I pull out my pen and my pad.
I look down at the paper where I had been writing their orders.
It is smudged and illegible.
I think it might have something to do with the two inches of rain water in my apron pockets.
This took place in June 2008.
Some people just don’t get it. It seems that no matter how much I try to change my opinion about the human race, there is always some event that occurs that makes me go back to thinking that most people on this planet are just dense. It is like trying to climb a mountain and once you get to a certain, attainable height, you get bum-rushed by a bunch of imbeciles who pick you up and transport you back down to the bottom where everyone is just witless.
Unfortunately for me, my particular talents lend themselves to the service industry. At the time I am writing this, I am currently a waiter. (However, you can trust me on the fact that I ran into just as many simpletons when I was a restaurant manager.) Waiting on tables is hardly ever boring due to the fact that no shift is quite like the other. Sure, you have your standard themes: unsatisfied customers, bad tippers, underage people trying to order drinks, etc. But each and every one of them is a unique experience unto itself. Unsatisfied customers aren’t always upset about the same thing. Bad tippers don’t all tip poorly for the same reasons. Underage people trying to get served alcohol always find different and strange ways to get caught.
But there is always one constant that will never change from one shift to the next. There are always going to be those people that you serve that will make you wonder if the whole human race shouldn’t just collectively throw up their hands and give up on each other. The other day, I had a fundamental example of just such a table.
Here is what happened.
It is Friday. I am in the middle of my double shift and all I want to do is get the hell out of here. I may need the money but I couldn’t care less right now.
Sidebar: It is one of the most puzzling things about people who wait on tables, me included. I could be flat broke with a million dollars in bills to pay, but if I am presented with the opportunity to be sent home, I will find a way to rationalize it in my head so that I will feel just fine about leaving my shift early. I am very gifted at talking myself into things. A little too gifted, sometimes.
I am working on the side patio section of the restaurant with my friend “DJ”. I picked this section tonight so that I could make some money. But then the clouds came rolling in and it started to look like rain. So it came down to me and “DJ” to decide who would move to the inside station and who would stay out here and take their chances with the rain. The night hasn’t been busy thus far, so I am thinking that it won’t matter anyway. Luckily for me, DJ decides that she is going move to the inside station so that at least she can make a little money before being sent home. I am confident in the fact that it is going to rain and am already making plans for my Friday evening.
But the clouds keep coming and going. At times, the wind picks up and the skies gets dark and I think that the night will be over very quickly. Other times, the sun peeks out from behind the clouds and I feel doomed to another five hours of waiting on tables. It goes on like this for about 45 minutes. I can’t describe how much I fucking hate it. I won’t even try.
In the meantime, I get a table of seven people. I walk up to them, greet them, and discover that they are the same group that I have waited on two different times this week. I am not happy about it at all. Both times, I have provided excellent service for these shitheads and both times they have left me a 10% percent tip.
Sidebar: Listen up. If you go out to a restaurant and you don’t tip well, don’t go back. You are going to get awful service. Unless I am your waiter and then you will get the same great service all of the time because I can’t reconcile giving bad service due to the fact that I have just spent the last five years of my life beating into waiters’ heads that there is no excuse for bad service ever.
So, now I am waiting on these people again. The group is made up of three ladies in their 50s, one elderly lady probably in her 70s, a couple in the early 40s and their baby who is positively the most miserable toddler that I have ever come into contact in all of my years waiting on tables. The last two times I waited on these people, the kid was an absolute nightmare. Screaming the whole time, taking the sugar packets and hurling them around the room like some kind of lunatic. He was an absolute joy.
During this time, I get another table. It is two couples in their 40s. They are from Bogotá, Colombia. I know this because for some reason they have little plastic nametags clipped to their shirts that display this information. I am not happy about this, either, because they are foreigners.
Sidebar: Before this blog blows up because of that last comment, let me clarify something. People from other countries tip like shit. It is not their fault. The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world where waiters work strictly for tips and gratuities. In other countries, a tip is considered very generous and only appropriate after receiving exceptional service. Unfortunately for all of us that make a living this way, most travel guides about the U.S. still provide the information that 10%-15% is a generous tip. What a bunch of bullshit, huh?
Now I have two tables. I am not pleased about having either of them but I am trying to cheer myself up with the prospect of a thunderstorm. Gauging by the darkness of the sky, my chances of getting out of here are looking good. Once the storm descends upon us, the tables will move inside, I will transfer them to another server, and then I will leave.
My tables order their drinks and their food. Several minutes later, they are all enjoying some cocktails with appetizers in front of them. They are all really happy. I do not share their happiness. I go inside to the bar to retrieve one of the lady’s Mandarin Cosmopolitans.
And then I hear the blessed words from my manager, “Kyle”. “Hey, it is pouring outside, let’s get out there and clear out the side patio.” I spring into action. As I rush out, I am thinking of how both tables will move inside, and I will be out of there in the next half an hour. My mood is suddenly on a tremendous upswing.
I get outside and it is pouring rain. I run to the table with the Colombians. They are ready to move inside. I pick up their drinks and hurriedly rush them into the restaurant. I place them in the capable hands of the host and turn around to go get the bad tipper table.
I walk up to them and ask, “So what do you think? Are you going to stay out here or can I take you inside?” At this point, the rain is coming down at a pretty good clip. They are all under the safety of an umbrella. If their group was smaller, I might be able to step underneath while I wait for them to make their decision. Instead, I am outside the protection of the umbrella, in the rain. I can feel my shirt starting to get a little heavier from the water that my shirt has already absorbed. Then, one of the ladies looks up to me and says, “You know what? I think we are going to take our chances out here, OK?” I smile and say, “Absolutely.” I walk back to the waiter station where thankfully there is another umbrella set up.
Once under my umbrella, I start to wonder if these people are really going to make me wait on them. It is raining pretty hard now and this seems like a bit much. Yes, they are lousy tippers but that doesn’t automatically brand them lousy people, right? Has the thought that I might be a bit uncomfortable serving them in the rain even entered into their brain? I look over to the table. They are summoning me. I trudge back over to them.
“Hey, we were wondering if you could take one of these other umbrellas and move it closer because we are starting to get wet.” (No shit, genius. It is called a storm. One of the essential factors that will always be present during one of these storms is mass amounts of water falling out of the sky.) That is what I want to say. Instead, I say, “Absolutely.”
I walk over to the nearest umbrella and start to move it towards their table with my feet. (That is really the only way to move those things; I am not doing it out of anger.) I get in nice and close. I ask them if that is better. They tell me yes, and they would like to order more drinks. I pull out my pen and my pad. I look down at the paper where I had been writing their orders. It is smudged and illegible. I think it might have something to do with the two inches of rain water in my apron pockets.
I can’t write their order down so I am just going to have to remember what they are ordering. Not a problem. I am smarter than the average bear. Three of the ladies order Yuengling.
Sidebar: For people who are not from Philadelphia, it is such a treat for them to order Yuengling. It is a local beer and you can’t get it in many parts of the country. I have been known to refer to it as “low-grade swill.”
There is one lady who is not sure what she wants. Even though I have moved the auxiliary umbrella over, there is still no room for me underneath because they have spread their stuff out beneath it. I am still situated directly in the path of thousands of raindrops.
Does she want a Mandarin Cosmopolitan? Or a Ruby Red Cosmopolitan? She can’t decide. She and her friends are tickled with themselves as they weigh the pros and cons of the two flavors. I start to feel raindrops running down my legs underneath my pants.
She finally makes up her mind. I go to the bar to get her Ruby Red Cosmopolitan. I walk through the front door. One elderly lady, sitting on a bench waiting for a table, looks at me and says, “Are those people really making you serve them in this storm?” I smile at her and say, “You betcha.”
I get up to the service area of the bar. “Beehotch”, the bartender, takes a look at me, sees that I am soaked from head to toe and proceeds to laugh in my face for about ten seconds. I smile back at him and patiently wait for my drink. How can I blame him for laughing at me? He makes my drink. I take it out to the fucking lady.
When I drop it off, the youngest lady at the table takes a look at me and says, “Maybe we didn’t make the right decision by staying out here after all.” And then she laughs. And then the rest of them start to laugh. I pretend to laugh with them but I am really laughing because I have begun to scheme about how I am going to kill each and every last person at this table. Except maybe the kid. It’s not his fault. Although, he is one of those kids who alternates between screaming and whining. That will have to be a game-time decision.
I go find my manager Suzi and give her my cell phone, iPod, and wallet because I know these things will be destroyed if I keep walking around with them in the rain. She also thinks that I look funny when I am covered head-to-toe in water. I know she thinks this by the way she subtlety points at me and laughs.
Now I have to start the process of cleaning up the tables and the server station. I slosh back out into the rain. I run from table to table with a tray. I put all of the salt and pepper shakers and sugar caddies on the tray and run them back to the server station. It is raining harder than ever. I get back to the server station and check out the items I have recovered. The salt and pepper shakers are OK. The sugar caddies are a mess. All of the packets of Sweet N Low, Sugar In The Raw, etc. are stuck together. They are useless.
I begin to pack up the server station. I organize the glass rack, buspan, silverware caddy, etc. I try to consolidate everything the best that I can so that I have to make as few trips up and down the backstairs that lead to the kitchen. I manage to combine everything together so that I will only have to make two trips. I grab the first load and begin to sprint toward the back steps. As I run pass the bad tipper table, they wave me down to stop me. They notify me that they are thinking about maybe having dessert but they are not sure since the rain has picked up and the two umbrellas are no longer cloaking them from the rain. They discuss amongst themselves for about a minute. For the entire minute, I am standing there with a full buspan. I am a pretty strong guy but the goddam thing is heavy. Not to mention that I am carrying at least ten extra pounds at this point due to all of the rainwater that my clothes have warmly accepted into their very fabric. I am extremely unhappy with these fucking people.
They tell me they will let me know about dessert. They haven’t made up their mind. I tell them to take their time, no hurry. I dart from their table and head towards the stairs. On my way down the stairs I think that this situation is still kind of funny but slowly crossing the border of annoyance.
I get to the bottom of the stairs and there are about five of my co-workers standing there. They are clapping and laughing. I smile at them. And then I politely ask all of them to go straight to hell.
I drop the buspan down on the counter. Take a deep breath and run back up the stairs into the monsoon. I can now hear my socks squishing each and every time my foot comes in contact with the ground.
The bad tippers once again wave for me to come over. They have made a decision. They are going to have dessert. They are not all done their dinners yet, but they thought they would let me know, for my convenience. I guess they assumed that I might have other things to do. Like maybe there was an outside chance that I wanted to get the fuck out of the rain. I am sure this hasn’t crossed their minds for one reason: These people are blatant idiots. I smile at them, tell them to let me know when they are ready to order and I will paddle a canoe over to their table.
Sidebar: I actually did say that. And they actually did laugh. I am not sure if I could have dropped a bigger hint. They were totally oblivious. Are you surprised? This seems like a good time to mention something about the food service business. After 15 years in this industry, I can honestly and accurately tell you all one simple truth: 99% of individuals who work in the front-of-the-house operations in an establishment that serves food think that most people uncontrollably and undeniably suck ass. It is a very true story. I have always found it ironic that this is the case. It is the same way at every restaurant and country club where I have worked over the years. The next time you go out to eat you should think about the fact that every time your server goes into the kitchen, they are unquestionably making fun of something that you said, something that you are wearing, etc. Think about it.
I go and grab the last load of items from the server station. It is a glass rack with a bunch of other items balanced precariously on top of it. I dash towards the stairs and descend into the basement. Once again, there is a crowd there ready to greet me and encourage/ridicule me. This time, however, people are actually asking if I need any help. I guess I now look pathetic enough to make my co-workers feel sorry for me. Granted, they are still laughing, but only in between their extensions of assistance.
Sidebar: On the other hand, as much as front-of-the-house staffers are prone to the most callous acts of insensitivity, there is a point (i.e. someone falling down a flight of stairs) where all of the jokes and cynicism will disappear and they reveal themselves as honest-to-goodness human beings. The truth is that we do care about people. However, we will only show it when bodily harm ensues or, as in my case that night, something so pathetic transpires it makes no sense to make fun of the situation because it is just so easy, so obvious.
I thank all of my co-workers for their offers but I assure them that most everything is already done and there is no need for all of us to look like they were just dredged from the bottom of a river. Once again, I hasten up the stairs only to find that it is raining even harder than when I went down. Also, just because the gods absolutely love to fuck with me, I hear thunder. And then I see a flash of lightning.
I go over to the bad tippers. They are giggling at the thunder and lightning because they are so impressed with themselves that they have lasted this long. They alert me that they now wish to move inside the restaurant to enjoy their dessert that they have yet to order. I guess that they are comfortable with the sight of me getting completely saturated but the thought of me being flash-fried alive by a bolt of lightning while taking their dessert order is where they draw the line. I tell them that I will be more than happy to move them inside. It is the first time I have not had to lie to them in about a half an hour. I am truly more than happy to move them inside the restaurant. I would go so far as to say that I am thrilled about it.
The man at the table observes that it is raining way too hard now for them to simply walk to the doors of the restaurant. He explains to me that the elderly lady at the table can’t move like she used to so she will need some assistance up the ramp. He tells me they will require an umbrella because they didn’t bring one. I stare at him blankly for a second. And then I realize that he is asking me to fetch an umbrella. I tell him I will go find one and walk away from the table and up the ramp to the entrance. I vow to myself that he will be the first one to die.
I get into the lobby and there are umbrellas everywhere. They are customers’ umbrellas who have left them strewn around the lobby floor, which is marble tile. I walk through the doors rather quickly, slip on the now-wet marble tile and almost fall on top of this pudgy old man. Luckily, I am able to get my hands above him and brace myself on the wall. He then pushes me with much gusto and says, “Watch where you are going.” I don’t even have enough left in me at this point to say something nice, not to mention something clever and underhanded. I just walk away and continue my quest to find an umbrella for the bad tippers.
I find one lying on the floor, pick it up, and scurry out the door. I get back to the gentleman who requested it and try to hand it to him. He asks me if I could walk the elderly lady up the ramp to the back door. I say, “No problem at all,” smiling at him the whole time. I escort the elderly lady up the ramp and make sure that she gets in the back door without incident. I walk back down the ramp and one of the other ladies is there smiling and looking at me anxiously. I realize that she wants an escort up the ramp as well. I oblige her. I end up walking all seven of these goddam idiots up the ramp, including the gentleman, and not one of them thanks me. Once I get them all inside, I walk to the back of the restaurant and try futilely to smoke two cigarettes in the rain.
I head back down the stairs to the back server station inside the restaurant. The side patio station is taken care of and I have put everything away that I needed to, I think. At this point, though, I really don’t care. I take inventory of myself. I am waterlogged. Soaked through and through. There is literally not one part of my body that doesn’t feel totally sodden.
I have Kyle run my report, hand my soggy money over to him, and begin to leave. I make it a point to walk by the bad tippers at their new completely dry table on my way out to say goodbye. I give them some markers that the wonderful little boy left outside when they made their departure. They barely acknowledge me as they shovel dessert into their faces. I think to myself that their gratitude makes this whole situation worthwhile.
This was not the worst table that I have ever served. They were not even the rudest. But they were the quintessential example of how fucking aloof people are nowadays. Maybe “aloof” is not the right word, but I would hate to employ an overused word like “ignorant” because that has much deeper implications. I don’t believe them to be truly ignorant because then I would be admitting that they I think they don’t know any better which would redeem them in some small way. And there is no way that they I would ever want anyone to think that there is anything redeemable about people such as those bad tippers.
Those people were like so many who currently walk around among us, who are so self-centered and absorbed with themselves that they fail to recognize that their actions may be negatively affecting other people. There are far too many people like this whom I meet on a daily basis and not just waiting on tables. They are everywhere. And I, for one, think that each and every one of these bastards should befall some serious payback. Hopefully, this payback will involve getting caught out in the rain or maybe even getting struck by a tiny bolt of lightning. Not enough to kill them. Just enough to teach them a little human compassion. Ah, fuck it, they probably wouldn’t get it anyway.
Finally, just so to show everyone that these people were truly horrible, (if it is possible that I haven’t made it clear to some of you) their final bill ended up being $167.89. They left me $20. If you don’t understand why that it a bad tip, don’t ever go out to eat ever again. I am serious.