A Restaurant Rant

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.

Image from crayonsglueandtyingshoes.blogspot.com

Image from crayonsglueandtyingshoes.blogspot.com

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.”

Image from imgflip.com

Image from imgflip.com

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.

T2 disapproves.  Image from tvtropes.org

T2 disapproves.
Image from tvtropes.org

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.

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12 responses to A Restaurant Rant

  1. Jan Muzyczka

    I don’t miss the days of being dealt with like a servant-and that’s when I was the owner of the joint! But I do miss the 99% of fantastic folk that wandered thru the Trencherman and enriched every day. They made the time fly and life long friendships were born. It is a hard life and customers get cranky and servers and cooks and owners do too-but I would never have NOT had that time. Hell-I found a husband at the Trencherman and I thank my lucky stars every day!

    Like

    • beyondpaisley – Author

      Yeah, there’s a lot to be said for the positives of working in that crazy-crazy business. I liked it, but it IS hard, and it gets so much harder when you go in with an us v them mentality.

      Like

  2. you may not believe this – but I was fired back in the day when I attempted to be a waitress. What a thankless job. Big thumbs up for not going back. I would mention the name – how else to people REALLY learn?

    Like

    • beyondpaisley – Author

      It’s not for everybody, LOL. The thing about that job that’s hard is that it’s crazy and unpredictable and still, at the end of every day, you know that tomorrow you have to face that same maelstrom. But that’s also weirdly charming; you don’t have to worry about taking the job home with you, and if you work in the right place you’ll never be bored. As for the name…I live in a REALLY small town. Only so much of the pot I want to stir.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My wife is an expert ordering off-menu. She has it perfected as a science. And if a restaurant does not accommodate her request, we move on. Believe me the “No tomatoes, no pepper” phrase I hear all the time is law in our home, which extends to restaurants we frequent. I don’t mind, however, if a hostess doesn’t get it right the first time, unless she has a bad night–all the tables filled, we’ll mention the experience as being less than pleasant, at which time we’ll pay the tab never to return again.

    Sad, yes, but necessary.

    Like

  4. Good for you for saying what lot’s of people think but never express – just stop going. I hate to be told I can’t have something I’m paying for in the first place. OR, that I can’t substitute for an item I cannot eat. Thank you!

    Like

  5. Crystal B.

    From a member of the service industry, thank you for such a well written blog post with such (a) valid point(s). And, for those of you who have never worked in the service industry, please think about things as if you were on the other side, helping a customer. We are more than happy to accommodate requests and our goal is for guests to leave happy, with a “Wow, that was amazing,” but like to be treated in a respectful manner. As mentioned in the article, we need to work together! 🙂

    Like

    • beyondpaisley – Author

      It’s so frustrating, to try and provide a a pleasant environment for customers, and there are restaurateurs like this dude setting people up to be antagonistic to service personnel. Is it really that hard to behave nicely toward other people? I don’t get it.

      Like

    • beyondpaisley – Author

      It’s not even “the customer is always right”, because I’ve been in situations (not a whole lot, but still) where the customer was flat-out over the line dead wrong. But you know. The customer should be able to buy an item that’s on the menu, even if it doesn’t “go” with the dish. I remember working in one restaurant where the customer ordered a Cobb salad, but didn’t like bleu cheese dressing and asked for something else (Italian, I think) on the side. The chef started bitching at me about the purity of his salad and how it’s not a Cobb with any other dressing and I said soemthing like, “Dude, it’s a goddamned salad. Give the woman what she wants and shut up. It’s not personal.” Like it would have been better to tell her no, the chef won’t sub a dressing because of __reasons__. This is the same sort of situation. And this guy made it personal.

      Like

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