This weekend, we went out to a restaurant we’ve been to many times. And had the worst service EVER.
Now, as most of you know, I used to be a waitress. I know what it’s like when you’ve been triple sat, are totally in the weeds, the kitchen manager keeps yelling at you AND you’re totally stressed about not making enough to pay the power bill. Which is why someone has to pretty much insult me to my face to get a less than twenty percent tip, even if the service is terrible. But this experience, it was almost comical. (I’m not going to say the name of this place, or even where it was. Suffice to say it was NOT in Chapel Hill—where all the restaurants are fabulous!—and I’ll leave it at that.)
First, when we arrived, the place was full of smoke. Not a good sign, right? Also, when we sat down, the people the next table over were right at that very second complaining to the manager about their service. Followed quickly by the table beside them. I know what you’re thinking: bad omens, hello! But we didn’t look at it that way. We thought, “Oh, please. Those people are so uptight. Just calm down, already.” Then we sat, and the waitress came up immediately. All good, right? “What’s with the smoke?” we asked. “Oh,” she said, “We’ve just been really busy.” Which was kind of an odd answer. But whatever. She took our drink order, left us to look over the menu. We didn’t see her again for about twenty minutes.
From there, it was all downhill. Drinks never showed up, menu asked for forgotten, when our order was finally put in the appetizer came out with my husband’s entree, but mine took another fifteen minutes. By this point, I’d just decided it was some kind of karmic retribution, although my husband was a little annoyed, mostly because he could SEE his drink at the end of the bar, where it had been sitting for awhile. After a bit, the manager ambled down and checked in with the table next to us, which was full of pretty girls, asking how their service was, if everything was fine. They said it was. He left. My husband got up and went to get his beer, and I kept eating the appetizer, as my food had not yet showed up. Then I looked down at the end of the bar and saw my husband gesturing. Uh oh.
Now, my husband is a pretty mellow guy. He doesn’t fly off the handle—that’s usually my job, crazy neurotic writer girl—is usually the voice of reason for both of us. But once he does get mad, he’s mad. And when he’s really mad, he gestures. I put down my fork and braced myself.
A moment later, here he comes, the manager following along behind him, who was now VERY apologetic, however, shaking my hand, asking my name (and stinking of cologne, not that this has anything to do with the story) offering free desserts, etc. By this point my husband is fine, it’s all fine, thank you very much, no the salmon is lovely, etc etc. Meanwhile our waitress is avoiding us like the plague (not that I blame her) while the other tables around us look longingly for THEIR drinks, which are God Knows Where. Eventually, our waitress comes back, says how sorry she is, we say it’s fine, and then she stands there for a few minutes, telling us how busy it’s been, how crazy, and we nod and are sympathetic. It’s a long, sad story, but even sadder is the fact that while she’s telling it, everyone at her other tables is getting angrier and angrier. I can see it happening. And I want to say, “Don’t waste your time here! This ship has sailed! If you want to make that power bill, get those drinks for those people, pronto!” Just like I wanted to say to the manager, “If you are walking by and a table where one person is sitting with a full, untouched plate in front of them, and the other has no plate at all, plus both their drinks are empty, you might want to skip the flirting and see what you can do about the situation!” But of course, I don’t. I just sit there, and eat my (late) food, and of course tip twenty percent, because I am Just That Way.
The thing is, once you’ve done a job, it’s hard not to want to jump in when you see someone else falling down on it. Sitting there, my husband fuming beside me, I was already building a plan of action in my head: first, I’d apologize, profusely, and I’d clear all the empty glasses and plates because it’s just making clear what’s NOT on the table before zooming back to the bar, grabbing the drinks, returning them promptly, apologizing again, promising something free, going back the kitchen and begging/pleading/crying if necessary to get that missing entree, which I would then run back, apologize again, and then leave the people alone to eat in peace while I dealt with everyone else. Might not have fixed everything. But it would have been SOMETHING.
Again, it’s always easier from the outside. It’s like when I’m reading a book, and everything’s going fine and then a character does something completely random or unbelievable, or the whole story takes a weird twist and suddenly implodes. No! I want to say. Don’t do that! You could try this, or this, or even this! But it’s a lot easier to tell someone how to do something than to do it yourself, never mind do it well (which pretty much sums up my entire teaching career, now that I think about it). So maybe with writing, and waitressing, I should just sit back. Let things happen. Live and learn. And tip well, always, if only because of the power bill.