The other day was not supposed to be a busy day. Customers, if they did come in, were supposed to trickle in slowly. Tumbleweeds were supposed to be rolling with lackadaisical abandon down the main alley as servers filled out crossword puzzles while leaning over a beer cooler, games were supposed to be played, jokes told, cigarette breaks taken.
Obviously none of that shit happened.
At about 5:30 we discovered that due to some strange sort of temporal anomaly, everybody in a twenty mile radius who had a birthday that day decided they wanted to eat atThe Sushi Joint. And in the spirit of their shared birth anniversary camaraderie, they all rode the same bus to get there. Now before this starts sounding like a bitch session, trust me–it’s not. It’s great having business and these people were all pretty much super nice, but unfortunately for this one table a perfect storm brewed up and rained down a torrent of inconvenient shit on them.
That’s overstating it a bit. Really the only complaint they had was that the overall service took a good bit longer than they’re used to. It wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t the kitchen’s fault, it wasn’t the hostess’s fault, it wasn’t the table’s fault–it wasn’t anybody’s fault. It takes a little bit longer for everything when your restaurant fills up instantly with large parties, and all those extra seconds spent waiting on the POS terminal, waiting on the beverage station, waiting on longer ticket times, etc. add up. Adding to the mix, it started out as a six top but grew to an eight top (which was not that big of a problem at all), and when they got sat and I took their drink order, I was told that two of them had to leave soon and they needed their food in ten minutes (which was pretty fucking impossible at that time to be honest).
Let me be clear about this: I am NOT bitching about this table. It was a group of medical professionals that dine with us frequently and I am never unhappy to see them in my section. They just happened to be the victims of unfortunate timing–if they had sat down twenty minutes before or after they did then you wouldn’t be reading this. You’d probably be on facebook or watching porn. And I wouldn’t be all that surprised if you had another window open right now. I wouldn’t be jealous. You and I, we’re cool like that.
No one complained about things taking longer than they normally would have. Not the eleven top celebrating a birthday, not the couple having dinner, not the nice family of four sitting adjacent to the medipro table, not even the medical professional table, NO ONE complained about anything. Everybody that was there knew that the place just got flash mobbed and they assumed naturally that it would take a minute. Everybody was pretty nice and understanding except this one guy at the medipro table, and even HE was still pretty nice and (oddly enough) fairly understanding about it all.
But despite all this he kept me at the table for five minutes making valid complaints about the time of service and disputing the autograt. He acknowledged the situation wasn’t our fault and the fact that there was literally nothing that anyone could have done differently, and honestly he was never rude or hostile. He did, however, actually say words to the effect of ‘If we are going to have to pay a service charge we should have our own server that waits on just this one table’, a suggestion that even he seemed to recognize as wishful thinking almost as soon as he said it. I could tell confrontation didn’t come easily to him. He’s always been a nice guy and a good customer before, but his shaking voice and shaking hands told me how upset he was. I felt bad for the guy to tell the truth, so much so that I even asked him (once) if he wanted me to remove the grat from his bill. He eventually settled on vowing to never come back and my last words to him were Please Come Back. Sometimes there’s nothing else you can do.
While we were having our conversation, the father from the family of four at the next table was listening, and then he decided that he wanted to have a conversation with me also. But his conversation was a lot nicer. He also acknowledged the generally goatfucked nature of the situation and then he gave me all this really, really nice praise and encouragement. I wish I could remember what all he said but I was too busy at the time and quite frankly blown away by the sheer niceness of it all.
You see, Family of Four Dad was under the impression that I had just been cussed out for five minutes and he was giving me a pep talk. He told me how pleasant his meal had been and how well he thought I handled the situation and how well I held up under pressure–things he probably would have never thought to say if he hadn’t witnessed me getting a tongue-lashing from his table neighbor.
Every once in a while, having a table chew you out or act unreasonable can actually have a positive effect on your night if you handle it well. Customers can hear when their neighbors are saying to you, especially if they are making a spectacle of themselves. When you handle anger with compassion, insanity with reason, and rudeness with kindness, people respond to that. They really do, and it can be a beautiful thing.
The guy at the medipro table wasn’t mean or hostile or crazy but the Family of Four Dad apparently thought he was so he gave me a really nice pep talk.
I’ve been cussed out before–REALLY cussed out–and rarely have I gotten a pep talk from a neighboring table. It’s happened though. And it’s always cool when it happens. The best, most succinct and concise pep talk I’ve ever gotten was from a local insurance magnate regular who overheard this crazy ridiculous bitch just going off on me because she wanted avocados with something that didn’t normally come with avocados and she couldn’t figure out why she should have to pay for them (FYI it’s because we sell food for a living lady). This guy overheard the conversation and said simply: ‘Man, don’t let what that miserable bitch said get you down.’
So to all you pep talkers out there: Thank You! Words are powerful, much more so than most people realize. When you give heartfelt words of encouragement to others you can have a profound impact on their night. Healing words are ten times more powerful than hurting words, so the next time you see some poor bastard getting chewed out for something feel free to try to give them a pep talk. It won’t hurt anything and it can mean the difference between going home crying while giving everybody the finger and going home laughing. Not that I ever give everybody the finger. That’s not like me.
And as always, treat restaurant industry employees with . . .
Dignity and Respect
Me, The JerBear