch about it, The Restaurant is a piece of history. It’s older than my parents and largely unchanged. It’s probably the only truly “authentic” ‘50s dining experience you can get in this area—Johnny Rockets doesn’t count, and their service is terrible anyway.

Are other people feeling the strain of the economy? Any of you servers seeing fewer customers and lower tips? Managers having to find a way to cut costs? Hell, have any of you customers noticed restaurants being less and less crowded? Please share if you are!

Remember how I scoffed in my previous post at the notion of us being dead and/or nothing happening tonight?

Ahahahaha. That’s what we were. Dead. Not completely, but I couldn’t have sat more than 10-15 groups tonight. Nothing but standing around talking to N about his horrible new job and waitresses bitching about how they didn’t make any money.

Things should get more…interesting, though, because of the mass exodus of experienced people and the resultant influx of new folks at The Restaurant. Especially since most of these people are high schoolers. Oh joy! Of the new folks, about 2 of them are any good. The rest are either not cut out for the job or just don’t take it seriously, as teenagers are wont to do.

I’m not sure why teenagers so often make such shitty employees. Because they have other focuses in their life? So do I. I’ve got a social life, a relationship, and college to balance with work. Is it because they aren’t working to pay the bills? Neither am I. I live at home–I’m just earning money for a car and for spending cash. I still take my job seriously. Perhaps it’s just something about the middle-adolescent psyche, some responsibility switch that’s stuck in the “off” position until they decide to get serious about things. But based on the way most college kids I know treat school and life in general, I’m not sure if that’s it either.

Oh well. Hopefully more interesting stuff tomorrow. Hopefully we’ll actually get some customers tomorrow!