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Tis The Season To Be ANGRY

I was doing some last minute Christmas shopping on Wednesday before grabbing some delicious Jimmy Johns, in the hopes of being able to save myself the headache of doing any sort of non-essential shopping between now and Christmas day.  I didn’t manage to get everything I had hoped for, but I am happy to say that it was a surprisingly pleasant outing.  Barely anything to complain about on the commute, and not a single issue to speak of in the stores.  So why bring this up?

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In both Target and Jimmy Johns, I did my normal “thank you so much” upon departure.  I placed my food order by beginning with “can I please get.”  I smiled.  I said “Merry Christmas.”  I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary (this is my typical behavior when out in the world, minus the Merry Christmas) and yet the cashier at Target and the two Jimmy Johns employees both seems genuinely shocked by my behavior.  Especially the woman at Target, who looked at me as if I was an angel who had just given her a million dollars.  It made me feel great and sad all at the same time.

I’ve worked retail; running the register, managing dressing rooms, straightening racks, dealing with returns, and more.  I’ve waited tables; smiling when I want to snap at a rude patron, cleaning up ketchup art from an unruly child, running food and grabbing condiments like a whirlwind, and finding myself in the weeds far too often.  I’ve worked in other places where I am the first and/or last person a customer sees, which very often means I am the bad guy if they have any kind of problem.  As a result, I’ve been yelled at, had things thrown at me, been talked down to as if I’m a nobody, and made to feel like I’m two inches tall.  It’s horrible.

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The people I encountered on Wednesday should not have been surprised by what I consider to be standard behavior.  But I do understand why they were thrown off.  Too often, I go out to order food (restaurant or fast food) and hear people say “I want” or “gimme” when ordering, then don’t even mumble a thanks when the food is ready.  I see cashiers berated when a sale item rings up wrong, right before having cash slapped onto the counter rather than handed to them.  I see the dejected look on the faces of employees as they watch a rude customer destroy the display they just worked so hard to straighten up.  I see servers cringe at the crucial moment they realize that the table they’ve been busting tail for is not going to leave them a dime for a tip.  Without any effort at all, I can find a rude and terrible person wherever I go.

The bad behavior gets worse around Christmas, without fail.  While in Target, I watched the clerk in the electronics section sorrowfully inform a woman that they were indeed out of stock of a certain game, only to have the woman snap back “well, you better call the store in XXXX and find it!”  And because the customer is always an asshole right, he gave her a weak smile and got on the phone to call the other location.  Totally unnecessary!  An equal amount of effort could have been expended by that insufferable wench by simply asking “do you mind calling the store in XXXX and checking?”  But because the holidays are stressful and she was likely running around like crazy looking for the game, she let her frustrations out on someone who damn sure didn’t deserve it.

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I suspect that many of you will be out this weekend, trying to cram in some last minute shopping before the 25th peeks its head around the corner.  In spite of my efforts, I’ll likely be right out there with you.  Considering my road rage, my intolerance for rude people, my tendency to be quickly annoyed by people who don’t move at my pace, and the fact that I’m slightly crazy, I’m going to want to cuss out half the people I see (if not more).  But I won’t.  I won’t tell anyone to move their ass so I can get down the aisle they’re blocking, I won’t tell the gaggle of cackling women to shut the hell up, and I damn sure won’t cuss out the poor cashier who is getting paid far too little to be dealing with so much nonsense.

Starting now, I ask you all to make a little promise to yourselves.  Don’t take out your crappy day, your personal issues, or someone else’s mistake on a person who is just trying to do their job and get you moving on to your next destination.  Your server doesn’t need to be yelled at because the restaurant wait puts you behind in your shopping schedule.  Your cashier didn’t write the return policy and doesn’t deserve to be the target of your wrath.  No one in the mall caused you to have a crap day at work.  It takes virtually zero effort to slap a smile on and remember basic manners, so just DO IT!

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You know what feels endlessly better than letting out a bit of anger on a stranger?  The knowledge that something you did turned someone’s entire day around.  I can recall many horrible days waiting tables and/or bartending that were made wonderful by a sweet person/party who either tipped well or treated me like an equal (or both).  I always remembered the retail customers who made eye contact, smiled, and thanked me for assisting them.  Those gems completely outshone the piles of horse dung that I’d come across, and I’m grateful for them to this day because they remind me that good people do exist.  Be one of those good people.  It’s the holiday season, so make it merrier while you’re out and about, and then carry it over into 2014.  People will thank you, even if you never hear them say it.

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Monkey Jobs

I was browsing the internet yesterday, reading various articles on CNN, when I noticed a group of links to the side showing what articles have recently received comments.  One happened to catch my interest, showing a headline relating to waiting tables, which was a big part of my life a few years ago and I job I sometimes miss.  When I clicked the link, it brought me to the comment rather than the beginning of the article, so I was greeted with “a monkey could wait tables” with a reply of “they’re doing that in China and it works great!”  I was so irritated by the monkey comment that I immediately clicked reply and readied myself to begin a full on verbal assault of the person who posted it.

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I restrained myself though, not because I wanted to spare anyone’s feelings but because I didn’t see the point in trying to reason with ignorant people.  I feel confident in saying that the people who think a monkey could do a server’s job are the same people who go into a restaurant and are rude to their server for the entire service before leaving a 5% tip and a bad review on Yelp.  People who think a monkey could do a better job are people who don’t place any value on anyone performing a service job, choosing instead to treat them as beneath them.  These people are beyond reason because they are too caught up in their own little worlds to care about anyone else.

Waiting tables is one of those jobs I wish I could force everyone in the world to do at least once.  It took me doing the job for years to fully appreciate and understand what my server does for their tables on a daily basis, just as it took me working in retail dressing rooms to appreciate what that poor attendant has to deal with from dirty and lazy customers.  Waiting tables is a thankless job but also a rewarding one.  It’s more than get drinks, get food order, deliver food, deliver check.  It goes beyond simply keeping an eye on a guest’s glass to make sure their cup never runs dry.  It’s not like working an assembly line where the same exact scenarios are dealt with in the same exact ways.  It’s more complex than most people give it credit for being.

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Sure, you could train a monkey to press keys and deliver food, but a monkey can’t master timing the way a server can.  After a table is sat, they must receive enough time to settle in and decide on drinks, but the server cannot allow too much time to pass and the table to get restless.  Drinks need to be prepared or fetched from the bar quickly, as many guests act as if they are dying of thirst when they arrive.  The order must be taken when the table looks ready, which can sometimes require a bit of analysis, as not everyone closes their menu and looks up when they have decided.  The appetizer is rung in first (in some establishments) and the server must then ensure they wait long enough before ringing the entrée to allow the table ample time to munch on their salads or cheese sticks before they are presented with an entrée.  If there are kids present, they may need their food first, or at least some crackers.  The server must check back on the table soon after the meals are received and tasted, but not too soon and not with too big of a delay in case something is wrong or condiments are required.  The list goes on and on.

A monkey is a cute little novelty and would probably be adorable carrying a tray to a table, but it can’t replace what your server can give you.  A big part of waiting tables is being able to read people.  A couple on a first date receives different treatment than a family out for their weekly dinner.  A group of single guys will get a different kind of smile than the table full of elderly ladies on a shopping break.  Some people will invite a bit of conversation, while others will desire the bare minimum from you.  Properly judging a customer’s needs can be the difference between a great dinner and a lousy evening.

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A monkey, if properly trained, could possibly handle a single table with little to no disastrous outcomes.  Your server juggles multiple tables all at once, one right after the other, until the end of their shift.  They are there to answer your questions about dishes, make recommendations, and give you great service while also tending to three or more tables (depending on the size of their area and the time of their shift).  They also get pulled away to run food for other servers, sing birthday songs, refill pitchers and ice, make fresh tea and coffee, put side salads together, and that’s not even getting into the times they are called away by tables that don’t even belong to them.  And good luck getting your monkey waiter to split a check for the party of 12 who didn’t think to mention it until the end of their meal.

I get that the monkey comment wasn’t made to be taken literally, but that doesn’t make it any less rude and insulting.  Serving may seem like a simple and basic job, but it’s extremely complex and layered, moreso than anyone tends to realize.  Even at its simplest state, it is incredibly high paced and stressful.  Servers work hard not only because their money depends on it, but because they are (mostly) very passionate about their work.  Even on various blogs dedicated to server rants, you’ll notice that the majority of them do love their job.  I miss the chaos sometimes, the running around like a mad woman with fifty different things running through my head.  I hate to think that one bad server is giving people the idea that the profession is a joke across the board, because it’s anything but.

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To all my servers out there, I am applauding you between mouthfuls.  I have been incredibly lucky lately to have received wonderful service at places we’ve dined at, be it a fancy spot like Peterson’s or somewhere cheap and family friendly like Applebee’s.  But regardless of how experienced my server is, or how quick on their feet, I hope that I’m successful in treating every single one of them like an equal rather than like my personal servant.  I hope that I’m able to make their job a little easier and that they take that one extra step that make me want to tip them above 20%.  I hope I brighten their shift a bit by being an easy customer, and I really hope they are spared the annoyance and headache that comes with waiting on one of those people who refers to servers as animals.

Ten Percent To God

I waited tables at various restaurants for a decent sized chunk of my life.  I’ve received amazing tips and I’ve been stiffed on bills.  I’ve had nights where I take in hundreds and nights where it’s barely worth the drive to and from work.  I’ve had to clean macaroni off of light fixtures and ketchup fingerpaint masterpieces off of windows.  Being a server is a job that I mostly loved, sometimes hated, but am always thankful that I had a chance to work.  It taught me a lot about the food industry and about human nature.  It’s very interesting to see how different people treat those who serve them their food, especially when the service involves a tip that is mostly under the control of the customer (except with large parties if a policy is in place).  Naturally, I was instantly drawn to the recent story involving an Applebee’s server and a tip from a customer who happened to be a pastor.

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The server, Chelsea Welch, was fired from Applebee’s after posting the receipt from Pastor Alois Bell on Reddit.com.  Welch stated that she found the note insulting, but also comical, which is why she shared the photo online.  Bell called the restaurant and complained, and because her signature was visible in the photo and it was obvious that it was her, the restaurant felt justified in firing Welch.  The former Applebee’s server disagrees, saying that it was obvious Bell wanted her note to be seen.  While she may have wanted it to be seen by staff, Bell obviously didn’t count on the receipt going viral and did request that Applebee’s fire everyone involved.  She later apologized and called the note a lapse in judgment, but the damage is already done to the server who lost her job and to her church’s image.

In an email to the Huffington Post, Applebee’s spokesperson Dan Smith stated:  “Our Guests’ personal information – including their meal check – is private, and neither Applebee’s nor its franchisees have a right to share this information publicly. We value our Guests’ trust above all else. Our franchisee has apologized to the Guest and has taken disciplinary action with the Team Member for violating their Guest’s right to privacy. This individual is no longer employed by the franchisee.”

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Waiting tables is a tiring and often thankless job.  The hourly paid wage, generally set at slightly above $2, will usually go entirely to taxes; the only actual paycheck I received from any restaurant I was employed at was the check from my time training.  Many servers also have to share a portion of their tips with the host or hostess, the bussers, the expediter, and the bartenders.  When I was employed at Applebee’s, we were required to add the 18% gratuity to large parties, just as Welch did to Bell’s party.  The customers can tip on top of that amount if they choose, or can leave the bill as is.  My opinion is that an additional tip should be added because large parties add extra work to the server, are more demanding, and reduce the amount of tables the server can turn on their shift.  As long as the server does a good job, they deserve a few dollars on top of the gratuity already added.

Bell claims that she did in fact leave cash on the table on top of the already added gratuity, something that unfortunately can’t be easily verified.  The note she left on the receipt, however, is clear as day.  God receives 10% and it’s unreasonable for Welch to receive 18%, therefore she receives nothing else.  Bell also felt it was key to inform Welch that she is a pastor and therefore qualified to speak on this matter.  The tip amount isn’t what I find issue with, since the gratuity did ensure that Welch was compensated for her work on Bell’s party.  The issue is that Bell felt the need to leave Welch a note and emphasize that the reason she wasn’t entitled to a larger tip was because God required his 10%.

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I have received plenty of crappy tips tucked inside a religious pamphlet, or just the literature and no tip at all.  I’ve had people write me notes asking God to bless me in lieu of a tip.  I got to the point to where I would cringe at the first sight of those pamphlets, knowing they would be lying on the table accompanied by a dollar if I was lucky.  I’ve also had tips in the neighborhood of 50% left by people involved with the local church.  It’s important that no one confuses religious belief with being cheap and stingy, as that is not the case.  Bell was under no obligation whatsoever to add a tip on top of the gratuity, although I believe it should be done.  What she WAS obligated to do was be polite and not make someone feel badly or feel as if they aren’t important enough to be compensated fairly.  It was rude to leave the note and even ruder to emphasize that Welch wasn’t entitled to even the 18% gratuity.

If Bell’s goal was to educate Welch and her fellow employees about God, this was the wrong way to do it.  If she was trying to emphasize that her beliefs and dedication are both strong, this was not the place or the time for it.  What Bell did manage to accomplish was successfully making religious people look cheap and feeding the stereotype that the devout are poor tippers.  Bell successfully made herself look like a fool who thinks it is appropriate to abuse her title as a pastor.  She then took it a step further and demanded Welch lose her job because she was rightfully upset by Bell’s disrespectful note.  Welch was wrong in including Bell’s signature in the photo, but I don’t find fault in her sharing the note online.  Imagine if at the end of your exhausting work day, your boss denied you partial compensation because God was due his share.  You’re lying if you claim you’d be fine with that.

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Customers at any restaurant have the right to tip what they wish and to leave religious pamphlets if they so choose.  Servers have the right to throw those pamphlets in the trash and complain about the crappy tip, or lack thereof, that they received.  I’m unsure why Bell thought it was appropriate to scribble a Godly note all over the receipt that the restaurant keeps in their records, but she did it to make a point and we’ve all heard it loud and clear.  She was within her rights to deny additional tip and to spread the word of God and she was within her rights to complain when the receipt when viral.  But in doing so, she put herself in a position to be scrutinized and to deserve some backlash.  Bell opened the door and now she wants to complain because people are walking through it.  She acted on some bizarre impulse and now she is unhappy because people all over the country are finding out about it.  She realized too late that a note on a receipt with her full name on it wasn’t the proper place for her message.

I hope that Welch is able to secure another job quickly and I hope that something is learned from this event.  There is a right way and a wrong way to go around spreading a message.  There is a level of respect that should be maintained regardless of who you are dealing with and what they are paid to do for you.  There is a certain level of personal responsibility that must be taken if you’re leaving embarrassing things lying around with your name and/or face attached to them.  There are better ways of acting on your frustrations than simply going on impulse.  And there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to be rude to a stranger, especially one who just spent the better part of their evening ensuring that you and your companions are having a good time.

Scotty’s Brewhouse

I always love going downtown.  The town we live in is very quiet, with typical restaurants in typical locations.  Whenever we have a chance to go downtown, a whole new world of food opens up to us.  One of the places downtown that we had been wanting to try for a while was Scotty’s Brewhouse.  We had been hearing rave reviews from friends about the amazing food and the exciting atmosphere; a perfect place to watch a game or to pregame for any event in the city.  Since we were attending Survivor Series nearby at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse on Sunday for my husband’s birthday, it seemed like the perfect time to finally get in and see what the hype was all about.

This is not quite worthy enough a story to earn a place on the Dinners From Hell site, but it was only a couple slips-ups away.  The first no-no happened when we were seated.  The booth seats were filthy; I had to wipe off the entire thing end to end before sitting down while the hostess silently watched.  On the table, there was a lonely diced tomato just staring up at us.  There was no excuse for the table and seats to be dirty; the table was set with new silverware and appetizer plates.  I expected our hostess to grab a rag to wipe down, but she just glanced at the leftover tomato, set our menus down, and retreated back to the front.

Dirty tables happen, I know, but I didn’t feel that there was any excuse seeing as how the establishment was nowhere near filled with customers and there were staff members everywhere we looked.  We were greeted fairly quickly by our server and put in an appetizer order for Loaded Tater Tots, covered in cheese, bacon, and sour cream.  At $11, I was expecting something truly delicious.  What we got was a platter of slightly burnt tots, very burnt bacon, and what tasted like gas station cheese.  It was definitely a let down, but we were incredibly hunger and very hopeful that our meals would be much better.

For my entrée, I ordered the Mo’fo Buffalo wrap; a honey wheat tortilla wrapped around breaded chicken tossed in mo’fo hot sauce and garnished with lettuce, tomato, cheese and ranch dressing, with onion straws for my side item.  Priced at $10.50, it was a pretty delicious wrap.  The breading on the chicken was amazing and the hot sauce was definitely mo’fo HOT.  The onion straws were also good, although a bit greasy towards the end; there were small puddles of grease on the plate after I had gotten through about half of the straws.  I definitely have to give high marks for the wrap, but it was something I could have also gotten from Buffalo Wild Wings for a few bucks less.

Sadly, the birthday boy didn’t have as much luck as I did with his meal.  He ordered the Breakfast Burger, which included a fried egg, ham, cheddar cheese and spicy mayo on a pretzel bun.  He requested a side of macaroni and cheese to go with his $10.50 burger.  The side was either written incorrectly or entered into the system incorrectly because he ended up getting waffle fries.  A blessing in disguise, as he said that this was the best part of the meal.  The bottom of the bun was burnt and the slice of ham was stone cold, an odd contrast to the hot burger patty and fried egg.  To top it off, the burger was undercooked; closer to medium rare rather than medium well.

It’s really odd for me to write a negative review like this, as I’m not a super picky person and I’m equally as happy with a Whopper from Burger King as I am with a filet from Morton’s Steakhouse.  The food at Scotty’s just did nothing to impress me whatsoever.  It was a definite let down, especially with all the hype and build up from our friends.  As far as the atmosphere, I will say that it would be a fantastic place to go watch any sporting event; there are televisions everywhere you look, plus smaller TVs in the bar booths.  Perhaps I needed a few drinks in me in order to better appreciate their food, but I don’t think I’ll be back to find out.

There are a couple minor oddities I do also need to point out.  First, the napkins were actually blue terry cloth towels.  Thick towels.  I’m not generally a fan of the white cloth napkins, but at least I feel confident that they’re clean; it’s hard to hide stains on white.  These strange blue towels just confused me and I was glad I had some leftover movie napkins in my purse.  Second, upon dropping the check, our waitress left us two boxes of Red Hots candy with the bill.  I get leaving mints, and I get that Red Hots will make me smell like cinnamon, but it felt like we were being handed some leftover Halloween candy.  It was just odd and it was the deciding factor in my husband’s promise never to return.

Perhaps we went at an off time, with key staff not scheduled to come in until the kick off of that day’s Colts game.  Scotty’s is obviously successful, as we’ve seen countless times when we couldn’t get a table because they were so busy.  Something is being done right.  Unfortunately, that something simply wasn’t done when we paid them a visit.  The night was quickly redeemed by excellent drinks at the Hard Rock prior to heading to Survivor Series, so it was by no means a blemish on our evening.  Scotty’s and I simply don’t click.

Finding Food And Love In One Trip

After getting caught up on the hilarious and sometimes scary stories on Dinners From Hell, I stumbled across this site, Restaurant Laughs.  This article in particular discussed how to flirt with your server.  As a former server/bartender at various establishments (Chili’s, Applebee’s, Shoney’s, IHOP, Beef O’Brady’s) and as a female who isn’t hideous looking, I have definitely had my share of experiences when it comes to being flirted with by a customer.  Visit their blog via the link above to see their lists of what to do and not to do while I go through some based on previous experiences, elaborate on some of their points, and touch on a few new things.

DON’T fabricate stories about the establishment, the owner, or the service just so you have common ground to talk about.  The server knows more about the restaurant than you and will see right through your lies.  It’ll just make you appear silly.  I’m one of many servers who has had a customer give an “I know the owner” story, then later laughed about it with the owner who in reality had never set eyes on the fibbing customer.

DO ask the server what they enjoy eating here, what drinks are best, and so on.  Make yourself easy to talk to and make conversation go slightly above just giving your order without taking away from their duties with long-winded questions.  I used to enjoy people asking me if the restaurant had let me sample dishes and being able to briefly describe certain things in detail.  I love food, so getting to talk about it more was always a plus.

DON’T write your name and number on the tip.  I wish this had only happened to me once, but sadly there are a handful of guys out there who must think a $10 or $20 with a phone number etched on it is a good way to get a person interested.  For me, it came off as very immature.  I always used to wonder if they ended up getting any calls after I spent their graffitied money.

DO wait until after their shift or during a time the server is obviously not busy and not surrounded by coworkers if you’d like to make a move.  That way, no one is embarrassed or put on the spot and the server isn’t held up from doing their job because you wanted to say hello and offer your phone number.  It puts the server on the spot if you’re asking for their number while all your friends or all their coworkers are looking on.

DON’T try to buy your way into their pants.  There was a gentleman at one establishment I worked at who would leave $100 tips, but then expect a very physical thank you later (and would wait around to get it).  If two people want to have casual sex, that’s fine, but it’s tacky and disrespectful to treat a server like a prostitute.  A great tip will get you noticed, but it will be for the wrong reasons if you act like you’re now owed something in return.

DO be sincere and straightforward in your approach.  Your server hears how beautiful/sexy/attractive they are on a daily basis from bad flirts.  Don’t get lost in the shuffle and throw cheesy lines they have heard 100 times over.  Opening with a compliment on their service is an easy ice breaker that will get you closer to finding out if exchanging phone numbers would be all right.

DON’T get physical.  You shouldn’t be asking for a hug or taking it upon yourself to make physical contact in order to let your server know you like them.  I don’t want my tip to suffer by being rude, but I don’t want to hug you just because you ask for one.  Keep your hands to yourself.  As a server who has had their ass grabbed, I can tell you right now it won’t land you a phone number and might get you kicked out.

DO be a model customer.  If your goal is to get your server interested in you, don’t eat like a slob, be overly demanding, treat any of the staff rudely, annoy other customers, or engage in general bad behavior. If your friends act up, apologize for them to your server.  You can do so in a joking way that won’t offend your friends but will let your server know that you shouldn’t be judged off of the behavior of your silly friends.

DON’T get drunk to work up courage to say something.  Slurring your words isn’t a turn on.  Neither is stumbling.  You need your composure if you’re going to successfully get your server interested.  I had a guy, while I was bartending, get wasted in another section before getting brave enough to come over to me, wink and loudly tell me how hot he thought I was.  Sorry dude, no phone number for you.

DO work in a compliment or two during the meal.  If your server returns with your request at lightning speed, say “You’re amazing, thank you.”  It’s not really flirting but it’s more than the average customer would say, making it an easy way to get their interest.  A little thank you goes a long way.  Letting your server know you notice the extra steps they are taking does as well.

DON’T buy them a drink.  I’m surprised at how many times the bartender at various places I worked would do a fake handoff of a cocktail to me because one of her customers insisted she send it to me and say it was from them.  Servers can’t/shouldn’t drink on the job; you’re wasting your time and money.  You’re also putting the bartender on the spot and asking them to do something that is against policy.

DO buy them a drink.  IF you happen to still be in the establishment when they get off and IF they are allowed to stay after their shift and IF they are already drinking or preparing to do so.  And IF you’re even in this exact situation, which does not happen often.  When I was single though, I appreciated those freebies after work.  Nod a “you’re welcome” and let the server come up to you if they are interested.

DON’T send your friends in to see if your favorite server is working.  Servers are overall a bright bunch.  They’ll know you’re stalking them through your friends and they won’t appreciate it.  It’s just creepy to be checking in on someone you don’t even know yet.  I could easily spot the stalker’s scouts from a mile away.  It was always a sure sign that the guy sending them should be avoided at all costs.  Don’t wait outside for them to get off work either.

DO ask for their section if you see them working.  Tip well, then sincerely offer up your name and number right before you leave.  Make sure you hand it to them rather than leave it on the table, and leave immediately.  If they like you, you’ll get a call.  If not, don’t ask for their section again.  The ball is in their court now; be patient and wait for the call, and be prepared to accept defeat if you don’t get one.

It’s important to remember that servers and bartenders are working for tips.  The amount of the tip is lying on your shoulders.  Any server or bartender with sense is going to be friendly so you like them and are happy with their service.  This can be mistaken for interest or flirting, especially with bartenders.  Yes, they are laughing at your jokes, but is it because you’re a comedic genius or because they want their tip amount to increase?  It’s very difficult to misread a server or bartender and mistake politeness for flirtation.  Quick refills on drinks doesn’t translate into “I want to sleep with you.”

I do have to say, I’ve never accepted a date from a customer or given out my number because when single, I was very strict personally about keeping business about business and did not want to mix dating with my job.  That being said, I don’t think that in general there is anything whatsoever wrong with a server scoring a date from a customer so long as it does not interfere with his or her work.  As long as the customer is respectful and the server isn’t getting distracted, I say go for it.  Carefully.

On The Same Level

Last Saturday morning, after a night at the casino with my amazing husband, we crawled out from underneath our blankets far too early to go have breakfast with family.  We struggled into the shower and made it to Cracker Barrel at 9:30am on the dot.  Our server made it to our table in a few minutes to take our drink order and I forced her to come back almost immediately to refill my water due to my inability not to chug down that ice cold glass of deliciousness.  My sister-in-law, running fashionably late, gave my husband her order over the phone so we could go ahead and get our food going and get my husband’s aunt back on the road to Ohio.

It took a while for our server to get back to us, as she was assuming we would wait for the rest of our party to arrive prior to ordering.  Putting our order in should have been simple, but one member of our party was slightly too worried about her order being cooked to her specifications and was very blunt and slightly rude to our server.  To our server’s credit, she never lost the smile and polite tone in her voice.  My sister-in-law finally arrived, half asleep, and our server returned almost immediately with her coffee and juice.  As soon as our food arrived, a glass of water was spilled on the table, soaking the sugar caddy but thankfully sparing the food.  We burned through our extra napkins pretty quickly, broke the baby wipes out to deal with the oatmeal smears, and ended our meal with the table looking like a war zone.

I’m an ex-server and both my husband and I don’t like to create extra work for people or take advantage of anyone whose job is to satisfy the customer.  My husband began stacking plates, I collected napkins, and we cleaned up the table as well as we could.  Our check came to slightly over $50 for the five of us and a $10 was left on the table.  My husband snatched it up and replaced it with a $20, then stayed behind as I carried my niece outside so he could apologize to our server and ensure she got the cash.  He said she was incredibly appreciative and told him we were no hassle at all; she told him that he wouldn’t believe some of the things she sees.

Waiting tables is a rough job, often a thankless one as well, and many people take advantage of the fact that a server is of course there to serve you and cater to your needs.  That being said, unless you’re just an awful human being, there is no reason to create extra work for someone or to not properly thank and compensate an employee when you can’t help the extra work you’ve created.  A dressing room attendant shouldn’t have to collect clothes from the rooms because you were too lazy to walk it back out to her.  A janitor shouldn’t have to pick trash up off the floor because you missed the trash can and didn’t bother to pick your mess back up.  No employee should be talked down to because you’re having a bad day or you had a bad experience in the past and expect to see it repeated, and no employee should be treated like your personal servant.

When you go out to eat, remember your manners.  Thank your server.  Say “can I get” or some variation rather than “I want” when ordering or requesting additional items.  Tip accordingly; if you have a messy child, if you or members of your party are difficult, or if you’re engaging in any other behavior that results in your server needing to go above and beyond reasonable expectations, your tip should go up to reflect that.  We left $20 on the $50 check because a sugar caddy was ruined due to the water spill, we had a difficult to please member of our party who was less than polite to the waitress, another who wasn’t too polite due to the fact that she was about to fall asleep, an 8 month old making a grand mess, and four adults not doing much better than the baby.  Our server was wonderful and at no point seemed frustrated or annoyed, so I definitely think a larger than normal tip is more than justified.

We stacked our plates up at Cracker Barrel because it’s Cracker Barrel.  It’s not a fancy place and I’ve seen servers stack plates themselves many times at their various locations.  I like doing this if it can be done safely in a way that makes sense and if you’re at a place where you are sure it’s acceptable.  If I’m not sure or can’t stack without making a Jenga-style tower, I leave it and just ensure I put my napkins, dropped food, and silverware on the plate rather than leave it scattered around on the table.  If you drop things on the floor, don’t leave them there.  Use common sense and clean your area as well as you can; there’s no reason to have your server scraping mashed potatoes off of the wall.  If you can’t clean it up, your tip had better go up.

The thing to remember is that sitting down at a table and having someone take your order and bring your food does not put you in a higher class than the server waiting on you.  You don’t become King or Queen with your server taking the role of your lowly staff who exists solely to attend to your every need and whim without expecting so much as a thank you nod.  Treat your server like a human being and treat the table like you would at your own home, only slightly better.  Be the bigger person and be the better person by conducting yourself with class, regardless of how the rest of your party or other patrons behave.  A server may not remember everyone, but I guarantee they remember those who tip well and they never forget those who tip and act like trash.

Here’s A Tip For You

CNN’s eatocracy blog reported that a family from Texas claims they were locked inside a La Fisherman restaurant because they refused to pay a 17 percent tip that was automatically added to their meal since their party was larger than four people.  One customer in the party, Jasmine Marks, stated that the staff was rude, drinks were not refilled, and the overall service was poor.  Marks asked the manager to have the tip removed from the bill.  The response from staff, according to her, was to be locked inside and told to either pay the 17 percent or speak with the police waiting outside.

If this story is legitimate, I would definitely think it earns a spot on the Dinners From Hell site, as I am not the biggest fan of adding gratuity automatically to the meal solely based on the size of the party either.  I’ve been a server at Chili’s, Shoney’s, IHOP, Beef O’ Brady’s, and Applebee’s where I also tended bar.  I’ve waited on parties of 8 – 10 who would qualify for the added gratuity as well as parties up into the 20 – 30 range.  There were occasions where I depended on the automatic gratuity due to the fact that bad tippers don’t care how large their group is, but overall I didn’t like it and chose to leave it off my checks when I presented them to the customer.

I believe the tip left for the server should be a reflection of their performance.  I also believe that even the worst server out there deserves a dollar or two as a tip because their hourly wage is enough to pay their taxes and the tips are their actual paycheck.  If a party of 15 decides to tip me at 20 to 25 percent, I want it to be because I ran my ass off and provided them with outstanding service for a wonderful night out.  I don’t want them to tip me the mandated 18 percent because it’s a rule, I want to be paid what I’m worth.  In my early days of serving, I experimented with customers, gauging their reaction to gratuity added versus no gratuity added.  Nine times out of ten, I earned more money when the customer was free to choose their own tip instead of being told what to pay me, often leaving me upwards of 30 percent tips due to split checks and members of the party throwing down extra dollars because I made them happy.

The downside to not having the automatically added gratuity is obvious; moron customers don’t appreciate the fact that their server is running ragged because each member of their 20 person party is asking for condiments and extras separately and the kids are downing Cokes faster than they can be refilled.  Without the added gratuity, this selfish customer would be happy to stiff their server or leave a pitiful 5 percent on a bill that tops a hundred dollars.  The times I chose to throw gratuity on bills were times I knew I was dealing with this kind of prick, and it blew up in my face once when an angry man (who was sitting directly underneath our small golden sign stating gratuity is added to large parties) yelled to my manager that I was running a scam.  The thing is, a gratuity rule should not exist for the sole purpose of preventing jerkoffs from stiffing servers.  Short of adding gratuity to every bill, getting stiffed is an occupational hazard.

A downside to keeping the added gratuity is at the customer’s expense; a lazy server knows they are getting 18 percent regardless of whether they make you happy or not, so they slack off and vanish on smoke breaks when you need more coffee.  I’ve seen it happen and, while not common, it can easily ruin a night out.  I can’t stand choking my way through a meal without a glass of water because my server hasn’t been back to the table since taking the order.  I hate poking my fork at my salad for ten minutes as I wait for the dressing that should have been on the side that my server “forgot” because she was out on a smoke break.  You work harder when your cash depends on it, bottom line.

In order to avoid added gratuity, I have seen large parties request to be sat separately in groups of 6 or 7 (but in the same dining area) and then after the order is taken, rearrange themselves back into the large party they actually are.  Some will put parents in one area and with one server, kids in another area  assigned to another server, then request their checks be combined with the kid checks at the end, causing a headache for everyone, and all to avoid a mandatory 18 percent.  It’s ridiculous.

Surely we can get rid of automatically added gratuity.  If your establishment doesn’t care for large parties, make a rule about how many people you can sit together and inform customers that parties over a certain number will be unable to be seated together.  Servers, step up your game and see that large party as the dollar signs they represent; kick ass and take names and don’t let it ruin your night if your party happens to include a cheap bastard (it’s bound to happen).  Customers, if you bring a group, especially one filled with kids, acknowledge the fact that you are taking over a server’s entire station (possibly encroaching on another server’s station as well) and as you are the bulk of their paycheck for the day, tip accordingly!  We’re all adults here, right?

Right?

Jobs We Should All Do Once

Waiting Tables / Serving / Bartending

The fiction:  People tend to think this job is easy.  Come to my table, take my order, bring me food and keep my drink full.  Sure, there’s a lot of running around but overall it’s not a challenge as long as you have stamina and an energy drink handy.  The server is as fault for the restaurant temperature being too cold or hot, their steak being overcooked, or even the loud table they got stuck next to.  If I don’t like mushrooms and I failed to read that in the item description, it’s the server’s fault and they had better replace my meal fast.  It’s also the server’s responsibility to ensure my bar drinks and food get to me as quick as possible.

The fact:  Your waiter has to learn the entire menu and memorize ingredients, as people have special requests or dietary restrictions.  They deal with extremely difficult guests and messy children.  They have to have great timing, especially if they get two tables sitting down at once; it takes time to properly greet a table and get their drink order written and delivered.  They are often called away from their current task (you) to run food out to a table that isn’t theirs.  They are in charge of preparing some of your food, generally salads and soups, but also have expediting duties at certain hours.  They are at the mercy of the cook; how fast your food is prepared is not under their control and them yelling at the chef only results in your food being delayed even longer.  It’s the same with the bartender, who has their own customers along with making drinks for the entire restaurant.  They also work long shifts with little to no breaks until their section is closed.  Working this job makes you appreciate a great waiter or waitress even more and shows you little things you can do to make your server’s life a bit easier, such as asking for all condiments at one time or not letting your kid tear open all the sugars.

Retail / Dressing Room

The fiction:  This is a job generally reserved for retirees and high school students.  It’s a laid back job that allows you a bit of downtime when customers are scarce.  The downside is the cleaning and straightening, but it’s a little like organizing your closet, just on a larger scale.  The employees always tend to either be a little too helpful or nowhere to be seen.  They must think everyone is a thief the way they watch customers.  The sales associate is at fault if my item rings up incorrectly.  I don’t understand why some businesses won’t let me keep the hangers, I think I’m entitled to get them with my purchase.  I also better get a discount if there’s a makeup smudge or deodorant stain on the shirt I’m purchasing.

The fact:  Retail is a job with a lot of work and stress for a little bit of pay.  The dressing room can become a pigsty in minutes and often it’s on the shoulders of one person to police it and keep it clean, as well as organize all the leave-behinds for restocking.  Many stores have a speech that associates must recite to a new customer entering the store and many are told to just stay visible without being bothersome.  Loss prevention is also important and thieves come in many shapes and colors.  Some businesses require that the associate memorize the sales because they are not set to automatically ring up at the sale price.  Hangers cost money and store policy doesn’t always allow for them to be given away.  The associate must straighten every hanger to ensure all are parallel and must organize shelves; you can imagine how long this lasts when customers are browsing and children are exploring.  Many stores have also suspended discounts for “damaged” goods because there are awful people who will damage or stain an item themselves in order to get some money off.  Working this job allows you to see the challenge that goes into making a store shoppable and pleasant for you, resulting in you hopefully becoming a more considerate customer.

Door-To-Door Sales

The fiction:  This is the most annoying type of person out there!  They bother me at dinnertime, they’re pushy as all hell, and they don’t understand the word NO!  If I wanted whatever they’re trying to sell me, wouldn’t I have gone to them?  They have no respect for my privacy.  They shouldn’t be allowed to go knocking on doors, bothering people.

The fact:  This is the most annoying type of person out there!  They bother me at dinnertime, they’re pushy as all hell, and they don’t understand the word NO!  Unfortunately, that’s their job.  This type of work is easy to get into and therefore attractive to people seeking work; it’s often advertised as a “fast track to management.”  Door-to-door salespeople work on commission and your hospitality is their paycheck; if you’re not signing a check, they aren’t getting paid a cent.  Companies like AT&T have turned to door-to-door sales as a cheap way to get a hold of their customers to upgrade their packages, paying the salesperson a few dollars only if the customer upgrades.  Working this kind of job stinks, but it makes you more appreciative of your current job and every other kind of work out there, as well as shows you the benefits of putting a “No Soliciting” sticker on your door.

Call Center / Customer Service

The fiction:  These so-called helpful people are anything but.  They always say the same thing:  “I care about your problem, I’m happy to help, blah blah blah.”  It’s frustrating to wait so long to get through to someone only to get the person who is condescending/unhelpful/foreign/whose system is down/etc.  I’m calling you so you can fix my problem because that’s what you’re paid to do.  Don’t put me on hold and don’t transfer me.  Resolve my issue!  How hard is your job?


The fact:  They probably don’t care too much about you personally because they’ve already talked to dozens upon dozens of people like you, been cussed at and called an idiot, and had their eardrums blown out by loud yellers and hang-ups.  They generally have a script to follow which includes a lot of “I’m happy to help” and other variations of it.  They are the people who deal with the repercussions when a business or another individual screws up.  Sometimes they have to transfer you or rush you off the phone because they are often required to take a certain number of calls during their shift; if they talk to you for an hour, they are putting themselves behind.  Working this job will help you keep your anger in check next time your cable is out and you decide to go off on the poor girl who happened to answer your call rather than be angry at the storm that knocked things loose.

Janitorial

The fiction: Sure, it’s a dirty job, but it’s not challenging.  They clean up, which is something we all do at home (unless we’re a trash bag away from starring on Hoarders).  It’s all right if I make a bit of a mess because it’s their job to clean up, after all, and it’s not like anyone tries to make MY job any easier.  They need to work harder anyway, have you seen the bathroom lately??  Besides, how difficult can it be to empty a few trash cans and sweep up?

The fact:  Do you have any idea how messy and disgusting people are, especially when they know that they don’t have to clean up their own mess?  Have you ever stood ankle-deep in sewer water, trying to unclog a toilet filled with someone else’s mess, then had to mop it all up, all the while listening to angry women complain that they can’t use the stall?  Dealt with the frustration of cleaning a glass door only to have someone walk through the minute you’re finished and put their hand print on the glass?  People also tend to treat janitors worse than the trash they are emptying.  Working this job will make you think twice about dumping your half full coffee cup in the trash can or dumping a wad of paper towels in the toilet.

Nurse / Receptionist / Anyone But The Doctor

The fiction:  They never seem to know where my doctor is or why he’s running behind today.  Every time I ask, I get the same few excuses about an emergency patient or some procedure that ran over.  They tell me to come early, but they never manage to get me on time; such bad organizational skills.  I don’t get why I need to give them my insurance card every single time either, or why they make me fill out my address every visit even after I told them it’s the same.  It’s like they’re on a mission to slow me down and make me miss work.

The fact:  Their job is to provide assistance so the doctor can get through their patients as quickly as possible.  These patients are generally always overbooked; the overbooking compensates for cancellations without the practice losing money on that particular day, so when no one cancels or you have emergency walk-ins, the whole process gets behind.  Sometimes they are forced to lie; “emergency patient” sounds better than “your doctor ate too much Taco Bell and is locked in the bathroom.”  Your information is requested each visit because honestly, you can’t be trusted to remember whether or not your insurance card or bits of personal information have changed since your last visit, especially if it’s been over a year ago.  Working this job will make you realize that the nurse/receptionist has zero control over practice policy, what the doctor does and how fast they move, and definitely deserves a little slack.

Feel free to let me know which ones I’ve missed and why they qualify as a job everyone should work at least once. 

Don’t F- With The People Who Serve Your Food

I read a story recently about a waitress targeting bad tippers with a credit card scam; along with two others, she used a credit card skimmer to obtain customer account information and create fake credit cards.  When I waited tables, I witnessed a few of my fellow coworkers engage in various acts of revenge against bad tippers.  A $3 tip on a $50 check can easily turn into $13 with a swipe of the pen.  Incorrect change can be brought back in the hopes the customer doesn’t notice.  Remaining gift card balances can be drained and used as your tip when the customer fails to leave one.  I’ve seen one person spit in the drink of a notoriously bad tipper, another drop something on the floor and put it right back on the plate of a total cheapskate.  It’s horrible and I condone none of it, but believe that it happens more than you’d like it to.

Most people don’t think too much about what their server must deal with on a regular basis, they just want to get their meal the way they’d like it and enjoy not having to cook.  A good number of people go out on a budget, treating the tip as an optional payment and skimping on it or simply skipping it altogether; I’ve seen this happen mostly among high school and college students.  Nearly everyone tends to act as though their waiter or waitress is the sole person responsible for everything in the particular restaurant and won’t think twice about placing any blame they deem necessary directly on their shoulders.

If you’ve never worked in a restaurant, it’s not entirely your fault.  Let me explain a few things in the hopes that next time you eat out, you’ll view your server a bit differently…

1.  Your server makes $2.13 per hour.  They don’t get vacation or sick time.  They rarely if ever get a bonus or any perk other than a discount on food and whatever they can steal off of the line or sweet talk out of the cooks.  That small hourly amount gets eaten up by all the taxes taken out of the paycheck and claimed tips; most servers get a physical paycheck of $0.00 or an amount less than ten dollars.  Their income depends on tips.  The minimum tip amount is 15%, although I believe in tipping 20% and many restaurants now encourage 18%.  Many restaurants also have their servers give some of their tips to the bus boy, expediter, and bartender.  There is NO excuse to stiff your server if they have performed their job; order taken, food delivered, drinks filled, table bussed, etc.  I also believe in tipping the “bad” servers out there, although if you are truly horrible you will only earn 5% – 10% from me.

2.  Your to-go order is not always prepared by someone making a normal hourly wage.  During peak times, there will be one or two people assigned to taking to-go orders, packing them and bringing them out to your car.  This person makes a wage similar to your friendly Burger King cashier.  However, this to-go person is clocked in ONLY during the times when to-go orders are heavy, so there’s a good chance your order could be prepared by a regular server or bartender making the reduced rate and again, relying on your tips.  On to-go orders, 15% is standard, but 10% is also acceptable since their workload is significantly less than a customer sitting in the restaurant.

3.  Coupons are great, but tip off of the original total.  A $40 meal is a $40 meal and should earn at least a $6 tip.  If you happen to have a 50% off coupon, your tip shouldn’t be reduced as well.  The server assisted you with a $40 meal, not a $20 one.  Please tip accordingly.

4.  Gratuity isn’t always under the server’s control.  Most restaurants require servers to add gratuity to parties of 8 or more, regardless of whether or not the checks are split.  Don’t give your server attitude because you are unhappy it was added.  If they have done an amazing job with your party, don’t be afraid to throw a couple of dollars on top of the gratuity.  You are occupying the server’s entire section or most of it with a large party and you end up staying longer than a smaller party, reducing the rate the server can turn tables and therefore reducing potential tips.

5.  The server doesn’t make the food.  If your steak is cooked wrong or your chicken is too dry, send it back, get it fixed, ask the manager to take it off the bill, but don’t penalize your waiter or waitress for it.  Some cooks get lazy, some read tickets wrong, some make mistakes, and none of it is under the server’s control.

6.  The server also doesn’t manage the environment.  Waiting tables involves a lot of running around and the kitchen gets very hot, so expect the temperature to be cool and don’t get angry at your waiter if they can’t adjust the temperature to meet your standards.  Don’t take it out on your waiter if the screaming kid two tables down annoys you throughout the entire meal.  If the hostess was rude while seating you, it’s fine to mention it so the information can be passed along, but don’t reduce your tip because of it.

7.  Hazard pay is always nice.  Are you a difficult person?  Does your party send your server for butter only to ask for ketchup when they return and ranch dressing the time after that?  Is your kid dumping half his food on the floor?  When you’re out to eat, the main perk is that you don’t have to do any of the work.  However, if you are purposely working your waitress into the ground with insane requests and big messes, please tip accordingly for the extra work you are putting on them.  It’s not required, it just happens to be the right thing to do.

8.  Make sure your tip goes to the right person.  If your server’s shift is ending and they offer to close out or transfer your check, ALWAYS choose to close it out!  Otherwise, the person picking up the table gets the tip and the person who had been waiting on you gets nothing.  This mostly applies to bar patrons or friends out for drinks; if your server is trying to ditch you 20 minutes into your visit, just transfer the check since they obviously just want to get out of there.  If it’s been 2 hours of ordering appetizers and drinks, close out and start over, ensuring both servers get proper tips off what they served you.

Now, let me share a few things your server will always appreciate….

1.  If you’d like to split your checks, say so prior to ordering.  This way, the order can be written out and entered efficiently and your check can be delivered already split.  This saves a lot of time at the end of your meal.  It also saves the server from the embarrassment of asking a mismatched couple if they want split checks only to end up insulting one or both of them, or on the flip side assuming someone is a couple and insulting them by NOT asking.

2.  Pay to camp.  Servers make money off tips and tips are easier to make when tables keep turning.  If you stay an hour or two after finishing your meal without ordering any additional items, congratulations on screwing your waiter out of at least one more table they could make money off of.  Increase your tip if you want to hang out.

3.  Ask for everything at one time.  If you need butter, A1 sauce, extra napkins and an extra plate, say it all in one sentence so your server can grab it all in one trip and you all can enjoy your meal.  Your server doesn’t want to make 4 trips, especially because those trips can be delayed if they are stopped in the kitchen and ordered to run food or if they are stopped by another table requesting items.

4.  Try to be somewhat clean.  If your kid is dropping food everywhere, make an effort to pick it up.  Wipe up that glob of spilled food off the table and throw it on your empty plate.  The littlest bit of assistance can make a world of difference.

5.  Find out how good it feels to make someone’s night!  My husband and I, on occasion, have tipped well over 30% when we have felt that the person serving us has gone above and beyond or has been running their ass off all evening.  It not only makes your server quite happy, it’s also an easy way to feel great about yourself.  I remember every table that gave me an excellent tip and I always treated them twice as nice when I saw them again; even knowing not to expect a large tip every time, myself and my coworkers did a little bit extra for those people because we felt they valued what we did for them.

That being said… a server usually remembers the great customers, sometimes remembers the average ones, but always and without fail remembers every single bad one.  Don’t be that guy.  The last person you should be making angry is the one who handles your food.

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