I picked up a shift last night as a favor for a friend. I knew better, but did it anyway. What are friends for? This is, historically, a very slow week. School began today in much of our area. Between the trips to Staples for the supplies that teachers “forgot” would be required, or simply failed to mention at all, and the beginning of the Fall Sports season, folks don’t have too much time for dining out this week. When Fangette was younger I used to take the whole week off, which saved me a great deal of heartache and frustration. I worked last night for a friend who has three children that she needed to get off to three different schools this morning. She just wasn’t up to that chaos on limited sleep. I understood.
So, it was slow. One table at a time slow. And it was raining. Really raining.
And I was scheduled to be there for the duration. Yippee!
I wanted to leave the minute I walked in the door, but I missed my opportunity to make this request because I got caught up in a conversation with a “regular” that I really like and was actually worried about because no one had seen her in a couple of weeks. She had cancer a few years back. It’s been in remission, but she had a few health problems over the Summer and she was worried. So was I. I thought about tacking a sticky note to her front door last week just to say “Hi! I hope all is well!”, but I just never got around to it, what with all trips to the mall to obtain new Sperry’s, sports bras, and several pairs of “cool” jeans. (For Fangette, of course. My sports bra and “cool” jeans days are long over, though I may go back and get myself a pair of those Sperry’s!) So, I was very happy to see this customer. It turns out that she was just busy, too. I was relieved to hear that.
It’s funny how close to this woman I have become. Because our relationship did NOT start out well. Not well at all. She came in on my second day soloing. It was lunchtime. I was completely alone on the floor, except for the moronic bartender who has since gotten the axe, and within five minutes I had gotten six tables. And then she walked in and insisted on sitting completely out of my section, on the other side of the restaurant. It took me a few minutes to get to her. She wasn’t happy. I apologized and explained that it was my second day and that it had gotten unexpectedly busy. I also explained that her request to sit clear on the opposite side of where I was working didn’t help matters. She told me that she was a regular customer who had been coming in for years and that she could sit anywhere she wanted. I then went on to explain that while I agreed with her in principle, in theory, it was her seating choice that caused the delay in service. I may then have said something along the lines of how the conversation we were now engaging in was delaying service even further. She finally gave me her order, which was ridiculous. I have since learned that she never orders anything the way it is prepared, but at the time I thought she was busting my balls. You know, because she could. Sit anywhere. Order anything.
Following this encounter, I saw her in the restaurant on a fairly regular basis but I never waited on her. She made sure of that. Again, whatever. And then one night I was covering for someone and, as a result, in a section where I don’t normally work. A young woman came in and sat down at one of my tables. She explained that she was awaiting the arrival of her mother. Okay. I got her a drink and we began chit-chatting. I liked her. She was nice, friendly, and funny. And warm. You know when you meet someone and they just exude a certain warmth? It’s weird, but it happens. I felt that immediately upon meeting this young lady. Immediately. A little while later I came out of the kitchen and saw that the woman that she was waiting for, her mother as it turned out, was my “second day nightmare customer”. Great. At that point I decided to just soldier on. The daughter “introduced” me to her mother. We both said, at the same exact time, “We’ve met.” And then we started laughing. The daughter was a little confused. So, we both, by turns and from our own persepectives, told her the story. It was an honest retelling. We both basically admitted that we were assholes. Ultimately, the woman apologized, not just for what had happened the first time I waited on her, but for avoiding me thereafter. She admitted that she had been embarassed by her behavior. She reminded me that I had told her, during our first encounter, that the time we were spending in converstation was delaying my ability to get her lunch order. I apologized for that. She looked at me and said, “No. You were 100% right. I was trying to ‘throw my weight’ around. I have felt terrible about it ever since. I have seen you so many times and you always acknowledge me with a smile, which makes me feel worse. I just didn’t know how to get past it.” So, I looked at her and said, “Well, I think this is a fine start. I’m _________, it’s nice to meet you.” And I held out my hand, which she took. We did one of those lame “lady” handshakes. I winked at her daughter and went on my merry way. She has since become, hands down, my favorite customer. Her daughter is now in her last year of college and has kindly offered to take my daughter there one weekend so that she can visit that school and those around it, to get an idea about where she might like to go to college. It’s amazing, really. How people can surprise you.
Anyway, last night, in the midst of our conversation I noticed that I was being sat. Finally. After thity-five minutes. As I approached the table I realized that the people occupying it were a couple whose salad I had once forgotten, and who have never let me live it down. Okay. I’ve waited on them since and I thought that we had gotten past it. For whatever reason, last night, they requested a new server AND a manager the minute I greeted them. Great!
I got the manager. I could see them gesticulating wildly. Whatever. It was a salad. It was a year ago. What the fuck? At this point I had gone back to hanging out with the regular because what else was I supposed to be doing? The manager leaves the table and is walking towards me shaking his head and smiling. He says, “I promised them a new server. It turns out they ‘hate’ you.” Listen, it’s fine to request another server. I have no problem with that. I actually prefer it to you being unhappy with me. But to ‘hate’ me? For forgetting a salad a year ago? That’s just crazy.
My favorite regular, whose faith in the world I have come to understand, admire even, looks at the manager and says, “I wish I could go and speak to them. Because, you know, we didn’t exactly start out on the right foot, she and I.” He didn’t know this. No one did. Because she never went to a manager. She never bad-mouthed me to another server. She is a good person who just happened to have a bad moment. It happens to the best of us.