A few ‘irritating guest’ notes (hey, this is Waiternotes, after all) that have been laying around on my desk for a couple of weeks:
Heated Finger Towels. We use heated finger towels at Carney’s for items that might be eaten with the fingers: broiled shrimp appetizer, lamb chops, crab legs. We’re supposed to bring these towels when serving the dish or shortly thereafter. Actually, before I get to my peeve, I’ll say I’m also irritated that we offer these towels for the shrimp and lamb chops. It’s over-refinement. There are six shrimp on the appetizer, and it’s usually shared. It’s not as if these shrimp are soaked in butter or Cajun seasoning or anything. People just pinch the tails between their index finger and thumb, and two bites later, the shrimp is gone. Trust me, their fingers and hands are not soiled so much that a regular napkin can’t clean things up. Likewise for the lamb chops. By the time the chops are done broiling, the little bone-handles are dry as a cinder – and they’re also not charred, as we cover them in foil during the cooking process.
Anyway, my peeve is the jackass who picks up the towel as soon as I deliver it and wipes his hands (and sometimes his face) – before he’s finished, or perhaps even started, eating the dish. Look, dude, this is Carney’s Corner Restaurant, not Carney’s Corner Salon and Spa.
Guests’ Pre-Tip Anger. We’ve all seen it. A perfectly executed dining experience; delicious food with no complaints; warm and comfortable rapport with the waiter through the meal; a good time was had by all.
And then at the end the mood suddenly changes. The guest won’t look you in the eye. He/she starts talking sotto voce to his partner. He might even say something brusque like, ‘Just bring us the check.’
As a waiter I always start to review at this point what could be the problem. Did I miss that this was a birthday/anniversary table and not bring the free dessert? Did I say something? Are they arguing? Most of the time I come up dry looking for a reason for the change in demeanor. Then when they pay and leave (again, no eye contact with me, and little or no acknowledgement of my final thank you and well wishes as they walk out), I collect the check from the table.
Yep. Ten percent. This a-hole knew it had finally come time to pay the piper (poorly), and his mood soured. Equally likely, he manufactured this mood to internally justify what he was about to do to me.
I can live with old people tipping 10%, as well as foreigners doing the same, and even just plain cheap people. It’s a voluntary gratuity, after all, and I really do honor a person’s true convictions. But people, if you can’t psychologically handle tipping poorly and you demonstrate it in this way, that should be a clue to you that you’re wrong.
Either eat cheaper and tip 15-20% or eat great take-out or shop at Bristol Farms and eat at home. Same monetary outlay, and you’re also behaving well-within the approved social norms.
‘Oh! There you are!’
This is so common in food serving, waiters automatically translate this as, ‘Where have you been? We were ready a long time ago.’
Ah, yes. When you first start waiting tables, understanding restaurant time seems impossible. This is because A) you are doing so much while the guest is doing so little; B) you’re in over your head and can’t ever seem to catch up; C) time stretches and contracts depending on the situation. Re: C: If you take a drink order and don’t return for ten minutes with the cocktails, the guest will send a search party after you – while one remains at the table composing a complaint email on his Blackberry. On the other hand, if, after checking back on the main courses, you don’t show your face for 20 minutes, that might be perfectly acceptable.
Once you’ve been a waiter for a couple of years the perception of time is no longer a mystery. You know what’s been a long time, and what hasn’t. That’s why it’s so galling to hear, ‘Oh, there you are!’
‘Yes, here I am. And I was also here at regular five minute intervals during the last half hour while you talked and refused to look at your menus. But you didn’t notice.’
Okay. So I’ve never said it quite this coarsely.
I have said, passive aggressively, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were in a hurry. When I came by a couple minutes ago you were busy talking so I let you alone.’
I have said, ‘Oh, you were looking for me? I’ve been in and out of this area every couple minutes for the last half hour. This is where I’m working.’
I have said, ‘I tried to break in on your conversation a couple of times but you were just so focused . . .’
Maybe someday I’ll say, ‘Yeah. And there you are, like before. Only now you’re not too self-absorbed to notice that I’ve been here waiting to serve you for the last half hour.’