The Customer Is Always Right, and Often Annoying.

Posted: October 15, 2011 by S. Trevor Swenson in Life, Me & Mine, Observations
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Yippee, I finally have a job!  I am working at a new pub/restaurant as a waiter.  I had originally applied to be a bartender, but those coveted positions were filled before I even dropped off my resume. (That’ll teach me to sleep ’til the crack of noon every day.) The owner said that bartending might be in the cards for me in the future, and in the meantime I have a job.  I am once again a productive member of society, which sadly isn’t all it is cracked up to be. 

Over the years I have been employed in literally every aspect of restaurant and bar work.  Naturally, I have the least amount of experience in serving.  I am looking at this position as a stepping stone.  The place is brand spanking new so there are many kinks to iron out and the dining room hasn’t been busy enough for one to earn a living.  This is coupled with the owners over staffing for the first 2 or 3 weeks.  It doesn’t take an MIT mathematics professor to figure out 5-6 parties over the course of an 8 hour shift split up by three servers and 2 of those parties are elderly ladies… well the formula goes something like this  A+ BC(x) multiplied by the average dinner check with tax and an above average gratuity = I’m still fucking broke.  

I am broke.  I am unable to pay the people I owe money to and the people who owe money to me seem to be in the same boat. (Little, crowded lifeboats with HMS Titanic scrawled on the sides, filled only with women, children and the occasional cross dresser.) Of course, I am working hard, struggling and juggling while my mind imagines the elaborate and decadent weekends in Atlantic City being enjoyed by those who owe me money.  This is the thought process when you’re an overall negative person with a vivid imagination who can’t afford cigarettes.

While the bitch ball is still in my court I will add that I have to wear a uniform of sorts for this job.  Black dress shirt, Black Pants (Not jeans) Black Shoes (Not sneakers) and a Dress Belt (this does Not include my No Fat Chicks belt buckle).  All of the ‘nots’ were stressed emphatically by the owner.  I hate shoes.  I hate pants,  I hate tucking in my shirt. But I like wearing black. It’s slimming and attracts the ladies who have No Fat Dudes belt buckles. I’m batting 2 out of 5 which is about what I have come to expect in life being the bitter and miserable little turnip than I am. 

I have faith in the new job.  Things are already picking up a little bit and the shifts are not so overstaffed as some people have been let go or quit.  I had expected to go 6-8 weeks without making any real money.  The owners are paying me well (allow me to clarify. I am being paid well for a waiter. . . I am in a truly sad place when I think $5 an hour is being paid “well”) and I get a nice meal every time I work along with a cocktail at the end of my shift. I generally like my co-workers.  The two owners have been pleasant and encouraging.  I suppose it is best for me to start off slowly so I can get used to the restaurants computer system and have the time to give exceptionally attentive service to the few customers I have had.
For the most part, my customers have been nice, friendly and reasonably low maintenance people. The tips I have received average a little over 20%. I am trying my best to be pleasant, patient, engaging and hospitable. I think I’m doing OK. Of course, as you may have gathered by the title of this piece, there have been some notable exceptions.
I thought I’d take a few minutes to write about these exceptions. As annoying, rude or petty as they may be, these encounters usually make for entertaining and comedic tales.  Let me begin by saying; before anyone who may read this decides to comment on my attitude, tell me what my job is, or offer up suggestions on how to be a better server… save it.  Anyone who has waited tables for more than a month will relate and empathize, and those who take issue with service industry workers grievances have generally never spent an hour of their life serving the general public and are usually the very kind of rude, petty, trifling and high maintenance assholes that this piece is about.  Here are a few of my Negative Nancy observations on my less than favorite customers to date.

Ladies who lunch?

Three Old Ladies Having Brunch:  This happened last Sunday.  It was my karmic backlash for an incident in the prior week.  As things have not been busy the servers have been rotating the customers that come in.  It’s a catch as catch can gamble, but it’s the fairest system at the moment.  It was my turn for the next table and I noticed one of the owners helping an elderly woman up the stairs. He was also calling over to my co-worker to please wait on her.  I was saved!  The old bag didn’t disappoint. She complained about everything (including the other customers. “Are they old enough to drink?” she asked, pointing at some young people watching football and having a nice brunch) She took forever to order, to eat, to vacate the table, and of course she inquired as to senior citizen discounts and what she might get for free or at a reduced price and then for an encore she tipped terribly. Having averted waiting on that week’s coffin dodger I teased my unfortunate co-worker over the course of the day.  But, as we all know by now, the universe often has a way of evening things out.  The very next week, it was my turn again when the witches from Macbeth came hobbling in, looking to ruin some server’s afternoon, and that server was me. 

I seated the trio and brought them menus, which at our restaurant are large, wood framed and heavy.  That got the complaint avalanche started for the afternoon.

“These are so heavy.” they clucked.

 “Would you like something from the bar?” I asked smiling. 

(I thought maybe a mix of alcohol, coffee and whatever 60 plus medications they were taking might loosen them up, or cause a heart attack and then. I’d get some hard drinking, heavy tipping EMTs in there to raise my tip average a bit.)

“We get a drink with this brunch.”  they informed me  

AND coffee or tea.” 

Old ladies seem to feel a need to let others know what they have coming to them. Often with old age, comes pettiness, and with pettiness comes demanding behavior.  (I know you get you get a drink you dried up old crone.) They ordered Bloody Marys which, as I suggested to the restaurants owners, we make ‘a la carte’ especially for Saturday and Sunday brunch.  Make a standard Blood Mary mix and then doctor it to the customer’s specs, more spicy, less spicy, more horseradish etc…  I asked how they would like their drinks.

“Not too spicy.” barked one of them. 
“Mine either.” echoed another. 

The third one was older than the other two and I had to repeat everything I said to her 5 times, with her friends echoing what I said from the third time on.   I brought their drinks and of course they weren’t ready to order. (Old ladies don’t just order.  They must preface with questions, dietary concerns and other commentary.)

“Do you have sugar free syrup?” 
“No, I’m sorry we don’t.” 
“Well you should. Why don’t you?” 

(“Well  Ma’am, just last week I was saying to the owners that if we raised prices and got rid of the sugar free syrup we’d have fewer annoying, old Depends Commandos coming in and he thought that was a capital idea” I thought to myself.) 

The elderly also seem to have a running contest of seeing how many times they can get a server to return to their table, and the Golden Girls were going for the record with me.   I brought one her Challah French Toast. 

“I didn’t order fruit on it!” she snapped at me, while pointing at her plate with exaggerated disgust, as if I had just served her a dish of cat turds garnished with dead flies.  The menu clearly states that it comes with strawberry and banana slices. 

“Would you like me to bring it back?” I asked. 

“I didn’t order fruit on it.”  She snapped again. 

“I understand that miss.” I replied. 

“What would you like me to do?  “You can take the little pieces of strawberry off, or I can get you a new order.  What would you like me to do?” 

“But, I didn’t order fruit. I ordered bacon!” 

Old people are also a suspicious lot.  “That’s how they get ya.” was a favorite expression of my grandparents when explaining to their grandson the many tricks of evil sales people and waitresses bulking up a bill 25 cents at a time.  “They try to pour bottled water before you can say ‘no’. That’s how they get ya”.  (I’m not trying to “get ya” granny, I’m trying to get ya out of here in the hopes that customers bellow the century mark might occupy this table instead.)

Now her friends started to translate for her. In fairness I should say that one of the old dust bags was rolling her eyes at her friend.  I guessed the one arguing with me didn’t play well with others at the home, and that I wasn’t the only instance of nit picking that the other two had endured from Grandma Strawberry. 

“How long is it going to take?” she barked.

“I honestly don’t know.” I answered with saccharine sweetness while silently calculating… 5-10 minutes for the chef to prepare new French Toast (sans fruit) and another two minutes for me to take the order to the basement, sneeze and/or fart on it, laugh, regain my composure and bring it to Frau Bag apologizing profusely

Eventually she opted to move the dreaded strawberries off the French Toast and on to the side of her plate and then she dismissed me with a wave of her hand. I loathe that gesture.  (“Oh, were you finished with me Ma’am? Perhaps I can polish your walker while you dine.”)  It occurred to me that her bitching took 5 times longer than it did to flick the bits of fruit off of the bread and this seemed like terrible time management for such a prime candidate for a stroke.  With my luck she’d have the stroke just before paying for her meal and under tipping me.  I’ve seen them pull that before.  That’s how they get ya. 

The rest of their meal went smoothly and one of the old biddies even said she loved her strawberry pancakes.  They tipped reasonably well for elderly women (maybe a hint over 15%)  The brunches are not expensive ($9-$12 including coffee and a drink) so the tips aren’t amazing.  The best hope is to get a group in to watch a good and close football game and order lots of beer and appetizers, in addition to a quick turnover of the cheapy brunch customers. One always tries for a mix. 

My next adventure in serving was on a Tuesday morning

Fried . . . . Really Fried

Crazy White Wine Swilling Alcoholic With Brown Teeth:  The restaurant opens at 11 am for lunch and a slightly crazy woman with brown teeth came in and ordered white wine.  She asked for a menu, looked it over, and then gave it back to me.  She ordered another wine, (It was now 11:05 am) asked to see a menu again, looked it over again and then asked about some of the menu items. 

“How are the crab cakes?” she asked. 

“They’re OK.” I replied.   

Honestly I thought they were a bit pricey given the portions;  2 tiny crab cakes with lots of avocado garnish. I suggested the house favorite, spicy fried calamari. 

“Where does it say that”?  She asked.

I pointed to “Spicy Fried Calamari” on the menu. 

“OK, I’ll have that…and another glass of wine.” 

I put in her order and brought it over to her when it was ready.  A couple minutes later I returned to check on her progress.  She had picked at the calamari, but wasn’t really putting it away.  I asked if something was wrong. 

“It’s just really fried” she said.

“Yes, it says ‘Spicy Fried Calamari’ on the menu; did you not want it fried?”  I asked. 

“Well, not this fried.  This is really fried”

She couldn’t seem to stop herself from repeating and enunciating this is R-e-e-eallly, Fri-i-i-ied

“OK” I said “but it does say ‘Spicy Fried Calamari’ on the menu, how did you want it?” 

“I’m used to it almost raw” she said, “This is really fried”  

“Do you mean it’s over done?” I suggested?

“No… yes… I mean… it’s just really fried” 

‘Really Fried’ I thought to myself…a bit like your brain after your 625th acid trip?’  I couldn’t take her saying “really fried” again, so I asked if she’d like something else.  She said she’d like the chili.  I went to the owner and asked him to remove the (fried, r-e-e-e-eally fr-i-i-ied) calamari from her bill.  He glanced over to her and saw that she was now eating the calamari. “What’s wrong with it?” He asked me.  I imitated her voice “It’s just really fried” The owner I was speaking to is from Ireland. “It sez fowkin ‘fried’ on the fowkin menya!”  I shrugged as if to say. “What can you do?”  He went onto the computer system to remove the calamari and said “Teek the pleat aweefromer”.  As I went over to get the plate, she changed her mind and said she’d like it to go.  I told her it had been removed from the bill. 

“Oh, well you can put it back on the bill and I’ll take it home.” She said. 

“Are you sure?” I asked her. 

“Oh yes.  I don’t mean to be a pain.” she explained.

“You’re not being a pain; I just want to be certain that you get what you want”. 

She wasn’t being a pain.  She had passed being a pain half an hour ago and was now firmly in annoying psychosis territory. I went and put the spicy (really fried) calamari back on her bill and brought her chili which is served with tortilla chips.  The chips caused a bit of a dilemma for her, and we discussed whether or not she wanted them for ten minutes with even more explanations that she “didn’t want to be a pain”.  She was also now on her fifth glass of wine that morning. Her only other request was for some sour cream to go with her chili which she mixed in and then didn’t eat. I was dreading her calling me back over and whining to me that “This sour cream is really sour.” I was a good little waiter and asked if there was anything wrong with the chili, and mercifully she didn’t complain or send it back, she just asked to have it wrapped up along with her other dish.  She then made several calls on her cell and I can only assume that she fervently tried not to be a pain to whomever she was speaking.  I brought her check and she tipped me extravagantly (60%)  I thought later that although this was very generous (or crazy) of her, I would have rather not gone through the ordeal and made less money.  I found out later she pulled this Marx Brothers routine again on two other waiters over the next week.  The theory among the staff is that she either has emotional problems or suffers from seizures (she had a black eye supposedly from falling down the next time she came in, although I can’t help but wonder if she got it from a less than patient waiter or waitress). 

As I said earlier, I have had some great customers too.  One older lady ordered a glass of wine while she was waiting for her friends who were celebrating a birthday.  She gave me $20 and told me to keep the change ($13) with a smile and a wink.  Later her friends joined her and they were all sweet and brassy old broads.  The birthday girl reminded me a bit of my godmother and Aunt Helen who doesn’t wear makeup, dresses and styles her hair on the mannish side, but is a very sweet person.

The Jerk

Rude Salesman Having Lunch With A Colleague: I also had one of the guys from the opticians office across the street come in twice in one afternoon.  The first time, he had lunch with clients. He was really friendly and tipped over 20%.  The second time, he joined two guys who had just finished lunch. They only had coffee and water in the dining room while they discussed business.  Their bill came to a whopping $4, which he paid and then gave me $15 and a pat on the back.  The two who had just finished lunch ordered chili and filet mignon steak tips. The chili comes garnished with tomato, onion and cilantro salsa…a very small amount. 
“Whut’s dis shit?” one of the men asked me, pointing at the garnish when I brought their food. 

“Whut’s dis shit?”   Really?  REALLY?  You address people like that? 

His companion apologized for him saying “He doesn’t like anything with any flavor.”  I smiled and said subserviently “Well, he’s a grown man, he just wants what he wants.”  Inwardly I was wondering if this man had to apologize for his companion’s antics at every business lunch they went to.  I’d seen it before; one person in a group whose behavior is almost always an embarrassment to the others.  This rude creep is the sort who thinks he is better than anyone who’s services he employs; waiters, bartenders, dry cleaners, baristas, hotel maids, etc.  Of course this is easy to do when one has the prestigious career of selling contact lenses. Keep reaching for the sky Skippy. 

Miserable Grouch: There is another semi regular that comes in for drinks a few times a week.  He ordered food once, ate all of it, and when I asked how his burger was he snarled

“Well, it wasn’t the best burger I ever had.” 

I asked what the problem was. (I didn’t really care, but I think I’m supposed to pretend that I do.)  He spent an inordinate amount of time telling me how every single aspect of his burger and fries wasn’t up to par, after eating the entire thing.  He now comes back fairly often so that he can tell anyone who will listen about the burger nightmare that has apparently scarred him for life.

 My final, recent pet peeve is when people come in, and I greet them with a big smile and a “Hi, how are you doing today?”  They look directly at me, make a slightly snotty facial expression and don’t reply.  Maybe someone can explain this to me as it has happened several times and not just to me, but to my fellow servers and bartenders as well.  I have heard some people complain that being greeted by retail or service workers seems insincere to them. In all honesty I’m just trying to start things off on a positive note.  I figure you’re spending your money to have a pleasant experience. In addition to this I want to have as pleasant an experience as possible serving you.  If a person wishes to be left alone, there are polite and obvious ways to make that understood.  Here’s a notion. Don’t acknowledge me if you have no intention of replying. Pretend you didn’t hear me. Save your snotty looks for your friends and family who are more accustomed to your chronic assholery.
Oh well. As I keep saying, most of my customers are very pleasant and I suppose dealing with the public, especially in the hopes of getting a tip, one has to develop a thick skin.  My friend Gow used to be a server and told me horror stories of hordes of church goers coming for breakfast, running the servers ragged and then leaving “prayer cards” in lieu of a tip.  At least I’m not dealing with that kind of malarkey.
  1. Murdercakes says:

    My old roommate was a waiter forever, and used to regale horror stories to me of some of the customers he would get, and the hoops he would have to jump through to satisfy them. I totally get you. I’ve had some crazy experiences with retail sales in a similar vein.

  2. Jessica says:

    yeah most people are assholes, not all..there will occasionally be that nice person. I work retail so I have to deal with a lot of people, and I do hate when I go out of my way to see if they need any help and they give me attitude or don’t even acknowledge me..and on top of that they make a total fucking mess that I have to clean up!

  3. […] One party was a nice couple who were having a couple of beers and sharing an order of calamari. (Yes, the really fried variety) Not much money for me, but not a ton of work either, and they were a pleasure to serve and talk […]

  4. Tallkronan says:

    I LOVE your story of it all! If I were your roommate you could snuggle down with me – or…eh…sit down on a chair- and tell me all your stories as you got home from work.


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