Last night was a good night at work. Earned in some nice tips and met some nice people. I got chatting with one table about a Caribbean fest going on downtown, which evolved into a nice conversation about other shows they’ve seen, what they do, what I do, etc. Also had a table who nicely stacked all their plates for me when they were done eating! I said, “Look at you guys, doing all my work for me! Thanks!” The guy who was stacking laughed and said that he used to work in a restaurant.
Unfortunately, one of my co-workers got a nightmare of a table. Let’s lay out the scenario, shall we?
For the past two weeks the restaurant I work at has been participating in this promotional event that means we have a set menu for dinner. Three courses, $20.10 per person. The beauty of this is that there are no substitutions, it is what it is. So as a server, when someone says, “Can I get this, but with none of this, and can I add this and have this instead of this?” we get to just say, “No.”
Each customer still gets to customize their meal, though. There are four salads to choose from and four desserts. For the entrée the customer picks three crostinos (think bruchetta) with different toppings like chicken, filet, scallops, shrimp, crab, peaches, asperagus…I think there’s something like 15 options.
This pretty much means hell for the kitchen staff. Our chef has to keep track of every individual meal and assemble hundreds of crostinos every night. Each option has a different sauce and a different garnish, so behind the line we are only set up for this promotional menu. For two weeks at dinner, it’s the set menu or nothing, and so far it’s worked out pretty well, because the set menu is really delicious.
Now, last night wasn’t too busy. So when my co-worker got a table who started to make substitutions and changes to the menu she informed them that she’s really not supposed to allow changes, but she could check with the chef. Our chef generously agreed to accommodate the requests of the table.
The three customers at the table went on to order the most complicated version of the set menu possible.
“I’ll have the chicken, but with the sauce on the side. And the filet, but with the arugula on the side, and extra sauce. And can I get the scallops but with the garnish that’s on the shrimp?” And pretty much every order sounded similar to that. My co-worker happily scribbled notes in her pad, trying to get down every change this table made.
Our chef groaned when he saw the ticket, but did his best to meet all their needs. Meanwhile I’ve been busy with my tables, not really knowing what was going on just a few tables over until I saw plates getting sent back into the kitchen. The server was looking frazzled as she explained to the chef that the table had complained that everything was cold.
Fair enough, our chef didn’t know how the food could have gotten cold, but he didn’t gripe, he re-made the meal with all the changes again. We thought that was the end of it, but then something else came back, and another crostino had to be re-made. Next thing we knew, this table was making a scene and one woman was asking for the manager.
Well, our manager wasn’t in that night. The owner is on vacation and the manager that was working had to step out for a little. So, the other server that was on last night approached the table and politely explained that no manager was available.
The table proceeded to storm up to the front of the restaurant and begin to rip into the server and host standing at the podium. I couldn’t miss it, so I acted as if I needed something from up front and got to experience this woman’s full-scale freak out first hand.
As I stood there with a tray, it was all I could do not to snap back at this woman. She was ranting about how the service was abysmal, everything was a nightmare, from the drinks to the dessert. This was supposed to be a celebration because apparently she just got out of the hospital (which is across the street) and was finally healthy. She ranted about how it took ten minutes to get her extra dressing, that onions were still on her husband’s salad even though he said he didn’t want onions, and her night was “ruined!” she practically sobbed.
The server at the podium was very calm. “Ma’am, I truly am sorry you had a bad experience tonight, and on behalf of the restaurant, I really do apologize. I am not trying to justify what happened, but in all honesty, your server should not have allowed you to make all those changes to the menu. Since the beginning of this promotion a few years ago, it’s always been a set menu with no changes, and our chef did you all a favor by trying to accommodate your requests.”
That did nothing to stop this lady’s rampage, she went on for five more minutes before storming out, followed by her friend. Her husband hung back. I thought for a minute he would apologize, say something like, “Sorry my wife is certifiably insane,” but instead he said, “She really is right, you know.” You go wimpy husband, you get your two cents in there.
When he too finally left the restaurant, the servers gathered in the back. We asked the server who had their table what went wrong, why this table was so distraught? She was at a loss, yes they had said the food was cold, but that was corrected as quickly as possible. Yes, she brought them a drink on the rocks rather than straight up, but again it was quickly rectified. Through all the changes on the menu, their server kept smiling (she has the patience and demeanor of an angel, honestly) and treated this table with respect even though they were treating her like dirt.
“I’m so sorry!” she kept saying to us, and even though she shouldn’t have let them make the changes, I couldn’t help feeling that this wasn’t her fault.
This woman really had to re prioritize her life. She had just gotten out of the hospital and was finally healthy. She must have been so thankful! So a celebratory dinner was in order. Maybe the dinner didn’t go exactly perfect, but in the end she, her friend and her husband got exactly what they ordered, changes and all. I guess I just think that if I were in her shoes I would just be grateful to be out to dinner, healthy, and in good company. Everyone makes mistakes, and the mistakes were corrected. After everything she had a delicious dinner, but that didn’t stop her from storming out of the restaurant on the verge of tears.
I’m sorry, your night is ruined because your server forgot about your extra salad dressing? Maybe that’s because she was too busy trying to remember the fifty changes you made to the menu when you ordered.
“Dude, I would’ve really laid into her, but I didn’t want her to cry!” The server at the podium said. The woman left her cell phone number before she left, demanding a manager call her. When the manager returned we told her about the crazy woman and said, “Good luck talking to her!”
“Ha!” she said, “I’m not calling that woman!”
The best part of the story is that before the husband left he assured us that we wouldn’t be losing them as customers. “We really do the love the food here, we’ll be back.”
Oh, please let it not be until after August 19th, my last day at the restaurant. God help the server who has them next.