“Uh, I have a problem with table 2,” Kylie says warily.
“What kind of problem?” I sigh. We’re in the middle of the holiday insanity and I’m tired.
“They want to pay with a gift certificate.”
“They only have the card holder – not the actual card.”
“That is a problem,” I admit.
“They’re upset,” Kylie says.
“I’ll go talk to them.”
The Bistro’s gift certificates are like those plastic gift cards you get at any department store. When you purchase a card we place it in one of those perforated holders and slip it into a fancy envelope. It makes for a nice presentation.
I go over to table 2. It’s a middle aged man having dinner with his elderly mother.
“Good evening.” I say, “I’m the manager. How can I help you?”
“The waitress told us she couldn’t accept our gift certificate,” the old lady says.
“May I see it?” I ask.
The old lady hands me an envelope. Inside is the card holder but not the actual card.
“I’m sorry madam but the gift certificate looks like a credit card. This is the cardholder.”
“You mean it’s not the gift certificate?” the woman yelps.
“It has the amount written on it,” her son says, “Right there! A hundred bucks!”
“Yes sir,” I reply, “That’s for presentation purposes. We can’t write the amount on the actual card so we put it on the card holder.”
“But I thought this was the gift certificate!” the old lady cries.
“I’m sorry madam,” I say politely, “Maybe you left the card at home?”
“This is the only thing I got!” the old lady yells.
“There was no credit card thing inside,” Sonny says angrily.
“Do you have the receipt?” I say hopefully. If I have the receipt I can run the transaction.
“No!” the old lady says, “It was a gift from XYZ Realty.”
I know XYZ Realty. They purchase $5000 worth of gift cards every Christmas.
“Unfortunately,” I say, “I need the actual card.”
“This is bullshit,” Sonny snaps.
“I’m sorry sir.”
“You guys never gave me the card! This is a rip-off!” the old lady hisses.
“The card must have fallen out of the envelope,” I say apologetically.
“Well that’s too bad for you,” Sonny says, “Because we’re not paying otherwise.”
“Excuse me?” I say, surprised.
Waving the cardholder in my face Sonny says, “This is the gift certificate. You’re gonna take it.”
“Sir,” I say carefully, “I’m sorry but I can’t.”
“What kind of a scam are you trying to pull here?” he cries.
The check is $75. I’ve never seen these people before. Without the gift card they might not have the money to pay the bill. Maybe that’s powering their anger.
“You could pay the bill with cash or a credit card,” I say reasonably, “And when you find the gift certificate we can refund you.”
“We’re not giving you a dime!” Sonny blusters, “You and your whole outfit are a bunch of con artists.”
“Listen,” I say, “Here’s another solution. If you let me make a copy of your driver’s license the owner can call XYZ Realty and sort everything out tomorrow.”
“I’m not giving you my driver’s license!” Sonny says.
“Sir…..I’m trying to resolve this situation to both our benefits.”
“I SHOULDN’T BE UNDER INVESTIGATION WHEN I GO OUT TO EAT! WHAT IS THIS? A POLICE STATE?” Sonny yells, leaping out of his chair.
The dining room has fallen silent. I’m can feel forty sets of eyes on the back of my head.
“Sir,” I say evenly, “Lower your voice.”
Sonny looks like he’s been slapped in the face.
“I’m not raising my voice……..” he mumbles, sitting back down.
“There are other people trying to enjoy their dinner,” I say firmly.
“I don’t……..” Sonny says, his voice trailing off.
I know why Sonny’s quiet – he can’t believe a waiter told him to shut up.
“Madam,” I say, turning to the mother, “I need you to pay the bill. We can sort everything out later when everybody’s calm.”
“NO!” the old woman yells, “You’re a crook!”
Sonny tosses the card holder towards me. “This is all you’re getting.”
Sonny gets up again. He’s found his balls and sticks his face an inch from my nose.
“You don’t like it?” he growls, “Too bad.”
My adrenaline’s pumping. To say it’s difficult to maintain my professional reserve is an understatement. I back up slightly.
“Sir, I want to resolve this……”
“You know what?” Sonny says, his face contorted in rage, “I’m sick of you and your act. Who do you think you are?”
Something in me snaps.
“Please leave.” I say.
A seventy five dollar bill isn’t worth all this trouble. Calling the cops isn’t an option. Having a little old lady cuffed and thrown into a patrol car won’t do wonders for our PR.
“Get out,” I say firmly, pointing towards the door.
Sonny stares at me in disbelief.
“You’re kicking me out?” he says.
“Yes sir.” I reply.
“C’mon Mom,” he says, “We’re leaving.”
Mother and son angrily storm towards the front door.
“WE’RE NEVER COMING BACK HERE!” the old harridan shrieks, “AND WE’RE TELLING ALL OUR FRIENDS NOT TO EAT HERE EITHER!”
They slam the door on the way out.
Standing in the middle of the restaurant I realize everyone’s staring at me.
“I apologize for the unscheduled dinner theater everybody,” I say.
That gets a laugh.
“Oh my god!” a patron exclaims, “What horrible people!”
“Tell me about it,” I reply.
“You poor man,” his wife says sympathetically
“When you deal with the public……” I say, shrugging
Of course I was waiting tables when this happened. I’m hopelessly behind. The other waiters pitch in to help. It takes twenty minutes to catch up. I apologize to everyone for the delay.
“That’s ok,” an Armani clad customer says, “You were dealing with a couple of maniacs.”
“Thank you sir,” I say gratefully. Sometimes Yuppies are all right.
I head to the back to get a cup of coffee. I’m still jazzed up from what happened. I need a few minutes to get my head back in order.
As I’m sipping my coffee Kylie comes running into the kitchen.
“He’s back!” she says excitedly.
“That man!” she says.
I go to the front. Sonny’s standing in the doorway. His mother’s not with him. He looks pissed.
“Yes sir?” I ask.
“I found the gift certificate on my car floor,” he says.
“That’s great,” I say sincerely, “I’m glad you found it.”
Sonny throws the card at me.
“Here’s your fucking card,” he says.
The card bounces off my chest. I stand there in shock wondering if that constitutes assault.
“You handled my situation terribly,” Sonny says, “I want to talk to your boss.”
“He’s not here.” I say, struggling to keep my voice under control.
“Where is he?” the man demands.
“Christmas shopping,” I croak.
“Everybody eating here should know how unprofessional and rude you are,” Sonny loudly announces to the restaurant.
I am enraged.
“Sir,” I say, “Step outside.”
“What?” Sonny says, “You’re afraid to let your customer’s hear the truth?”
“Outside now,” I growl.
“Either you step outside or I call the cops.” I say.
Sonny steps outside.
“You need to leave. Never come back here.” I say, my voice trembling.
“You know I run a business,” Sonny says, “And I’d never treat anyone the way you treated me.”
I have a vision of this grubby little man running some pawnshop in the ghetto. Yeah, Sonny looks like the type.
“Sir,” I say evenly “Let’s just call it a night.”
“I’ll tell you when I’m done talking to you,” Sonny says, getting in my face – again.
I’m a guy. When another man gets in your face you have to process a number of pre programmed instinctual behaviors. Namely, should I walk away or kick his ass?”
I stare at Sonny’s smirking fat face.
“This conversation is over,” I say, “Good night.”
“I’m not done…..” Sonny sputters.
“Yes you are,” I say, heading back inside.
“Fuck you,” Sonny calls after me.
I freeze mid step. I want to turn around. I want to hit Sonny.
But I can’t. I’m not paid to get into fights. Fluvio pays me to keep things running smoothly. Besides, it’d only make a bad situation worse. I take a deep breath and walk away.
“Asshole,” Sonny says, taunting me.
I eat my anger and close the door behind me. I can feel tears in my eyes. That’s how pissed off I am.
Sonny paces outside angrily. After a minute he leaves.
Standing alone in the foyer I wipe my eyes and concentrate on my breathing. After a few minutes I regain my composure. I head back on the floor.
One of my customers, a regular, waves me over.
“Are you all right?” he asks, concerned.
“Yes, thank you sir.”
“I was about to come outside and help you,” he says.
“Thank you sir,” I say placing my hand on his shoulder, “I appreciate that.”
“You have a lot of patience,” he says.
“Too much,” I say.
“Well you handled that very well.”
“Thank you sir.”
I pick the gift certificate off the floor and close out Kylie’s wayward check. She gets a $25 dollar tip. She’s happy.
The night ends. I close up and start walking to my car. I end up sitting on a barstool at the Irish Pub instead.
“What’ll ya have?” Lenny the barman asks me.
“Bushmills neat, please.”
“Uh oh,” Lenny says, “You had a bad night.”
I explain how bad it was. Lenny shakes his head in disbelief.
“I’da kicked his ass.”
“The thought did occur to me,” I reply.
Lenny sets up a glass and pours me a shot. “This is on the house,” he says.
“Fucking holidays mate,” Lenny says,” Makes everybody crazy.”
I swallow the whisky in a single gulp.
“Yeah,” I say, “Merry Fucking Christmas.”
Lenny chuckles and pours me another.
“Enjoy this one,” he says, “You’re money’s no good here tonight.”
I let the warmth from the whisky spread throughout my body. Closing my eyes I can still see Sonny’s angry face. For a moment I feel a bit of sympathy. Sonny’s not going to live very long going through life like that. He’ll either have a heart attack or pull shit with someone less patient than me.
Maybe Sonny’s lonely and unhappy. Maybe he’s got some issues with his Mom. Maybe the Holidays are tough on him. Who knows? Tis the Season.
I take a sip of my Bushmills.
I can’t wait till the Holiday’s are over.