The title today explains it all. I felt like it was a phrase that I found myself repeating over and over again, not out loud obviously, but oh how I wished I could.
It’s season here in FL. So what does that mean when it comes to the server life? It means expect your shift to be chaotically busy. Expect short fuses, rude customers, shouting children, bratty teens, exasperated parents, all sprinkled with a few kind people here and there whom are actually enjoying their vacation. God forbid it happens to be a rainy day in the state of sunshine. The sweet lack of sun that mother nature decides to bestow on us makes everyone crabby, everyone excluding me. I see it for what it is, a chance to rejuvenate life around us but like I said no one every really sees it that way.
Today at the restaurant the power went out. It was an hour before closing time so I thank mother nature for doing it when she did. Any earlier and a normally chaotic day in season would have been a day of utter hell. We’re a small cafe. We’ve got ten tables in doors, four counter seats, and eight tables out on the patio. The kitchen is about the size of a living room, not very big at all so space is limited. Many restaurants have generators for moments when the power goes out. Not our place. We’re too small for that. By the time the power went out we were no longer on a wait and had only about 3 tables enjoying their meals and two who had just sat down. The lights are out, obviously, and we only have about 5 mins to quickly put an order in and get the food out before heat from the appliances starts to wither down. For staff, we are used to this. We have a a plan to go by when the power shuts off. First we of course apologize for the inconvenience and for the tables who just sat we offer the options to quickly place an order or they can get their drinks to go, free of charge and try their luck elsewhere. Most of the time people decide to stay. Most of the time people decide to also complain. I’ve discovered that more times than not, people choose to stay in a situation just so they have something to complain about. This shift was no different.
The two tables that sat decided to stay and quickly order. Table one was easy. A two top. A wonderful and adorable elderly couple who ordered without even glancing at the menu. They chose one of our combos, cup of soup and half a sandwich, easy breezy. The second table not as easy. Five out of the six people were ready to order right away. One of the teenagers at the table was not. She was debating over a few items which is understandable considering our menu has quite a selection. I told her I’d give her just a couple mins but I wouldn’t be able to give her more than that because soon our appliances would be powering down. I went off, began closing some of my credit card checks that way once the computers powered out my checks wouldn’t be wiped away. I came back a couple mins later as promised. The girl was still not ready. Her mother, who was sitting directly next to her, says to me “How about you just start with me and by the time we go around she should be ready?” Sure thing, I say to myself, but the look on her daughter’s face told me a different story. I go around, taking my time taking everyone’s order just so this young lady could have a few extra mins to decide. I make jokes and enjoy off topic conversations with everyone else in the family. I now get to her, and what a surprise! She is still not ready. I patiently stand there, staring at her. I’m hoping that my gaze inspires her to just fucking pick something but to no avail. I suggest that maybe I place in everyone’s order to guarantee they get a hot meal, and that once I did, I would be back to get her order. Everyone is in agreement and so off I go and ring in their orders. Once I send it off into the kitchen I tell the cooks that there is still one person at the table that hasn’t ordered yet but that they would be soon. “Well they need to hurry the fuck up because everything is starting to cool off already.” the head cook says to me. It’s the end of the day. It’s our last table. The restaurant is starting to get hot because the air conditioner is now out. We’re all irritated, sweaty, and ready to go home. This girl HAS to order. I walk over to the table. Her menu is closed, a universal sign that signifies she is ready to order. AMEN! “So what have you decided on?” I asked. “Well, What’s good here?” she counters. Are your fucking kidding me??
I just want to take a moment to explain a precious point that the regular person who may have never worked in a restaurant should know. As a server, we loath that question, and for many reasons. For one, we all have different pallets when it comes to food. Things I find delicious, others hate. I can usually gauge a table and I have learned to use this to my advantage. They ask me what’s good, I take a look at who they are and try to figure out what type of person they are. For example, if I can tell your a person who enjoys to work out and “healthy” is just written all over your demeanor I will probably suggest one of our delicious salads, maybe topped with our lemon peppered chicken, or maybe our grilled chicken sandwich with blackened chicken, sauteed spinach and garlic, with roasted red peppers, all grilled on our fresh sour dough bread. Or let’s say they’re good ol’ country folk, I’ll suggest any of our dishes with the homemade sausage gravy, for instance our country friend steak or our homemade biscuit breakfast, maybe even our smoked out pulled pork sandwich with a wonderful side of our homemade coleslaw. Anyhoo- I can usually figure out what people like but still the having to do so is a bit annoying. Also, many people who work in the service industry don’t really give a fuck. All they want is to go into work, make their money, and leave. Most servers could careless about what you as a customer are in the mood for. We just want you to order so we can move onto the next meaningless point of our job. For you to ask us “What’s good here?”, when in reality you probably won’t follow our suggestion is simply wasting out time.
So here I am presented with the most annoying question a customer could ask, I begin with my standard questioning. “Well are you looking for breakfast or lunch?” She shrugs her shoulders and says, “I don’t really know.” Ok well….that helps. So I go to the second question that usually helps me narrow down the menu to a few options, “How about salty or sweet? What appeals more to you?” Again this girl shrugs her shoulders. I’m getting tired of her shoulders doing the answering. I want to grab her by them, shake her, and yell “JUST FUCKING ORDER SOMETHING!” but I can’t. At this point, tabled one, the cute old couple, have already received their food and are halfway finished with their meals. Out of the corner of my eye I also notice that this table’s food is beginning to slowly come out. The cook is staring at me. I feel his eyes burning into the side of my face. Now I begin to just spew random things from the menu. I don’t care. This server who normally cares is fed up. If she, who is the one that is going to be eating, doesn’t care enough to give me feedback in order to steer her into the right direction, than I don’t care enough to care about whether or not she is going to enjoy what she eats. I spend another minuet going over the menu and another minuet waiting for her to make up her mind. She finally settles on a bacon cheese burger, well done, with fries. Great. All items that need high heat in order to cook and that heat is almost all gone. I quickly go to the kitchen and verbally tell them her order just so they can get it started as quickly as possible. By the time I verbalize the order, go back to the computer and officially ring it in, the table’s food is up. I run it, giving each individual the meal that they ordered, everyone but the girl of course. They all begin to eat. I refill the drinks for those who need it. I notice the elderly couple is finished. After asking them whether or not they’d like dessert or drinks to go, I drop off their check. They’re ready to go, no change needed. As I walk over to table two, I’m in the middles of asking them how everything is when the mom says, “It would be good if my daughter got her food soon.” BITCH! Calm down. I give her a slight look and say, “Ma’m I’m sorry but she ordered a well done burger. It’s going to be a minuet. To be honest it’ll probably take a little longer than normal simply because we are out of power and the heat off the flat top is cooling off.” She doesn’t even look up to acknowledge what I say. She turns to one of the men sitting at the table and says, “How’s your toast? Mine is a little cold.” Her tone has an attitude. She takes a bite out of her toast, stares and it, and drops it back onto her plate. I want to kick her in her shins. “No, My food is really good” he answers as he looks at me and gives me a smile. “Thank you,” he says, “Everything is really good.” I smile back, say “You’re very welcome!” and turn to go.
I begin to start my side work. By the time I’m done restocking the to-go station, the girl’s burger is up. I quickly run her food and as I get to the table mom says, “Honestly, it is about time. The rest of us are pretty much finished and now we have to wait for her.” In reality, SHE is the only one finished. Literally. Everyone else that is seated at the table is just about halfway done their meals. The guy from earlier just smiles at me and says, “No, I’m still working on mine. It’s Ok there’s no rush.” and he continues on with his meal. I set the plate in front of the girl who is obviously in no rush either for she’s swiping up on Instagram for minuets before even touching her meal. Whatever. I go back to doing my side work. At this point I begin to roll silverware. I’m standing directly in front of the table at the counter that’s maybe 6 feet from where they are. The table is enthralled in conversation, all except two, the daughter who is still engaged in her phone and hasn’t even looked at her meal yet, and mom, who is beginning to pick at her daughter’s fries. She throws one back on the plate. “These are cold! Honey have you tried these fries?!! They’re cold!” The daughter finally looks up. She stuffs a fry in her mouth and says, “Mom, they’re fine.” and chomps away. The girl begins to work on her burger. I continue on to rolling my silverware. The kitchen is closing up, the little power they had is now completely ran out. Customers try to come in to grab a bite to eat but unfortunately we have to turn them away. One family says, “But it says that you’re open till 3. It’s only 2:20..” says the dad looking at his watch. “Yes sir, but if you haven’t noticed we are out of power.” says my boss. “Yes, but they are still eating.” He says pointing to my table. My boss pauses a few seconds, staring at him in bewilderment, then says, “Sir, that is because when they got here the power had JUST gone out. Our appliances are now completely out of heat. There would be no way to make you anything now.” She continues to calmly stare at him and after a few seconds he mumbles, “This is unbelievable.” and storms off. No sir, YOU’RE unbelievable.
My attention goes back to my table. They should be finishing up soon. The mom catches my glance and waves me over with her finger. She doesn’t look happy, but then again she didn’t look happy the moment she sat down. I walk over to her, “Yes my dear?” I say. “She cannot eat this. The fries are cold. They need to be reheated.” She grabs her daughter’s plate, meanwhile her daughter has her burger halfway to her mouth when she utters, “Mom! Stop, they’re good!” and she snatches her plate back. I try to not let my irritation with this lady seem obvious. I tell her that although I would love to be able to reheat the fries, it would be an impossibility since there is no loner power. I’m also thinking to myself, “If your daughter would have put her phone down and actually ate when the food was brought out to her, it would have been a lot warmer too”. I began to gather any empty dishes that I see on the table, while the entire time listening to this grown lady grumble. Her daughter could careless whether or not her food was cold, and actually seemed to be used to her mother’s antics. As I’m about to turn to take the empty dishes back to the kitchen the mother asks, “Can I get a cup of coffee?” She has GOT to be kidding, right?? WRONG. We hold each other’s gaze for what seems for way too long. I’m thinking that she’ll realize that her request was ridiculous considering I just told her that the power was out, if one couldn’t already tell. She asks me again, “Can I have a cup of coffee?”…. “I heard you ma’m, but the power is still out. There is no coffee.” I counter. She points to the pot that is halfway full of coffee, the one that is sitting on the powerless burner. The pot of coffee that has been sitting there untouched for over an hour. “There’s coffee right there.” She says, as if I was the one being ridiculous. “I’m afraid it wouldn’t be very good. The burner is out of power and that pot has been sitting there for quite a while.” I say slowly. She must not be all there is what my time spent with her has led me to believe. “So you’re not going to give me a cup of coffee, even though I see a perfectly good pot sitting right there?” I sigh. I’m over her. I want her to leave. She wants coffee… let’s give her coffee, no? “You’re absolutely right. Let me drop these dishes off in the kitchen and I’ll be right back with your cup of coffee, ok?” I said just a little too cheery. She seemed satisfied with my answer. She obviously felt like she won the battle. Inwardly I laugh.
I take the dishes to the kitchen and before I grab her cup of coffee, I print out their check. The quickest way to relieve myself of this thorn in my ass is to just drop off the bill when I drop off the coffee. I pour her cup and I notice that it’s not even lukewarm. I smile to myself because I know what’s coming…
“Alrighty guys, I’m just leaving this here!! Take your time, just let me know if you need anything else.” I smile as I set the check down as well as her cold coffee. As I’m walking away I hear her say, “Are you serious?” I keep walking. “Excuse me Miss??!” I stop and turn. “Yes?” She’s obviously had a sip of her coffee, her facial expression said it all. “This coffee is cold! And you didn’t even ask us if we wanted dessert!?” This whore… I swear. Keep in mind, the kitchen is now closed up. Food is no longer available. At this point most of the cooks have already left. I take a deep breath and allow myself a Zen moment before answering. I’m really trying to kill her with kindness but her dumbass-ness is making it truly difficult.
“Ma’m I told you that the coffee wouldn’t be very hot. The power is out. That goes for the burner that the coffee pot was on. The reason I didn’t offer you all dessert was because the kitchen is now closed and all food, including dessert, is locked away in the cooler.” I stare at her. She stares back then says, “So what you’re telling me is, if we wanted to order something else to eat we wouldn’t be able to?” as if this was the end of the world. “And I assumed that although the power is out, the coffee sitting on the burner would at least be lukewarm.” She shakes her head as if she was exhausted by having to deal with ME. “That’s correct. If anyone wanted to eat anything else you wouldn’t be able to and to be honest, that pot of coffee has been sitting on that burner for about an hour or so. I tried explaining that to…” She cuts me off. “You’re unbelievable! Serving me a cup of coffee after it’s been sitting there for an hour!” She grabs the bill and takes a look at it. “After all this you couldn’t even give me a discount?! This is ridiculous.” While this is all going on, my boss is standing close by me filling up our jugs of syrups. She’s witnessed the entire thing and when hears the fact that this woman expected a discount she then decides to walk over.
“Ma’m can I help you?” says my boss who doesn’t look like a boss. I’m looking at everyone else at the table. They seem embarrassed. The few that still have their plates have buried their faces in whatever food was left over just to not have to be a witness of what is going on. The others are just staring at the woman like she’s literally jumped off the deep end. “Yes, I’d actually like to speak to the owner if you don’t mind.” The woman doesn’t even look at my boss as if she were a mere peasant. “Well you’re looking right at her. I heard your interaction with the server and wanted to see if there was anything I could help you with?” She says calmly. The lady decided to take this opportunity to let her have it, “What I need help with is understanding is why you all would allow customers into your restaurant while the power is out?! Our food was terrible. All of it was cold. My daughter’s burger didn’t arrive at the same time ours did. Your server served me cold coffee and dropped off the bill as if she was trying to get rid of us,” I was… “and I take a look at the bill at least expecting some sort of discount for all the inconvenience and nothing was done.” Fortunately for me, I have amazing bosses. They’ll defend a server when needed be. This time she was all for it. “Pardon me ma’m, but you were already seated when the power went out. I gave you the choice of whether or not you wanted to stay. I even offered your drinks to-go free of charge if you decided not to. You all chose to stay. Your daughter took a really long time ordering even after the server told your entire party that time was of the essence if you wanted to get a warm meal. She also expressed to you that the coffee had been sitting there for quite a while and after repeating multiple times that the power was out, you decided to still go for the coffee.” With that my boss takes the bill and looks at it and continues on by saying, “Servers are not allowed to discount any checks without my authority. I see that she didn’t charge you for the coffee you decided to order, so I guess that can be considered your discount.” She sets the check back onto the table and looks at the lady who is now digging through her purse. “Is there anything else I can help you with?” My boss stares at her. The lady is avoiding eye contact. Embarrassed are we? No, not enough to keep her snide comments to herself. The lady drops exact cash onto the table and says, “That’s fine. But I am not tipping for this horrible service.” She gets up, and whether the others were finished or not, demands that everyone gets up to leave.
As they all march out of the cafe, I think to myself, “VICTORY!” because even though this lady didn’t leave me a tip I felt like the rest of her day was completely ruined. That for me was enough of a tip.
As I sit here and write about this one incident, I can’t help but think about all the other “Are you fucking kidding me?” moments as servers we’ve had to endure. I literally have a list going and I cannot wait to write about each and every one ofthem. With each shift that passes the list grows longer and longer. I wonder if the outrageousness of customers has a cap or if with time it’ll just get worse and worse? I truly believe that now-a-days people go on vacation and forget to pack their common sense as well as their manners and that’s only if they had any of it to begin with. One way I see that I may be able to better the situation is by writing about it. We may not all work in the service industry, but we are all customers at one point or another. It’s time that I start shedding some light on not only customer service from the server’s side but customer etiquette from the customer’s side.
Stay tuned. You’ve already been alerted that there will be more to come 🙂