The quartet of chattering yuppies on table 24 have finished dessert and ask for their check. They’ve been running me ragged all night with special requests, menu substitutions, and water refills for glasses three quarters full. I’m glad they’re leaving.
“Here you are, sir,” I say, laying the check presenter on the table. “It’s been a pleasure serving you this evening.”
“Don’t go anywhere,” the host, a balding man wearing black framed designer glasses, says imperiously. “I’ll give you my card right now.”
The man pulls his wallet out of his breast pocket, peruses the dozen or so credit cards it contains, selects an American Express Platinum Card, and puts it on the table. Crap.
“I’m terribly sorry, sir,” I say. “We don’t take American Express.”
“What?” the host gasps. “Why not?”
“I’m sorry, sir. It’s the restaurant’s policy.”
“That’s ridiculous!” the man says. “What would happen if I didn’t have another credit card?”
Since the terms of the restaurant’s insurance coverage would never allow us to force a customer to wash dishes in the back, I could tell my customer we’d take his Amex card if there was no other choice. Café Machiavelli’s credit card system can actually process American Express accounts – the owner just doesn’t want to pay the higher merchant fees. Personally I think his policy is penny wise and pound foolish but hey, it’s not my restaurant.
“I apologize for the inconvenience, sir,” I reply. “We take Master Card, Visa. Discover, JCB, and debit cards.”
“I’ve dined all over the world with my American Express card,” the man says, angrily. “This is ridiculous. Why can’t you take Amex?”
While some of this man’s anger is legitimate, I can also sense he’s angry because he’s been told he can’t do something. Many of my customers are rich people spoiled by the hearing the word “yes” all the time. When they hear the word “no” it comes as a shock. I decide getting into a debate with this man is a no-win scenario.
“I’m sorry that you’re distressed over our credit card policy,” I say politely. “I’ll get the owner over here right away.”
“Forget it,” the man scoffs, handing me a different credit card. “You guys must be the only restaurant within 100 miles that doesn’t take American Express.”
“Thank you, sir,” I say, taking the card. “I’ll be back in a moment.”
I go to the terminal, run the card, return it to the table, and wish everyone a pleasant evening. My social pleasantries go unreturned. After the table noisily walks out the front door I pick the check holder off the table and peek inside. On a $250 check they left me exactly $0. Assholes.
“What happened?” the owner demands when I hand him the credit card slip.
“They were pissed we don’t take Amex,” I reply.
“That sucks,” the owner says. “They shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”
“I must tell five tables a night we don’t take American Express,” I say. “It creates an awkward moment that hurts our tips. Could you put a sign on the door or something?”
“The stickers on the door tell the customer what cards we take.”
“I understand that,” I reply. “But maybe we need a sign that says we don’t take Amex.”
“I don’t like that idea,” the owner says. Oh well.
A few minutes later another one of my tables, a nice couple who’ve been a pleasure all evening, ask for their bill and hand me an American Express card.
“I’m sorry, sir,” I say sincerely. “We don’t take American Express.”
“You don’t?” the husband gasps.
“Oh no,” the man’s wife titters. “We’re doing dishes!”
“I washed dishes at a diner when I was in college,” the man says, smiling. “I’m a bit out of practice…….”
“Make him work!” the wife says. “I’d love to see him washing dishes.”
“I’d advise against it Madam,” I reply, shaking my head. “Our dishwasher doesn’t play nice with other people.”
“Really?” the wife says.
“The last customer we sent back there, well, it wasn’t pretty.”
The husband laughs – uneasily. I always like customers to think that the dishwasher’s a drugged out half human troglodyte chained to the wall subsisting on plate scrapings and obstreperous yuppie children. Café Machiavelli’s dishwasher is actually a pleasant little guy named Sebastiano who’d never hurt a fly – but the customers don’t need to know that. It’s better to let them live in fear.
“Let me see if we can scrape together some cash,” the man says, chuckling.
“Thank you, sir.” I like customers who can take a joke.
A minute later the couple waves me back to the table. A pile of bills have been crammed into the check holder.
“So,” I deadpan, “Can you pay or is the dishwasher getting a new playmate tonight?”
“We scraped the bottom of the barrel but we made it,” the man says, pointing to the check holder. “That’s all for you.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“You’re a good waiter,” the wife says. “Very funny. We’ll ask for you next time.”
“Thank you madam.”
“But tell the owner to start taking American Express,” the husband says. ‘We don’t want your dishwasher getting angry.”
“I’ll tell him, sir. Thank you.”
The couple gets up and leaves. On their way out the wife tells the owner what good service they received. That was nice. Once the couple’s out of sight I open their checkbook look inside. On $100 they left me $25. Righteous.
Why can’t all my customers be like them?