Today, over on Susan Cook Bonifant’s blog, Worth Mentioning, she has issued a challenge to restaurant customers this holiday season. It’s very simple. She suggests that when you dine out this holiday season that you tip your server (or your bartender) 100%. If you do so, she will give you a “praise coin”.
Susan is not in the service industry — well, not anymore; her story regarding why is a part of the blog post “It’s the holidays. Here’s a tip.” — which makes her support of those of us who engage in this drudgery just as generous as her 100% tip challenge. Truthfully, though, while a tip of this magnitude would be lovely, greatly appreciated, and put to good use, most of us would settle for — and be just as grateful for — the customary 20%. And a smile.
Pleasant guests with good attitudes who tip 20% are like gold to those of us who serve them. Throw in a little patience and we might be inclined to name our first-born child after you. Seriously.
While I had committed myself to writing every day in December, as I had in November, I had a particularly horrendous shift the other day that was, in part, the cause of my failure to finish what I had started. It wasn’t the only thing that made publishing a piece of writing impossible, merely the final thing that contributed to a mental state that could, at best, be defined as cloudy.
Adding to this mood and on top of my very, very bad day was the socio-political landscape that we find ourselves in, a husband who was feeling neglected, Christmas shopping that needed to be started (and finished), a daughter who hopped off to Montreal for the weekend before final exams, and the controlled chaos that exists here at the hovel. In short, the makings of a thunderous mood were spread upon my psyche, not unlike the array of ingredients, which are huddled in the corner of my kitchen countertop, for a cake that I have been planning to bake for a week now.
Trust me, no one would want to read the things that I had written (or consumed a cake that I had made) while in such a state. They are dark, angry pieces that will likely never see the light of day. They needed to be written, but not published. I had to write them, but you don’t have to read them. Consider that my Christmas gift to you.
Last Friday was one of those shifts that are best forgotten. Unfortunately, these are also the shifts that stay with me — sometimes for days after they are over.
From the start I had a feeling it was going to be one of those shifts which would find me operating “behind the eight-ball” all day. And it was. For a variety of reasons that will be all too familiar to anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant, but that I will simplify for those of you who have never had the pleasure of spending five minutes in a server apron — too many customers, too little staff. That’s it in a nutshell.
We managed, though, as we always do. We pulled it together, my co-workers and I. We survived it. And we did so with smiles plastered to our faces while we wore out our shoes running hither and yon, fetching and fawning. Just like we always do.
By 3:30 we were all able to breathe a sigh of relief — and ready our workspaces for the night shift. As I was cleaning, restocking, and organizing the bar I noticed that I had a new table. The minute I saw who it was I cursed the seating gods — “Oh, my God!”, I thought, “not THEM!” But there they were. And I would have to wait on them.
These were the last people on Earth that I wanted to wait on at that moment. They are an elderly couple who have nowhere else to be, but they behave as if they are still punching the clock at the shoe factory. They are neither patient nor kind. On her own, when he’s out of earshot, she can be nice, but together they spell M-U-D. She has Parkinson’s. He has no patience for her infirmity. She cannot get her words out quickly enough for him, so he talks over her or, worse, orders for her. It’s never what she wants. It’s just whatever is expedient. I always have to stand there while they duke it out.
I often wish that I were related to them, so that I could give him a solid punch to the kisser. Because I hate the way he treats her in public and wonder what it must be like for this lady in private. Once, when they were coming from a tennis game — a game that she still played in spite of her Parkinson’s Disease — I overheard him tell her that he was going to find a new doubles partner, as she was clearly unable to play up to his standards anymore. I never see her wearing her tennis gear anymore and her Parkinson’s, I fear, is the worse for it. He’s a real gem.
Frankly, the only reason I can muster up anything that comes close to pleasant is because I feel sorry for her. He can go jump in the lake as far as I’m concerned. She, at least, always tries to smile at me through the Parkinson’s mask. I know that she’s smiling because I can see it in her eyes. Why he can’t see through her eyes that she doesn’t want the salmon is beyond me.
Their order hadn’t been in for ten minutes when he started rubbernecking and sighing. At about that time I had gotten a new table — a table that was sitting right across the aisle from them. I love this couple. Waiting upon both of these couples at the same time felt a bit like counterprogramming — Football vs. A light romantic comedy.
Couple number two are one of my absolute favorite tables to wait on. She’s had some health problems and, as a result, her mental acuity isn’t what it used to be, but she’s still warm and funny, if somewhat repetitive. Both her other half and I share a wink and a nod as she regales me with the same stories, gives me the same sage advice, and tells me that I remind her of a long-dead relative (one that she loved dearly) for what is probably the thousandth time in our long relationship.
I like to spend as much time with them as possible. I like to give her husband a break from her ramblings. He deserves it. He truly is a gem. He so clearly loves her that watching them together is, at times, heartbreaking — but in a totally different way than the heartbreak I feel while dealing with couple number one.
Impatient, ornery guy could not stand that I was yukking it up with the other table. I could feel his eyes boring into the back of my head as I was allowing the nice old lady to tell me, once again, about her first job at the perfume counter at Woolworth’s. I think I was in the midst of saying, “That must have been something!” when he decided that interrupting me by tugging on my shirtsleeve while screaming “Don’t you think our food is taking a little bit too long?” would be the best way to get my attention.
Lady number two, for all of the wits that she no longer has about her, has still managed to retain the manners that she learned at the knee of her mother (a schoolteacher). She does not abide rudeness. (She probably never did.) So, of course, she looked over at the shirt tugger and said, in her very best stage whisper, “Sir! That is no way to get the attention of a lady!” (I mentioned that I love this woman already, right?)
These, of course, were fighting words to the nincompoop at the other table. Luckily, I was able to quell the uprising by telling him that I would check on his food in a minute. I put my hand over the hand of my defender — my way of wordlessly thanking her — and headed off to alert the kitchen that we had a sushi eater in the house.
Luckily the kind lady has very little short-term memory. She had put the whole incident behind her before I returned to take her order. For whatever reason, I just couldn’t follow her lead. It stuck with me, that feeling of helplessness that always seems to rise up in me whenever I have to deal with miserable people whose shabby treatment of others is just part and parcel of who they are.
It speaks to what I’ve been saying about the importance of respect with regard to some of the world’s bigger issues recently. I would love to suggest to some of my customers that they try their hand at pushing out thirty-two meals — all cooked properly, all with the proper side dishes, all delivered to the right table — in less than fifteen minutes, as they expect us to do. I would like to suggest to those of us who think someone is “less than” or undeserving of respect simply by virtue of their skin color to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. But I won’t. Because that makes me cranky and sad. And what the world really needs less of now, more than ever, is cranky and sad.
Author’s note: I did not name my child after any of my customers. If I had to name a child after every person who has ever been kind to me in my line of work, of which there are many, I would have been perpetually pregnant and currently residing in a shoe.