The ‘No’ Lady

    Because it was sort of an uneventful day at Michael’s, I’m going to inaugurate a new feature in Waiternotes: Today’s Featured Customer Type.

    The list is long, and filled mostly with irritating people. I suppose the reason I (we) have such a list is that the morons stand out, stick in your memory. While the cool people blend in, simply because they’re the vast majority. You’d typically have one or two of these a night, while the other twenty customers were perfectly normal.

    As we go on, see if you recognize these people. If you’re a waiter, you’ll remember. If you’re not a waiter, maybe this type is you, or your father-in-law. And let me know if I’ve missed a particularly offensive characteristic of this character type.

    The ‘No’ Lady

    From the moment she walks through the door, she seems to be girding for the battle to prevent you (the restaurant) from getting any of her money beyond the absolute minimum.

    The hostess might first encounter the ‘No’ Lady when asking if her party would like to have a drink in the bar before being seated.

    ‘No’, she responds curtly. <Crisp shake of the head.>

    When you meet her at the table, the perfunctory solicitation of a cocktail order gets the same response: ‘No.’ Like a murderer hooked up to a polygraph. 

    ‘Iced Tea, then? Soda?’

    ‘No.’ She’s shaking her head before you finish asking.

    Never mind up-selling, you’re not selling anything here.

    Get ready to cringe when you launch into the specials. She’s shaking her head so soon, so fast, you wonder if she has a nerve disorder. She breaks you off in mid-sentence describing the Veal Scall —

    ‘No!’

    Too bad the other guests were listening intently. She actually interrupted you.

    Maybe I’m old, cynical, or just plain mean, but nowadays when this happens to me, I do one of two things:

  1. I stop in my tracks conspicuously – mid-sentence, mind you – and say, ‘Okay. I’ll give you some time with the menus.’ And I walk away.
  2. I smile at the ‘No’ Lady and say, ‘Okay, then you won’t be ordering the Veal, but maybe these other folks here are interested in hearing about it.’
  3. Ditto for all possible add-ons during the meal. Appetizer? Salad? Dessert? After dinner drink? NoNoNoNo. Her ass is clenched so tight, I’m surprised she doesn’t blow out a lower disc.

    Of course, the ‘No’ Lady isn’t totally the ‘No’ Lady. She’ll gladly say ‘Yes’ to more free water, more free bread, more lemons for her fish, every extra sauce you can possibly bring for free, and extra candies that come with the bill.

    Speaking of the bill, there’s a high likelihood she’ll either be pulling out a calculator or a pocket tip chart. Equal odds that her contribution to the bill will involve single dollar bills, even coins. Notice that there is no chance in this scenario that she’s not going dutch.

    Fortunately, you, the waiter, had the chance to ‘No’ her back:

    ‘And we’d like to have separate checks,’ she says.

    ‘No.’

    * * * * *

    There’s no such thing as a completely uneventful day at a restaurant, of course. Today at lunch I had but three tables. A single, $5. A nice six-top, $60 on a $330 check. And a couple enjoying a birthday to whom I really gave great service. That was $53 on a $147 check. Walked with $100.

    Don’t ever get in a bad enough mood to give any less than the best you can do. I wasn’t in a bad mood at all today. However, that table could have been as nondescript as two cocktails, two salads, two entrees, and ‘Thanks for coming.’ Instead, I did every possible thing in my power to make it an enjoyable meal.

    They were an attractive couple in their late-twenties. They had not alerted anyone it was her birthday. My first approach, I noticed her give him a kiss, then put something back in a box. I got no other clues through the meal about a birthday.

    In fact, it didn’t matter to me anyway. I could tell they were having a special day, enjoying each other and the meal immensely. Michael’s is not cheap, so it seemed obvious they were treating themselves.

    I decided such an occasion deserved a free dessert. Michael’s will give a dessert to anyone for anything – B-day, Anniversary, Graduation, for any problem that’s occurred during the visit, or just because the server or manager thinks they’re ‘cool people.’ At an expensive restaurant, it’s our way of just saying thanks for coming here.

    I decided, with the B-day hunch, that they would warrant a dessert. I ‘fired’ a Baked Chocolate Pudding – an advance-order dessert like a souffle.

    So it came that they asked for the check when I cleared their table. My timing on the baking time was perfect, and I returned with the check and a birthday dessert as a complete surprise to them.

    Further, when it happened that I was right – it was her birthday – I got the digital camera, took their picture, and printed up a Michael’s souvenir photo.

    Amazingly, the picture thing didn’t seal the deal. They’d given me the check at that point and said I could keep the change. I didn’t look inside until I finished with the photo printing.

    Then, of course, I made a point of visiting them again and thanking them for the generous tip.

    You have to understand how people feel. Waiters often forget that their customers have the same feelings they do. If I gave someone a 33% tip on an expensive check, I wouldn’t expect to be acknowledged beyond the ‘Final Thank You.’ But if that extra acknowledgment did happen, it would make me feel good.

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3 thoughts on “The ‘No’ Lady

  1. MikeTheWaiterDotCom Thu, November 20, 2008 / 7:20 pm

    You are a lot like me… separate checks? NO!!! I just don’t do it–ever. I’ll get you another waiter if that’s a deal breaker.
    You forgot one freebie…I think it’s new on the scene… at least I NEVER used to see it, but now it’s an everday thing where I work (near Chicago)… the FREE STRAW for their water which invariably is requested with the FREE lemons for their water. It’s gotten so bad that when one asks…. I just put a dozen on a bread plate and put it in the middle of the table.
    Is this quirk unique to chicago or do others experience it as well???

  2. waiternotes Sat, November 22, 2008 / 3:24 pm

    Yeah, the straw with the water thing kills me. And it is a new thing. Where I work in California, it happens regularly, but not frequently. There ought to be a translation guide for waiter actions. Well, maybe not. Most translations would be: ‘You’re and idiot!’

    I do the same thing with lemons sometimes. Sometimes I over-anticipate to draw subtle attention to how ridiculously the person is consuming – as in cocktails. I’ll just bring another before they’re finished with the current one – even when they haven’t ordered it. The irony is, a guest like that thinks it’s the greatest thing in the world.

    I knew one guy who, when someone would go through the already-ample creamer carafe, would fill an entire teapot (probably 10 oz.) with half and half and plop it on the table.

    And of course there are the servers who, after a half dozen trips refilling Diet Coke, will fill up a water pitcher and put it on the table. Not classy, but it’s funny when someone else does it.

    Same irony as earlier: even though it’s tacky and out of place, these guest just love it!

  3. foodserviceninja Mon, March 9, 2009 / 8:38 pm

    Cant speak to the newness of it but after a long stint in fine dining I followed a good friend of mine (chef) into his dream concept southern food with live music. Thus I wait on a lot of black folks sometimes its all I wait on. They are freakish on straws for everything. And not just the ladies even the guys ask for them. For a white or hispanic male this wont happen as it is perceived as not masculine.

    We have debated this oddity with fellow servers who were black and came up with 2 possibilities:

    1. Black males growning up lack male role models and were raised by moms, aunt, and grandmasso they do what they did and used straws.

    2. They use them to not touch your place’s dirty glasses. I never got this one as the outside of the glass is TOO DIRTY to put your lips on but you dont mind drinking from the equally dirty inside of the glass. But when you observe the black guests some of them obsessively polish their silverware too.

    Now I auto straw the black guests and only straw whites when they order a soda or ask for lemon.

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