The dinner rush started earlier than usual last night, and I found myself running around the restaurant at a more hectic pace. At one of my tables, I had a middle-aged couple enjoying some cocktails, and while I was busy on the other side of the floor, I saw another server drop off their food.
While I had like three or four other things that I needed to take care of at the same exact time, I made a mental note to swing by, to see if this guy might not need any ketchup for his burger. Normally I’d just drop off ketchup automatically, but he didn’t order fries, the burgers come fully dressed, and for whatever reason, my restaurant encourages us to ask, “Would you like ketchup?” instead of just setting out some ketchup.
Excuses, excuses, I know, I know, I should have just had that ketchup out there anyway, just in case, but I was running some food, and when I tried to sneak over to my two-top, another table flagged me down and started handing me dirty plates. So I had to clear everything off, I had to run into the kitchen and set everything down for the dishwasher.
And then on my way back out to the floor, I have to pass by the window, like I said, it got pretty busy, Sundays are always busy, but not usually this early, not all at once like this. I had to run the food. I just hoped that my guests over at table thirteen were enjoying their meals, that if the man did need ketchup, that he’d be able to wait the extra two minutes or so that it would take me to run these plates out.
But just as I set them down, the floor manager got my attention, he was standing across the restaurant, pointing his finger to the side, mouthing out something about I don’t know what, exactly, I can’t read lips, but he was clearly trying to communicate. “Rob,” he leaned in when I walked over, “Table thirteen is pissed. They said they service is lacking, generally, that the guy needed ketchup and mustard.”
Again, I’m willing to take some fault, some. It never hurts to bring out ketchup. At most places, it’s not even questioned. But like I said, our burgers come dressed with three different types of sauce, and he had coleslaw instead of fries. And for real, I was only late by what at the most could have been maybe two, three minutes tops, however long it takes me to do two laps through the kitchen and back out on the floor.
Nope, this guy only needed two minutes to somehow grab a manager’s attention, to complain not only about the lack of ketchup, but about my service in general. And yeah, maybe I wasn’t a hundred percent on top of the game, but I thought things were going fine enough. Just minutes before, the lady had asked me for some extra tonic water for her cocktail. I brought over an unopened bottle and popped it for her right there, she even said out loud, “Wow, what a nice touch, thanks.”
But if there’s one thing I’m taking away from over a decade of waiting tables, it’s that you don’t fuck around with people’s ketchup. The lack of ketchup on a table has a way of turning normally pleasant and sane people into ruthless lunatics. Nineteen times out of twenty, if I’m running a burger or a sandwich to a table, chances are that before I even have a chance to fully place the dish in front of a customer, they’re already bombarding me with that one-word question:
“Ketchup?” That’s it. Just, “Ketchup?” like a tick, like it’s rattled off instinctively, no, “Please,” no, “May I have some,” or “Can you do me a favor and bring me some.” It’s just, “Ketchup?” And chances are, there’s probably already ketchup on the table. I’ll put down the plate, they’ll say, “Ketchup?” I’ll motion toward the ketchup, but it’s like they can tell, they don’t even have to look at the ketchup, they’ll just say, “More ketchup?”
And so, yeah, I’m in the awkward position right now of trying to defend myself when I clearly understand how important ketchup is to the majority of American diners. I don’t even know why restaurants put any effort at all into their food. At my place it’s something like twenty bucks for an in-house ground chuck steak burger, on a freshly baked bun, blah, blah, blah, stop talking and go get me even more of that sugary tomato syrup to pile on my meal.
Yes, I’m sorry I messed up by not getting this guy his ketchup right away. I am. But I was only like two minutes late, I already said that. This man found it necessary to complain to a manager. Like let me see if I can’t get this waiter in trouble because I don’t have my five ounces of ketchup. Worse, when I went to walk by the table a few minutes later, this time the guy was talking to one of the hostesses. I stood there for a minute, until the hostess interrupts, “I’m sorry you had to wait for your ketchup, but I’m not a manager, I’m a hostess.”
And so I stepped in, “Listen sir, I’d like to apologize, I’m really sorry that …”
But he cut me off, his mouth full of hamburger and ketchup, “You know something? The service here is really lacking. I had to wait a while for this ketchup,” at which point his wife interjected, “He’s been waiting for this ketchup!” and the man continued, “I can understand if it’s Saturday night or something, but it’s not, it’s Sunday, it’s not hard, your job’s not that hard.”
That’s when I kind of just froze, I deflated, I was totally defeated, this man looked me in the eye and told me that I’m not very good at my job, a job that’s not that hard anyway. And I’m not a bitter guy, I strive to find happiness in my daily routine, but here I am, I’m almost thirty years old, I’m waiting tables at a restaurant, and I have this man making an effort to find two people he thinks are in charge of me to complain about my performance.
What are you trying to do, what’s your end game? I was nothing but polite, smiling for you while I took your order and brought you your drinks, are you trying to get me fired? Is that your goal? You want to set an example to all of the waiters and waitresses out there, look, if you don’t get me my fucking ketchup, I’ll complain, I’ll get you in trouble?
I had a very strong urge to do something stupid, to slam my fists down on the table and tell him what’s what. But I didn’t. I just kind of blankly looked at him and told him, “Well, I certainly apologize,” and then I walked away, delegating any other tasks to my coworkers, doing whatever it was that I could to not have to interact with them for the rest of the night.
And the manager swung by table thirteen again toward the end of their meal, to continue the apologies for my incompetence, to offer them a free dessert (which they eagerly accepted.) I don’t know. I made a slight mistake. These two went in for the kill. I’m trying to get past it, but man, there’s still that urge, that desire to take the burger out of his hand, chomp off a bite and tell him to fuck off. Seriously, if I’m ever at a restaurant, and there’s no ketchup, I’ll just eat the burger. I’m a big boy. I’m not going to cause a huge scene. Man, I could complain about this forever.