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Budding Guru, DC Life

Revised: The New Yorker’s Article is On Backwards

I have some sassy remarks for a one Mr. Paul Simms of The New Yorker for his piece this week called “Restaurant Mental-Health-Code Violations“. It understandably caught my eye this morning, being a current and long-time member of the hospitality industry, and I looked forward to reading its quippy prose today on my bus to work [again: at a restaurant].

I was sorely disappointed.

Being the naive thing I am capable of being on occasion, I comically thought it was written for those of us in service, and as a pointed reminder to the served population that they should brush up on their manners. Clearly, I’ve put on airs and have risen far above my station with the thought of correcting my betters– so I’m going to run with it and mutiny in style. Ah, I love the fresh taste of insubordination in the morning!

The Article, with Suggested Revisions

Mr. Simms: Hostess at virtually empty restaurant asks customers if they have a reservation, then types on computer, then seats them at table right next to the only other customers in the restaurant.

Jules: Party of fifteen walks into a hectic restaurant on a Friday night, asks for a “quiet table” “away from children”. When hostess asks if they have a table reserved for them, party responds over the loud din of a crowded restaurant “oh, did we need one?” Five minutes later, they begin to teach the hostess how to do her own job by pointing at an empty table, asking if they can sit there, and making a fuss when they’re told it’s reserved. We don’t bust into your office and show you how to make a tax spreadsheet just because our refunds aren’t arriving quickly enough; I know it takes time and I haven’t a clue on the details of the system. Try that concept on for size.

I’m not saying I’ve done it… but I’m not saying I haven’t, either.

Customer over the age of thirty-five is told by server that chocolate dessert is “tight,” “off the hook,” and also “the bomb.”

Customer requests a “regular” sized drink, at the “normally hot” temperature, with the “usual amount of cream/sugar/etc”, despite the fact that they used entirely subjective terms. Customer returns five minutes later with the drink upset that it is too small, too hot, and not sweet enough. [Also: haven’t heard “the bomb” since middle school.]

Open kitchen layout allows customers a clear view of line cook wearing regulation hairnet but no covering on his gigantic, filthy lumberjack beard.

Customer harasses hostess into rapidly cleaning and re-seating them at a table, then complains about the surface being wet. Yes… that’s because it was cleaned literally five seconds ago, and someone was impatient. They later go into the bathroom and leave piles of used paper towels, puddles of water, and soap dripping everywhere. It’s ok, the staff will clean it.

Server repeatedly and aggressively uses the words “mootz-arell ” and “pruh-zhoot ” with a straight face, almost as if taunting.

Customer repeatedly and aggressively uses the words “mootz-arell” and “pruh-zhoot” with a straight face, almost as if taunting. Scratch that, exactly as if taunting– especially since customer not minutes before informed other guests they studied for a week in Italy one summer, and immediately asked the server [in broken Italian] where their family is from.

Party of seven all wearing flip-flops in plain sight.

Agreed. But I will add, to counter against the entitled rich, with a bejeweled woman protesting that her lapdog must be allowed in to dine as her emotional companion, pointing to another service dog already in the restaurant. That dog helps a man live without sight; yappy chihuahuas seem hellbent on me living without hearing.

I have an affliction that prevents me from hearing people that are not looking at me. This includes cell phones, any electronic devices, and especially when your gaze is misdirected at inappropriate body parts.

Server lies in wait to ask for orders until customer is at the climax of a long anecdote. Once orders are taken and customer has recapped anecdote up to the interruption point and is about to deliver the punch line, server returns to double-check on orders.

Customer never shuts up long enough for server to politely take orders, thus necessitating interruption. Later, the comment card reads both “overly attentive server” and “took awhile to take our order”, as if customer has absolutely no sense of irony. Even worse: cell phones. I refuse to acknowledge a person in front of me until they decide to acknowledge that I am a person.

Chocolate mousse with a single candle in it is served to easily embarrassed customer who agreed to have dinner with friends only on the condition that they not make a big deal out of his birthday. Birthday boy’s friends are the type who get the whole restaurant to join in singing “Happy Birthday” and convince themselves that this is actually what he wants, even though he wants to crawl under table and die.

Try being the idiot delivering that candled mousse when all the other servers pulled a duck-and-cover and you had to go it alone, hoping the birthday kid’s friends aren’t too cheap to tip for your humiliation.

While dining at Chinese restaurant whose tables are full of Asian families, non-Asian customer refuses to admit to companion that the food was not good; claims companion must have “ordered wrong.”

Working in an ethnic restaurant with tables full of enlightened diners, while new customers send back clearly described dishes for being “too flavorful” after eating majority of the plate, and insisting on a comp’ed meal or reimbursement of some kind.

Solo diner blows out table candle to avoid accidentally setting his newspaper on fire, only to have it relit repeatedly by busboy.

Solo diner refused ample space to eat at the bar, orders from anyone that walks by, even if clearly a hostess and not server, and then reads the same newspaper article over and over. For three hours. On a Saturday night. Leaves a five dollar tip, half in change.

Seriously, people. Servers aren’t robots.

Earnest foodie is despondent owing to an inability to conceal his revulsion at much ballyhooed stew of braised organ meats and raw root vegetables.

Earnest foodie should revel in the fact they found a place that served something as distinctive as a stew of braised organ meats and raw root vegetables, and go home to ballyhoo some more about it on his blog. They later tell server, after the order is sent, that two of them need everything gluten-free and a third is deathly allergic to table salt.

Server takes drink, appetizer, salad, and entrée orders from party of seven but writes nothing on order pad, despite complexity of order and multiple substitutions. Customer is forced to make halfhearted joke about server’s apparently prodigious memory. Server takes joke as a compliment rather than a caution. Server gets all orders wrong. 

Customers order variety of ethnic dishes at authentic restaurant, then send half of them back for “not being what they ordered” and “not like they had when they visited the country”, when in fact customers don’t have as firm a grasp of Italian/ Thai/ Arabic/ Chinese/ etc language and culture as they thought and simply ordered the wrong thing without reading the description.

Counter personnel at fast-food establishment being just ridiculous about one-napkin-per-order policy.

Customers clearly trying to restock their car’s stash of napkins and making a fuss when told that no, they’re not allowed an unlimited supply just because it’s a fast-food establishment.

Irate customer at nearby table repeatedly uses phrase “dry-cleaning bill” when arguing with server over accidental spill, even though it was a glass of water and customer is wearing tank top and cargo shorts.

No argument; succinctly put, my friend.

Server rapidly rattles off long list of beers on tap. One member of dining party asks server to repeat list. Server repeats list just as rapidly. Same member of dining party asks server to repeat list one more time. Everyone else in party wants to murder both server and customer, who ends up ordering a bottle of Stella.

Customer repeatedly asks server to recite long list of beers on tap, despite the fact that it is in print both on the table and the menus. Everyone else in the party should speak up and tell their friend to stop being a douche and just order Miller like he always does, since the server would like to but would get fired.

This would be life-alteringly cool.

Member of all-white waitstaff barks at member of all-Hispanic busboy staff in way that makes customers feel like those who just stood by and watched in Vichy France.

Member of all-it-doesn’t-matter-what-ethnicity party barks at all-ANYONE in the service industry in way that makes any humane person feel like those who just stood by and watched in Syria…. well, today.

So here’s the deal, people. We understand that it is our job to cater to paying customers– a lot of us are even good at dealing with your sometimes-inane requests. Like walking into a Middle Eastern restaurant and asking for a quiet table

or requesting your Thai to only be a little spicy [you need to learn how peppers are made]. Some requests are even along the lines of “I want a martini, but tell the bartender to not make this one so strong.”

Are you kidding me, ma’am? You do understand that a martini is straight liquor– how can we make it weaker? Would you rather have a gin’n’tonic? Or Screwdriver? No? You just want it in the fancy glass, don’t you. We might as well put juice in a martini glass, charge you $10, and pocket the change.

So here’s the deal, Mr. Simms. I understand that it can sometimes be hard to find a restaurant with a staff competent enough to make your lactose-intolerant Cobb salad, hold-the-avocado, bacon-offends-you, chives-give-bad-breath, eggs-are-bad-for-cholesterol, but extra-grill the chicken with dressing-on-the-side [which, for you non-Cobb eaters, is just burnt chicken on a bed of lettuce]. Sincerely, New York must truly be the edge of civilization if it’s difficult to eat without flip-flops and birthday candles flying all over the place.

Simple guidelines: ALWAYS make a reservation for a party of five or more on a weekend night, and at any time for one larger than six. Think about logistics, people. Hexagonal pegs cannot fit into square holes. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how important or educated you think you are– servers are people just trying to earn their pay. They are NOT servants there to be abused at your beck-and-call, and their profession does not give you leave to be condescending shits. So be nice.

They might be your leader one day. I know I will.

Discussion

One thought on “Revised: The New Yorker’s Article is On Backwards

  1. I promise I never ask for substitutions, I smile and say thank you and please, and I tip 20 percent after tax, not before. And if the food isn’t what it should be, I don’t take it out on the server who didn’t do the cooking. I worked in retail in school, but I had friends who worked in restaurants. Sadly, things have probably gotten worse since my time, and they weren’t great then.

    Nice rebuttal to the article!

    Posted by jmmcdowell | April 18, 2012, 12:10 am

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