One night last month I was at work waiting tables, getting people Diet Cokes. My shift had just started and the line was already out the door. My tables got sat immediately and, as per corporate policy, I approached my guests to take a drink order no later than thirty seconds after having sat down.
A middle-aged couple had already brought their martinis from the bar. When I went over to say hi, to get the ball rolling, they didn’t even look up at me. They barked at me dismissively, “We just sat down. We’re not even close to being ready.”
Terrific. Great. I’m doing fine thanks. Nice to see you too. It doesn’t happen all the time, but I hate it when people go out to a restaurant without wanting to have any sort of interaction with any other human being. You don’t want to be bothered at all tonight? You don’t want me to even come over and take your order?
I gave them five minutes. Then I returned and tried to tell them the specials. They still didn’t even look up at me. The man cut me off midway through the fish and said, “Why don’t you come back in five minutes.” At this point I was trying really hard to not appear pissed off; I went to say, “OK, sure,” but before I could even make it through that response, he cut me off again and said, “Maybe ten minutes.” And he and the woman he’s sitting with just kind of extended their smiles, like they were totally conscious of how rude they were being, like they were enjoying it.
Everything went as you’d imagine it would after an intro like that. They sat around for like half an hour before they even picked up their menus. They took another half hour to order. And after their empty plates were finally cleared, they stayed in my section, sat at my table, for the entirety of the night. For five hours they camped out and drank martinis and got drunk and ignored my glances toward the check, my silent pleading to please, please, get out of my life here, go away and let me make some money from somebody else.
They started out sitting across from each other, but as the night progressed, as they downed more booze, they wound up side to side. Then they started cuddling. Then making out. It was gross. All the while I had to just stand there and watch these two get it on. I had to stand back and watch all of my coworkers work, for actual customers, actually making money.
I’m not exaggerating when I say this was one of the worst customer experiences I’ve ever had as a waiter. From five in the afternoon until closing, they just sat there, occasionally ordering a drink, totally blocking me from selling meals, never looking up as to so much as acknowledge my presence, my existence as a human being, casually denying my need to work and make tips for a living, something impossible to do with a couple of graying lovebirds making fools of themselves in the middle of the restaurant.
Cut to last night. It was the beginning of another busy Friday night at the restaurant. The bar was already packed, a line already forming at the greeter’s podium. And guess who sat down right away in my section? That same couple. That same guy with that same bullshit smile. I didn’t know what to do. My heart immediately dropped to the soles of my feet. I couldn’t take another night of being fleeced by these jerks, another night of being leisurely ignored, of being used, stepped on, impotent with boiling rage, forced to smile and say, “Thank you sir. Very well ma’am.”
The night was still early. Maybe one of the day staff would cover for me and work a double. Maybe I could fake sick. I went to one of the other waiters, someone who has worked there for a while, “Is there any way of getting out of this shift, this situation?” He was sympathetic, he remembered the couple from a month ago, but he gave it to me straight, that I was most likely out of luck.
Both the man and the woman were talking on their cell phones. I considered shoving the menu in their face, pointing right to the bottom where it says, “Please refrain from using your cell phone in the dining room.” I wanted to grab a permanent marker, I wanted to add “asshole!” to the end of that sentence and then show it to them.
But I didn’t do anything. What was I going to do? Was I going to blow up? Get fired? Have no job? No, I couldn’t do anything. I was powerless, and that feeling of powerlessness, that knowledge that these people are in complete control of my life, of my job right now, it was just coursing through my body. I was growing numb, something dying inside.
I waited for them to close their phones and I put on my own bullshit smile, “Hello. Can I get you something to drink?” “Just water,” they both said. Huh. No martinis today. Maybe they wouldn’t be staying. Maybe I’m in luck. I dropped off their water. I’m didn’t even bother with the specials, I didn’t want to waste my breath, I didn’t feel like giving them the opportunity to cut off or tell me to go away.
But the lady chimed in, “I had something the last time I was here, a salad,” and she proceeded to tell me all about her previous meal, “and I was sitting right there. It was six months ago.” Six months ago? I said, “No, you were here a month ago, and you were sitting right there. I was your waiter.”
“No,” she told me, “I haven’t been here in at least six months,” and then she looked over at the guy, who cuts in with a “well maybe I was here for lunch.” And then he looked up at me, his smile starting to break only slightly, and went, “you must have remembered me.”
I couldn’t believe how quickly the situation had reversed itself. I made direct eye contact and told him, “Yeah. I totally remember.”
This was unbelievable. This had to have been his wife, and the lady from a month ago must have been a girlfriend or a mistress. That’s why they were staying in the restaurant all night, getting drunk and making out. They had nowhere else to go. The whole thing was illicit. And now he was back in the same restaurant with his wife, and he happened to have the same waiter that he screwed over the last time. What kind of a guy brings two different women to the same place?
There’s this complete emotional one-eighty. Whereas before I was pissed, ready for the worst, trying to weasel my way out of the shift, now I’m pumped, I absolutely hold the advantage, there’s no way I’m going to get pushed around by this guy, not tonight, not ever again. The couple ate their meals in like ten minutes, paid the check, they left like a twenty-five percent tip, and they were gone.
Sweet vindication. Much like a hot glass that’s suddenly filled with ice-cold water, my body was reacting similarly to the extreme change in emotion and temperament. For the rest of the night I was pulsing, on edge in a good way, just slightly on top of everything. I’d been down and then right up again all in the course of like ten minutes. It was almost too much to process.
I’ve never had such good karma pointed immediately in my direction. Somehow the universe righted my wrong. And I showed remarkable, almost inhuman restraint. I could have totally refused to play his game, I could have been like, “No it was dinner. You two ordered a bunch of martinis. Don’t you remember? You stayed all night.” But that would have cheapened it. Looking back, it was all worth it for those few seconds of eye contact, that pure moment of non-verbal communication, my silent, “Fuck you buddy. Just finish up and get out of my restaurant.”