We’ll take the cheapest bottle of white wine, please

I’m not really into writing about my day job, or my night job really, about waiting tables. I do it sometimes, but it’s just something that I want to keep separate from the rest of my life. Because when I do venture into stories about something that happened in the restaurant, it tends to be negative, something that bothered me so badly that I couldn’t help but come home and write it out. And then I start out with a big disclaimer, an “I don’t like writing about the restaurant,” opening paragraph, like this is somehow a justification for some complaint I’m going to air about a customer that asked for too many ketchups or a couple that sat in my section for too long.

wine tasting

But here it is: the other night I had a table of three women. And yeah, I’m a few days removed from the situation, and so it’s not bothering me as much as it did that night. I came home fuming, trying to keep a lid on the rage inside. Why did I let myself get so angry? I fantasized about how I’d tell this whole horror story, a “Can you believe it?” play-by-play.

But now that I’m sitting down in front of my computer, now that I’m trying to piece back the sequence of events, everything feels so petty, the women, me. Mostly me. Mostly the fact that I got so upset, that I gave these three strangers so much power over me, to let them direct my emotions, my thoughts. And over what?

They ordered a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. They ordered the cheapest bottle. Whatever, I mean, that’s what it’s there for, right? I did the whole waiter-opens-up-a-bottle-of-wine routine, the presenting of the bottle, the pouring of the little taste. Where most people are like, “fine,” especially with the cheap stuff, this woman made a face, a scrunched up mouth face.

And she held it for a minute, all the while twirling the glass in her fingers. Finally she was like, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I just … I just … I don’t … I just,” before making her friends try. In my head, I’m thinking, come on ladies, it’s the cheapest bottle of white wine on the menu. What are you really expecting?

But the other friends got stuck in the same feedback loop, “Well,” they said while sniffing the inside of their empty glasses, “I can’t … it’s just … we don’t,” and I cut them off, I was going crazy, I reached for the bottle and very graciously offered them something else. “We’re really sorry,” they said, to which I replied, “Don’t be sorry, I’m happy to bring you something you’ll enjoy.”

And I did. They ordered the second cheapest bottle of wine. “Much better,” the first woman told me after tasting it. The relief on her face, in her voice, it was like she had just received the antidote to a poison that had been causing her visible distress. “We’re so sorry,” she continued, “it’s just … we’re just … this is much better.”

Fine. Terrific. They ordered three veggie burgers, they ordered three sides of avocado, and they sat in my section for the rest of the night, picking at their food, and then engaging in what I can only assume was a spirited game of “let’s see who can drink our wine the slowest.” But this was the end of the night, I had been working there since eleven in the morning, I had absolutely no fight in me, I couldn’t have gotten annoyed simply because I was too tired. So what if I was losing out on another turn of that table? That would have been even more energy that I would have had to expend, gas that I didn’t have left in the tank.

I dropped the check and left them to figure out the bill. A few minutes later, all three of them had their hands in the air, trying to get my attention. “Yes?” I was trying to figure out what could have been the problem. Did I forget to take the first bottle of wine off the bill? Had I handed them someone else’s check?

“Can you go ahead and take these avocado charges off? We never pay for avocado.” And I didn’t know what to say. Everyone pays for avocado. There’s an avocado button on the computer. In fact, there’s no way for anybody to get avocado in this restaurant without paying, so I told them all of this, that there wasn’t really anything that I could do. They started to turn on me, fast, “Listen,” they told me, “Two dollars isn’t going to make a dent in our wallets. But we never pay for avocado.”

They made a loaded statement like that, basically saying, listen asshole, we have tons of money. You think we give a shit about two dollars? No, we don’t. But we don’t want to pay for this. And framed in that light, I took another look at my guests, I noticed their expensive bags, the Merrill Lynch corporate credit cards they had on the tray to pay for their meals.

This wasn’t about two dollars at all. Neither was the wine service. The whole night for them was an exercise in power, in going out and flexing a little muscle. Take this bottle away. Make this two-dollar charge disappear. You, come over here and do as we say.

And when I refused, I knew they’d probably tip less. They started laughing a little. I walked away and when I came back, they handed me the bill. They totally tipped less, thirteen percent each. And that’s when that rage started. I would have never let them see it, that would have been giving them exactly what they wanted. But I took that anger home with me. I brought it into my house when I started “venting” to my wife about how I can’t stand this and that.

Only a few days later, after I’ve had a minute to cool off, can I see how ridiculous the whole situation was. Stuff like that is going to happen and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I did what I had to do and that’s that. Why am I getting so pissed off? It’s all about what I said earlier, that by allowing myself to be angry at these three strangers, I’m giving them the power that they’re seeking, over me, over my emotions, over my mental well-being.

Fuck that shit. I don’t need their two dollars each either. Is that going to make a dent in my overall financial security? Hardly. I just have to remind myself of all of this, the next time I’m dealing with unpleasant customers, the next table that I’m serving that I can’t seem to satisfy. I’m just doing my job, doing the best I can, and if someone else isn’t happy, then that’s on them. I’ve got to be better about not letting random people dictate the terms of how I feel.

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