The other day I was at work waiting tables. Even though none of the servers pool tips, we still have a system in place where we rely heavily on each other’s support. One aspect of this codependency involves greeting the customers that have just sat down. Officially, it’s supposed to be within thirty seconds, the party gets sat, and the nearest available waiter or waitress has to do the whole, “Hi! How’s it going? Can I get you something to drink?”
It’s a good system, because you can’t be everywhere at once, and it’s nice to know that if you get stuck in the back wrapping up a bunch of doggy bags, for example, that the rest of your customers aren’t going to be left out to hang, waiting for someone to show up, slowly steaming, thinking all the while of how somebody is going to pay for this, it’s going to be the server, it’s going to be reflected in the tip.
But it goes both ways. Every once in a while you ask if they’d like to start out with a drink and you get ambushed by a, “We’re actually in a rush, we’ll give you everything right now, we’re ready, we’re really hungry.” And then you’re committed, you can’t be like, “Well, you see, I’m only here for the drink order …” people hate that nonsense, going to a restaurant, trying to figure out who does what. It makes sense that I just take over, do what I can, try to help out wherever possible.
Like I said, I found myself in this situation the other day, an older couple, they were definitely from out of town, they were hungry, and in a rush, so they gave me everything. Fine. I took their order, I went to put everything in the computer, and then I proceeded to get the drinks ready. The man wanted a Coke, and the lady wanted and iced tea, “With lots of ice, and extra lemon.”
Our restaurant has these sixteen ounce glasses, and our ice machine spits out ice in giant chunks. The glasses can only really hold five ice cubes, but this lady said extra, and I wanted her to see that I was paying attention, and so I kind of put a sixth one on top and then softly hammered the whole thing in with the back of the ice scoop.
I approached the table with the plate of extra lemons balanced on my forearm, and just as I set down that glass of iced tea in front of that lady, she says to me, “Didn’t I tell you that I wanted a lot of ice?”
And my job is not to give people attitude or anything like that. Even if it was, this wasn’t my table, we don’t share gratuity, and so this wasn’t even my money on the line. Really, all I had to do was drop these drinks off and that would have been the end of my interaction with this man and woman. But I couldn’t process this lady’s question to me, even though it wasn’t a question, it was just a little dart of sentence flung into my neck with a decorative question mark dangling at the end.
I didn’t have time to smile and be professional. I shot back, “More ice? There are six giant ice cubes in that cup. That’s the most ice that can fit in that glass.” And she looked a little shocked, I was a little shocked, I mean, she was definitely pushing buttons, but rarely in the service industry does button pushing actually result in a server pushing back. That’s not allowed.
I realized my mistake. Even though the ice was just as she asked, again, it’s not my job to push back, it’s my job to take all of that bullshit and smile. And like I said before, this wasn’t even my tip on the line, so now I not only started to worry about a rudeness complaint possibly heading my way, but I began to feel bad that I was negatively impacting the amount of money that wasn’t even going into my pocket.
Maybe half a second passed before I abruptly changed my entire demeanor. I put on the most sincere smile I could manage, I said to her, “But I’m happy to get you some more ice. I’ll be right back.” And I raced back to the kitchen, hoping that I could get this lady some more ice before she even had a minute to think about what I’d said and how the whole situation could have been handled differently.
Thirty seconds later, I had two more cups filled with ice, another twelve oversized ice cubes, in front of her. I finished our interaction with another ridiculously sincere smile, and then I disappeared, hoping that all would have been forgiven, that maybe they wouldn’t have even noticed my micro-outburst, those two or three seconds where I forgot my place, where I was, who I was talking to. Hopefully they left a decent tip.