A couple walks in the door. Fluvio seats them in my section.
From my perch at the hostess stand I overhear the man say, “Can we sit somewhere else?”
Fluvio tells them he can’t. The other sections are full.
Throwing me a sideways glance the man replies, “Well, can we have a different waiter?”
Looking startled, Fluvio tells the man it’s not a problem. After the couple sits Fluvio comes over to me.
“Don’t take that table,” he says.
“Gee, you think?” I reply.
“What’d you do to that guy?” Fluvio asks.
“I have no idea,” I say. “I’ve waited on that couple several times and never had a problem.”
“Well, they have a problem with you.”
“Can you imagine anyone having a problem with me?” I ask.
“Yes,” Fluvio snorts.
“Thanks a lot boss.”
“Maybe they caught you on a bad day,” Fluvio suggests.
“Do me a favor,” I ask, “Find out what the problem is.”
“Ok, I’ll ask after they’re done eating.” Fluvio says.
“Thanks, I really want to know.” Believe it or not, if someone has a valid criticism of my performance, I want to hear it.
Louis is stuck with the table and he’s not happy about it. He’s busy with a party in the back.
“Why aren’t you taking the table?” he asks.
“They don’t like me,” I reply.
I shrug helplessly.
“Maybe you crop dusted their table once too often,” Louis suggests.
“Nah, I stopped doing that months ago.”
“Did you stare at his wife’s tits?” Louis asks.
“Well what then?”
“I haven’t the foggiest,” I reply.
Louis shakes his head and goes to my detractor’s table.
I’m a bit worried. It’s not good when customers start requesting you not be their server. You want to encourage the reverse phenomenon. What did I do to piss these people off? Concerned, I start running though all the possibilities.
Was I impolite? Moi? Never.
Did I unconsciously do something gross at the table? Did I pick my nose, scratch my ass, or grab my crotch? Was a booger hanging from my nose? Did dandruff fall into the food? Scratch that – I don’t have dandruff.
Did I have a rip roaring erection while I recited the specials? Maybe I did stare at his wife’s tits.
Nah – the apron would have covered that up.
Did I say something weird? I mean, haven’t you ever worried that something might just Freudian slip off your tongue? Did I have a mini psychotic episode and say, “Hello I’m the King of the Wicker people, can I take your order?”
Did this guy overhear me complaining about him? No, that’s not it. I’m careful and he’s never given me cause to complain.
I sigh. Worrying isn’t going to help any. Fluvio will find out what’s up.
But I take solace in the fact that in my five years at the Bistro I can count the number of customers who’ve said they don’t like me on the fingers of one hand. That’s roughly one a year out of thousands of people. Not bad.
And, looking at my tipping average, I must be doing something right. My tips usually hover in the 20% range. This past week I’ve had a couple of 25% nights. If I was a shitty server my average would be in the toilet and Fluvio’d be wondering why. The numbers don’t lie.
The couple finally finishes eating dinner. Fluvio goes to find out what’s what. After a five minute conversation he delivers his report.
“I can’t wait to hear this,” I say raising an eyebrow.
“They said you’re cold.” Fluvio says, grinning.
“That’s it?” I say relieved, “I’m cold?”
“Aloof was another word they used. But they said it wasn’t a big deal.”
I start laughing.
“An aloof waiter,” I say, “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
Fluvio rolls his eyes. “Well you know how you can be,” he says.
Fluvio and I, in the grand scheme of things, both know this isn’t a valid criticism. It’s nothing to worry about. I’m a good waiter and bring in a lot of money.
But I can hazard a guess why these customers don’t like me.
Some diners, operating under a set of unrealistic expectations, want their servers to behave like a cruise line entertainer or a groveling serf. I am neither. I believe good service is subtle, invisible. You won’t catch me telling people my name, interrupting every five minutes, asking how the food is, or doing magic tricks. My job is to make you comfortable, guide you through the menu, and separate you from as much of your money as possible. A good server knows the focus should be on the customer and the food – not the guy bringing it.
And a good customer remembers that this is a business transaction.
But some patrons, raised on a fantasy diet of celebrity magazines, expect their server to act like the bastard son of Jeeves and Richard Simmons. And some waiters try and be just that.
Be warned. These ass kissing waiters usually suck. Confusing sycophancy with good service, they’ll cover up their incompetence with aggressive friendliness and happy bullshit. I’m sure you’ve encountered waiters like this, a sneer hidden behind every one of their dripping faux smiles. Be afraid. These are the guys who’ll spit in your food.
And what does it say about you if you don’t like the server’s “personality” even if you receive excellent service? What’s your problem? I know some of you harbor “I’m a secret rock star” fantasies. Some of you feel entitled to have me peel you a grape and tell you how wonderful you are. But guess what? I’ve waited on rock stars. You probably don’t qualify. Get over it.
And 85% of all customers realize this. They’re entitled to good service and a pleasant experience. It’s the humorless pricks with outsized egos that get all upset if their waiter isn’t willing to commit seppuku tableside. Fuck them.
“So what did they say?” Louis asks me.
“I’m cold and aloof,” I reply.
“Well you are kinda reserved.”
“But oh so lovable,” I say.
“You getting in trouble?”
“Guess not,” Louis says.
But that gets me thinking. Did those people realize they could have gotten me in trouble? There are restaurants that will fire you on the spot for less. Whatever this couple thought about me they couldn’t keep it to themselves? Did they even think I might have been having a bad day? I strive to be professional but, in the real world, that’s not always possible. Haven’t you ever had a bay day at work? As my mother always told me, don’t be too quick to judge – you never know what’s going on in a person’s life. Maybe someone died. Maybe they just got dumped or found out they’re sick. You never know. Lord knows I’m not perfect – but couldn’t they have given me the benefit of the doubt?
Guess not. I’ll bet those people are backstabbers in real life. Passive aggressive in extremis.
Or, maybe they were having a bad day.
The next evening I’m outside talking to a curvy blond who’s just finished her dinner.
“How was everything tonight?” I ask.
“Oh the food was wonderful,” Blondie says, “It’s a shame you weren’t our waiter.”
“How was your server?”
“Oh she was good,” Blondie purrs, “But she’s not you.”
This woman and I have been casually flirting for years. She’s a lot of fun.
“Not everyone can be me I’m afraid,” I say.
“Well we want you to be our waiter next time.”
“Just ask for me when you make a reservation,” I say, “Not a problem.”
“My friends and I really like you. You’ve got (get this people) such a great personality.”
I laugh out loud. “Gee, I wish everybody thought that.”
“Someone didn’t like you?” Blondie exclaims.
“I’ll bet they were assholes,” Blondie says.
“It’d be a boring world if everyone liked me,” I reply.
The woman laughs a deep rich laugh.
“Well I like you,” Blondie says, “You’re so cute.”
I seem to be a hit with the over 40 crowd. Why can’t I have this effect on twenty five year olds?
“Thank you,” I reply, blushing slightly.
Blondie’s husband joins us. We talk a bit, shake hands, and say our goodbyes.
“You’re our waiter next time,” the husband says.
“Looking forward to it sir.”
Blondie gives me a peck on the cheek. “See ya next time.”
“Have a nice evening madam,”
I watch Blondie and her husband recede into the distance.
Well, not every customer can like me. But some think I’m “cute.”
And I’ll take that any day.