November 26, 2012

dos and don'ts of a diner

 
we snuggled into our table, hungry like bears are hungry, as our distinctly mouthy friend likes to put it, and drooled over the diner menu. our savior arrived, looking like the quintessential motherly host, and requested our order. i went first. i always seem to have to go first. i'd like the blueberry pancakes! i chirped. special or buttermilk? she quipped. oh, i didn't know there was a difference-- does the buttermilk come with clotted cream? with a grand roll of her eyes, a la napoleon dynamite, she barked if you WANT it.
 
who does not want clotted cream?
 
as she impatiently awaited my decision, which at this point had taken up a good ten seconds of her time, i looked to the table for help. do i want buttermilk or special? godsakes people, BUTTERMILK OR SPECIAL?! i am, surprisingly, not a pancake aficionado. accordingly, i like to make the most out of these dessert breakfasts when they come along. silence filled the table. i turned back to Surly. umm, which do you like? i ventured, hoping to appeal to her with flattery. silence, avec irritated glare. finally ruggy muttered i don't think you'll go wrong either way and i stammered out special. special! just dear god STOP LOOKING AT ME.
 
what is it about surly servers (yes, i'm using the word server, it has a better ring in this case) that causes the most loudmouthed of folks to clam up? lemme tell ya, this was not a table of shrinking flowers. but clam up we did, i didn't give her an ounce of sass for her ample attitude. we enjoyed the hell out of our dishes, buttermilk or no, throughout the many rolled eyes and heaved sighs of Surly Server. it actually became a piece of enjoyable performance art.
 
at the end of the meal, Mouthy Friend said i thank you for your hospitality. he said this in all seriousness, he often says such things. what do you MEAN, she glared, as three friends and a Bebe looked anywhere but in her direction. i mean thank you for hosting us, it was delicious.
 
she eyed him suspiciously, ready for the kill: oooooooookay. you're.... welcome, she breathed, and rewarded him with what i can only call the most well intentioned smirk i've ever seen.
 
charmer, that Mouthy Friend.
 
it got me thinking: what is it about disgruntled waiters, waitresses, servers, restaurant professionals, that makes us do everything in our power to assure them we will bend over backwards to insure their good experience? is it the knowledge of their crappy wages? the thankfulness that we are not on the other side of the table? it ain't the lack of tipping, i'll tell you that.
 
at any rate, all of those perfectly reasonable theories bore me. what say you?
 

35 comments:

  1. They could be crazy and try to poison are food.

    Er.. I thinking I am having a dark moment right, so don't mind me.. Need candy or baked goods. Well baked goods.

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  2. Oooh! Surly Server was doing it wrong. I listened to a This American Life once, about mean people, and one of the segments was about a waitress who says she would get bigger tips from people if she was brusque and a little dismissive when serving them, but then unexpectedly SMILE BIG at just one point later on. The theory for why this works is that people are ON EDGE cos OMG THE SERVER DOESN'T LIKE ME and then when you get the big smile its a release of pent-up stress and the customer has a Sally Field YOU LIKE ME YOU REALLY LIKE ME moment, and to kind of definitively latch onto this SHE LIKES ME assessment, put a seal on it, decides to leave a tip. PSYCHE!

    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/245/allure-of-the-mean-friend

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    1. I'll have to listen to that one. I've heard a few other This American Life episodes. One i remember was about some people who get emotional and cry on airplanes, not related, but interesting: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/426/tough-room-2011?act=4#play

      I thought this would just be a food post about awesome pancakes, but i should've known better =) I was happily surprised by such an interesting story!

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    2. I love how This American Life popped up twice in the comments. And, wow, way to put your bad day on others silly surly server.

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    3. That's interesting I wonder if there's anything to it.

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    4. i now have weekend sewing listening research!!

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  3. It's the fact that they could spit in our food. It's the ultimate trump card

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    1. seriously. they have all the power. unless they're the kind of person that likes to claim their handiwork.

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  4. It must be because they are like the gatekeepers to the delicious things, and we worry if we make a wrong move, we won't get the delicious things... and we're REALLY HUNGRY. Even if this argument is illogical, we don't see that, because we're too focused on the deliciousness.

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    1. i was DEFINITELY blinded by my desire for sugar.

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  5. I think old surly waitresses are probably just too tired and resentful to care if they are friendly or not. Maybe it's a power thing?

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  6. I used to be a server (they called me "the hors d'oeuvre girl" ) in a bar and the meaner we were, the harder customers would try to win us over. If we could keep our brusque act up, they would eventually resort to big tips. Since it was a bar full of sexist jerks and we had to wear ridiculous uniforms, it wasn't all that hard to act surly. But a nasty breakfast server, that's sort of wrong.

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    1. how much do i love that you were the appetizer girl?!

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  7. It's definitely an odd sort of power they wield over us.....

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  8. Wow! That story is AMAZING. With a gun to my head I couldn't tell you the difference between buttermilk and special pancakes! Ridiculous. I don't get crabby servers. In my ten years off & on (shit, I cringe writing that out!) of waiting tables, if I was having a bad day or something, my tables would never know cause YOU LIVE OFF OF TIPS! But I'm a people-pleaser with daddy issues so I want everyone to like me ALL THE TIME... My favorite trick waiting on a table of bros was to pick out the weak dude (like, the guy that orders a salad with dressing on the side) and make fun of him the whole time so that all the other guys like you, leave huge tips, and ask for your phone #. Hmm, maybe I was surly...

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  9. Ensuring that we don't end up with spit in our food?? Haha

    But in all seriousness, if a server is surly, surely they must've had a bad day? So maybe we feel bad and try to make it a little better? 'Cause nothing sucks more than working with the public.

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  10. I waited tables for 10 years and have a really tough time when I get a grumpy server. I have even walked out when I was faced with a grumpy server. I mean I'm there to have a relaxing time and if they are going to ruin it why should I stay. I was always nice, even if I had to pretend because like Sigrid says, Servers live off of their tips!

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    1. but then what about the rest of the table? sometimes i hold my tongue so they don't feel awkward. i mean, i feel GREAT when i get shit off my chest. but apparently the schrapnel is unwelcome.

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  11. Even if they're mean, I try to be nice because I don't want them to make my food "extra special"...With ingredients not really meant to be in the recipe #boogersAndSpit.

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  12. Ooh, I love me a good Surly Server- I think sometimes you get to the point where you can't help but be amused. It always helps when you've got company too :)

    I definitely wouldn't say that I intentionally provoke anyone, but I have been known to revisit shops hoping for a repeat performance!

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  13. Uh, you've seen the movie "Waiting" haven't you? I live in terror of pissing off waitstaff after that.

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  14. I'm always taken aback by nasty service, but ever since I learned about the nasty things servers (perfectly good word) do to some customers' foods I'm more cautious.

    Note of attenuated relevance: When I learned French as a kid, the word for waiter was "garcon," the French word for boy, although I never heard that sense in the context of a restaurant discussion. But some time ago, "garçon" was dropped as being demeaing and the appropriate word is "serveur."


    Back to your experience: This is a job for Yelp.

    New York Sewer

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    1. yes, i've slacked on my yelping! and i always thought garcon was demeaning.

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  15. I do not know. I was a waitress for two years but I by no means was a surly one. I loved chatting with my tables and offering them my opinions!

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  16. I guess I'm weird. Surly servers (the truly surly kind, not those who are just not particularly happy and engaging) don't get nicer behavior from me ... they get shitty tips and words in their managers ear. Granted, this all comes AFTER they bring me my food.

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  17. I've never waited tables, but in college I was a barista at a cafe. I can't remember ever being surly or seeing co-workers being surly. But then again, I was generally wired on caffeine. So, maybe surly server was was suffering a post-maple syrup blood sugar crash?

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  18. I have always gotten weird/bad service- it's like i'm a magnet! It doesn't help that I seem to have a voice only dogs can hear when ordering, but it gives us good stories. I practically bus my own table after years of watching guiltilly as my mother 'special order/thats not what I ordered?! staff to death. One time she questioned if she could have brown rice with her stir fry and the lady rolled her eyes and said, 'oh, hold on, I'll have to find the key to the rice vault and check that out for you...'

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  19. THIS AMERICAN LIFE had a segment once about how rude (or surly) waitstaff always get tipped more. My daughter, a waitress during school, told me that's true. Every time she was in a bad mood, she'd get a bigger tip.

    I find that so weird.

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    1. hate to say it, but it makes sense. if we get them to crack a smile, we become the hero. what a trap!!!

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  20. Surly servers throughout the land beware!!! My husband thinks he is descended from French kings and will readily demand "Off with you head!" in front of the entire restaurant. He mashes substandard servers under his heel while he goes to work on management. (I just watch and smile sweetly.) Many a server has quickly hopped over to my side of the table to escape his fury. I can't say I always agree with his methods, but he gets results.

    On the other hand, I like to keep things light. Smile and engage. Good service equals good tips and a word to mgmt. Bad service and my tip is don't spit into the wind and mgmt will know about that, too.

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  21. Clotted cream, mmmm. Lord, I wish that was an option around here. With surly servers, my other half pours on the Southern magnolia--empathy and compassion in his/her day until they connect and are practically inviting him over to dinner and showing pictures of their kids or art. Not so much to elicit better behavior as much as he just likes people, surly and all. Anyways, I dunno, I worked as a server for 10 years and it has such a fishbowl stress level. I was definitely mean at times. Bartending is much more fun!

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i thankya truly for taking the time to comment, i love a good conversation-- and hope you know my thanks are always implied if not always written!