Sunday, March 17, 2013

Biting Back

      As long-time restaurant servers, the boyfriend and I are mellow, understanding diners. Wait staff, in return, always seem to be able to sniff out our 20 plus years of combined apron slavery and are friendly. Yet somehow last week, we managed to provoke a very different response from a server.

     It seemed like an unlikely time to make someone snap. We were on vacation, stopping by a little surf town in Hawaii. The day had been a bit of a bummer, as it had started dumping buckets of rain in the afternoon. We'd made the best of it, sitting next to a warm pizza oven during lunch, then checking out the surfers from a covered patio at the hotel, and later watching some trashy TV in our room. When the rain finally passed, we snuck out into the humid evening around 8:30 to look for a quick bite. 

     A "quick bite" is sort of a silly thing in a Hawaiian tourist town because your average plate of tacos, Chinese food, or veggie curry runs about 12-14 dollars. We bounced around from menu to menu trying to find something that didn't feel like robbery, settling on a busy cantina. The hostess led us to an overly loud corner table in the bar area.

     Soggy, out of it, we were skimming through the menu, when the server/bartender appeared. She burst up to our table, looking flustered, "I'll be right with you in a couple minutes OK?"

     We weren't exactly in suits, looking at our watches to get back to the office, or banging our forks on the table or anything, so I'm not sure where she got the idea we were impatiently waiting. She was probably getting over a long slam since the restaurant was a popular spot, so we didn't bat an eye over her stressed appearance.

     Yet she had the same unsmiling, distracted look when she took our order, and didn't say a thing when we were done speaking, just took our menus and left. When she came by to drop off the boyfriend's beer, he leaned and asked her as she walked away, "Oh, could we get some chips and salsa?"

     "It's coming!" She snapped.

     My boyfriend sat back like he'd been slapped in the face. Now, my boyfriend isn't one to get his nuts in a twist over snippyness from a lady- he's surrounded by strong women in his life and can deal. This was some rude, uncalled for behavior.

     "Honey..." I tried to talk him off the ledge. He was contemplating whether we should get up and leave, something we have never dreamed of doing.

     "It's like the bread thing I think," I continued. "Don't you hate it when customers bug you for bread when the bussers are practically behind you with the basket?" I wasn't sure why I was defending her, I was trying to calm him down a bit. I didn't have the energy to make a scene.

     He pointed out that we were in Hawaii and virtually nothing comes out as a freebie. He just assumed he had to order chips and salsa, and have it added to our bill. Wouldn't it be pretty funny to order a beer and have the server snap "It's coming!" as a response?

     We sat quietly, almost shamefully, like we'd just witnessed family members in a argument. The server, for her part, seemed to realize she'd crossed the line because she was suddenly much more cheerful on subsequent visits.

     I have to laugh at this experience now, because I'm sure I've been caught in a slam and said or done something ridiculous. For someone like me who's been in the business perhaps too long, it's a nice kick in the butt to see what bad service looks like. I turned up the goobery sweet quotient this weekend at work as a response.

     "Isn't she so nice?" I heard a group of regulars, my first table, say this Friday night as I walked away. This was after I'd made a helpful suggestion of an off-menu dish that would meet one of the women's dietary restrictions.

     So to my agro wait person, I appreciate the tip!