I just read this excellent article by Amanda Cohen, chef and owner of the NYC restaurant Dirt Candy (get it? It’s a vegetarian restaurant? Dirt Candy? I like it! And after reading her menu, I’m dying to try celeriac ice cream, but I digress…), and I’m with her. She discusses how most restaurant employees honestly do want their patrons to leave happy. It’s true. I did my time in the restaurant biz. For the most part, my objective was to try and make sure customers had a good time. That they liked their food. That the service and overall restaurant experience was positive. That they’d want to come back.
I’d try and hold the perspective that my job in a restaurant wasn’t centered around a battle between Us and Them but rather, it needed to be seen as a healthy and productive working relationship. It didn’t always work, and I wasn’t always perfect at it, but I tried. It’s hard to maintain because you’re basically part dirty grunt/part performance artist, and the surly, tired, my feet hurt, I’m exhausted, I’ve already had to clean vomit, make $2.13 an hour and I’ve still got five hours left on my shift, I’ve got a ton of homework/bills/housework/family concerns that are distracting me, human, non-performer side of a restaurant worker can break through the veneer of pleasantries pretty easily. However. Generally, in response to a customer’s special requests, my answer (and the answers of most of my fellow restaurant peeps, who were often well-intentioned waitstaff and bartenders and hosts and managers who don’t go into that biz because of a relentless desire to stoke the fires of inner rage) was yes. Yes, we can deviate from the menu, yes we can accommodate your allergy, yes we can seat you as soon as possible, yes we can get you that extra whatever on the side.
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Because that’s how it works.
Because that’s the nature of the job.
I get insanely offended when restaurants aren’t managed, at the very least, decently.
Recently, I was told something wouldn’t be done by a kitchen, for all the wrong reasons. I’m still shocked.
George and I called a local restaurant (for the moment, staying nameless) to order some take-out food. George did the talking. Hi, he said. We’d like dinner A and dinner B, and we’d also like an order of your extra-spicy sauce on the side. The woman taking the order was new, writing everything down with someone watching her to make sure she got all the information she needed for the order. She conferred with the trainer in the background then got back on the line. “I’m sorry.” she said. “I can’t give you that sauce.”
What? We just want an order of it on the side.
Sorry, she said. The chef says it will make the dish you ordered a different dish. He won’t do it.
Fine. Whatever. We were hungry, we’d already mentally committed to dinner from this place. Don’t sell us the sauce. Be that way. We’ll be by to pick it up in 10 minutes.
Twenty minutes later, George came home, full order and extra sauce in hand.
Here’s what happened: when George gave his name, the new waitress wrote it down, and the owner recognized it. Oh, him!, the owner said. He’s a nice guy! And so, they did make George’s order as he requested, which is bad enough. Because for real, just do it in the first place, no? But then, when George got there, the owner/manager ACTUALLY SAID, “Yeah, when you first called, I thought you were one of these entitled jerks in town so I didn’t want to make it for you. But you know. It’s you. So that’s different.”
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He didn’t say, “We misunderstood your initial order and said duh when we realized our mistake, here you go.” He didn’t say, “I was having an aneurysm during your phone call. Of course we’ll make this for you.” He didn’t say, “I was temporarily possessed by Satan. Sorry ’bout that.” Instead, he justified his change of heart by winking and nudging, because we’re special. Awwww. Shouldn’t I feel all warm and fuzzy now?
What? No! Hey, manager dude, let me get this straight: you didn’t want to sell us an item that’s on your menu, because you thought we might be dicks? Not because we were being unreasonable or making insane demands, but because you had a bug up your ass? And when you found out who was doing the ordering, you decided to let us in your petty fiefdom of a club? And you’re training new employees to behave this way? Holy. Moly.
Here’s the thing: I don’t want to learn the secret handshake, I don’t want to know the password, and now? I don’t want your food. We ate the food that night and I felt dirty. I just want to be able to order off a menu, without a hassle. You’re in the restaurant biz, you’re going to deal with people EVERY DAY. Some of them will be total pains, some of them will be awesome, but all of them deserve a fair shake at the start of your interactions. This manager is someone who’s recently talked about being dedicated to growing his business. He’s sure got a funny way of showing it. It’s too bad, really, because I’d prefer to support local businesses, and the food was pretty good. But we haven’t been back since.
I’m still not going to say which restaurant it was, but feel free to circulate this among local folks and restaurant friends. Maybe the owner/manager will see it and recognize himself. Maybe he’s been wondering why we haven’t been in for the last two months. This is why. View this as a huge learning opportunity, and you’re welcome. Other restaurant folks, if you see your own behavior reflected in my story, then take my advice and get over yourselves. If you don’t, then I recommend a job in an accounting office, or perhaps filing books at a library, where human interaction will be kept to a minimum.
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And please, everybody (that includes you, you difficult customers) stop perpetuating the Us vs. Them mentality. It hurts all my brothers and sisters in the service industry. We’re all in this together, folks. Start acting like it.