By Patrick Maguire (7/24/12)
Last night a customer tried to “play a little game” (his words) with one of our servers, where he put twenty dollars on the table and said, “I’ll take one away (from your tip) every time something goes wrong.” I asked to speak with him outside of the restaurant and put an abrupt end to his “game.”
Where the hell do these people come from? Demeaning fellow human beings is never funny or cute. You don’t play games with hard-working people who are just trying to make a living. We need to continue to call these people on their shit, or they will continue to get away with it.
I guarantee you that the guy who came in last night will never try that again, and if the woman he was with ever dates him again, she’s a fool. I believe in the old adage that if you really want to know someone’s true colors, observe how they spontaneously interact with service industry workers.
Have you ever had anything like this ever happen to you or anyone you know?
I’ll provide the details of how my confrontation with the customer ended after reading your comments and recommendations on how you think I should have handled it. (The outcome will surprise you.) (Comments here: http://www.servernotservant.com/2012/07/24/lets-play-a-little-game/)
And here is the rest of the story:
I returned to the restaurant, with our general manager, on Monday night to a nearly full restaurant, after distributing food at a neighborhood block party. The servers quickly told us what happened, then got back to work immediately. It was busy. After making a lap through the diningroom, and watering all of the tables, I saw the potential tip money on the table.
I actually had another server tell me a similar story a few years ago, but never saw the 3rd Rock or Cheers episodes that several commenters referenced. It was appalling to believe that someone actually had the nerve to try this charade in real life. As Andrea Grimes at Eater National said, this might be funny on a sitcom, but it ”plays out like a serious dick move in real life.”
My first reaction was; This violates what we stand for, and we need to end it now. Our restaurant actually has a page on our menu called, Law & Order, in which the following two items are included:
– The customer is NOT always right. However, the respectful customer is always right, and the asshole customer is always wrong.
– … Just don’t be a douchebag.
The server who had the douchebag’s table was very busy, and really didn’t have time to think about the implications. Witnessing her anxiety and thinking about how demeaning the ruse was, made me and our GM, Suzie, incensed. Suzie went to the kitchen to check out the status of the couple’s meal, then came up with a brilliant plan: They’ve just finished their appetizers. Let’s take the high road. We’ll wrap up their entrées to-go, comp their entire meal and kick them out. I loved it. The dignity of our server was more important than the profit on the meal.
As it turns out, the couple had ordered a steak frites to split, so Suzie wrapped it up and handed it to me. I approached the table and said, Excuse me sir, may I speak with you outside? He immediately followed me out the door.
When we got outside, I introduced myself as one of the managers/partners of the restaurant, and shook his hand. I explained that I had just returned to the restaurant and learned about the little game he was trying to play with our server, and asked him, Do you realize how insulting, demeaning and disrespectful that is to another human being? He immediately began to appologize profusely, claiming that he was only trying to have a little fun, that he was smiling when he initiated the game, and that he had no malicious intent because he too, was in the restaurant business in New York. Not once did he push back at all, or suggest that I was overreacting. If he had, he would have been gone.
He was so convincing with his apology, that I told him I changed my mind about giving him his meal to go, and that I would allow him to finish his meal at his table. He returned to his table, promptly removed the cash from the table, then had to explain to his date what happened. They were both obviously humiliated. I took over the table so the server wouldn’t have to deal with such an awkward situation.
After taking a few bites of his steak, he stopped me on my way by and said, This is really good, and again, I am SO sorry. In front of his date I said, I hope you understand why I was boiling mad and how disrespectful that was? He said he did, and asked permission to apologize to the server. I asked him to make it brief. Moments later, he approached the server, gave her one of those two-handed handshakes where his left hand covered her right, and pleaded his case.
I’ve never seen two people crush and entrée so quickly. When they were done eating, they stacked their plates (to help), and asked for the check. After fumbling with his cash and the check, I noticed he was attempting to write or scratch something on his check with one of his keys. Apparently he was too embarrassed to ask for a pen.
After shaking my hand for the umpteenth time, he apologizing one final time, then sheepishly left the restaurant.
I quickly examined the cash and check to make sure he didn’t stiff our server. He left $71 on a $50.83 bill, and the note etched onto the bill read, So Sorry.
Part of me still regrets not throwing him out.
Patrick Maguire of Boston, MA is the author of:
I’m Your Server Not Your Servant
A Voice for Service Industry Workers Everywhere
A Case for Human-to-Human Service and Civility
You can read him and reach him at:
Blog & website: www.servernotservant.com
Facebook group: www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=162669757168
Imbibe and Inspire Interview: imbibeandinspire.com/Interviews/patrickmaguire
Boston Blast Interview: blastmagazine.com/2010/11/07/the-blast-interview-patrick-maguire-bostons-favorite-blogger/