Tuesday, November 1, 2011

“You Can't Depend On Your Judgment When Your Imagination is Out of Focus” - Mark Twain

It was Saturday. I was wrapping things up in the back hallways of work and getting all of my paperwork in order to submit and bounce for the day. It hadn’t been an awful seven hours; I had been scheduled a food running shift (which I actually enjoy as it is a nice break from the hustle and bustle of waiting on demanding tables and less than friendly business travelers. Plus it’s a tipped position at my job) however they ended up moving me on to the floor to cover a serving shift for the afternoon. I was pleased that I made as much money as I did and was getting ready to enjoy a day off with the family. 

As I was finishing up, one of the other servers and I were chatting about the day and she was expressing how excited she was to have received her first hundred dollar tip that she didn’t have to share with anyone else. I think her table wasn’t more than four or five people and I can’t remember the total of their bill, but apparently the woman paying was a dancer and was friends with someone else at the restaurant. As a result, she was very generous and appreciative of the good service she received and happily left her server the elusive “fat tip” that we all hunger for. After all, we have to balance out all those other people who either don’t find our services worthy of monetary thanks or simply don’t understand how percentages work. 

Either way, on a slow day in our restaurant, this woman made that server’s day. 

I was really pleased to hear about it and couldn’t help think to myself how nice it would be when I finally got my “fat tip”. I’m always okay with 18% and above, but who doesn’t like a little overcompensation every now and then? I remember getting a fifty dollar tip on a fifty dollar check at Chili’s one time, but it’s been a while since something like that has happened. 

I’ve finally settled into working full time again. I think that on top of the fact that I walked into a restaurant with a thousand employees (only a small exaggeration) with a thousand different personalities, the transition for me was so difficult this time around because I was really resistant to having to go back to work full time to begin with. Acceptance is a funny thing... and it does seem to have changed things quite a bit for me at work in a positive way. 

Plus, I’ve met a few really nice people who work there that I look forward to seeing and the management seems to be making a bigger effort - with me at least - to be helpful. I’m still overtipping the bartenders in an attempt for less attitude and am making a little headway there as well. I consider it an investment in my work environment. 

As far as the clientele, they aren’t bad either. I mean yes, some of them are... but that’s part of the business. It’s helpful that I’m no longer in a restaurant that serves a bottomless soup and salad special or a three course meal for two people for twenty bucks. The kind of clientele that those deals bring in are borderline intolerable. 

Unless you are in the industry yourself, you may not quite understand how, as servers, we can look at a table that sits in our section and profile the shit out of them. And most of the time, we’re right. Remember, there are stereotypes for a reason. 

So yesterday, when three very large black women dressed to party were seated at one of my tables, I couldn’t help but brush it off as a ten percent-er. It was cool... I was in a good mood. As long as they didn’t complain about every aspect of their meal, I could handle the bad tip. 

Here’s the thing with me, though... while I, like almost every server I’ve ever met, judge a table purely based on appearance, I am still compassionate to the fact that my job is to provide good service and to create an experience for someone. Maybe it’s because I’ve only been a server for five or six years total, but I take this responsibility very seriously. 

Tim and I go out to eat or drink all the time. Lucky for us, we tend to exude a very strong positive energy when we are together and, therefore, we seem to almost always attract the same in a server, bartender or sushi chef. However, when we do get bad service, it really puts a damper on the experience. Since I’m a server myself, I still leave the twenty percent (good karma and all), but they could’ve gotten thirty and possibly a new regular guest.... who always tips them thirty. 

Plus, you never know what kind of day someone had. Sometimes, that bad tip has absolutely nothing to do with you. It can’t be taken personally. Also, many people I wait on aren’t from America. Even if they understand that the standard is twenty percent, they don’t understand why and, therefore, they won’t leave it. 

Generally speaking, we are a country that is greedy, gluttonous and we like our money to come effortlessly. So when someone leaves us ten bucks on a hundred dollar check, we are furious. Even though we probably didn’t work any harder for that table than the one that only spent twenty and left us a five. It’s a strange mentality and I truly think the most compassionate people are the ones that make the best living in this industry. 

Okay, so back to my ladies. 

I approached the table with a smile and greeted them warmly. I noticed that one of the women had a slot machine ticket out on the table with $158.00 on it. Once again, you can never assume anything in Vegas. She may have pumped a thousand bucks into that machine before finally giving up and cashing out before it was all gone. Then again, she could’ve put a buck in to get a free drink and hit something right away. We are free to judge, but shouldn’t base our behavior on this initial judgment. 

We discussed martinis. I gave some suggestions of a few of my favorites and one of the women took my recommendation and ordered our Tahitian Pineapple martini. The other two decided on our equally delicious Asian Pear martini. Even though all three women looked well over twenty one, I asked for IDs as I don’t feel like job searching again and while they didn’t “happily” oblige, they did hand them over. 

Oakland. Awesome. The judgment continues. Then again, so does the smile. 

I bring them their martinis and they start taking pictures of themselves holding them. I offer to take a picture of the three of them. They are pleased with this and pose happily for me, toasting their frosty glasses. 

I give them a few minutes to decide on food and check in with my other three tables. When I go back, they have a few questions on the menu and want to make some modifications to their meal. Well, of course they do... I saw that coming. And of course they can. After all, it’s only one or two more buttons I have to press on the computer. What do I care? 

So they order their meals, changing up all the side dishes on them, but overall, nothing too complicated. I’m happy with what they ordered because I think there is very little room for them to be disappointed. Barbecue chicken and ribs for one, chicken parmesan for another and fish and chips for the third. 

Hmm... why does that not surprise me... 

I acknowledge them on their choices, take their menus and ring in their food. I go back to check a few times on their drinks. They are happy, pleasant and seem to be having a very good time. Perfect. Especially since the miserable woman at my other table who scarfed down her chicken caesar salad and then left me no tip was finally gone. I’ll take a happy table who aren’t going to tip me that much ANY day over a miserable woman that I thought would at least leave me a buck or two. 

The food comes out for the ladies and it looks great. One item missing - no problem. I run to the kitchen and grab the side of coleslaw. Easy fix. 

When I get back to the table, the lady that ordered the fish and chips said that last time she was in, the server had brought her a couple of dark dipping sauces that she loved, but couldn’t remember what they were. As a restaurant with twenty different sauces, all I had to go by was “dark” and “sort of a tempura for one and teriyaki for the other.” 


I go to the kitchen, confer with my General Manager and then make up a dish of four sauces that she might be talking about. When I drop them at the table and name them off to her, she immediately recognizes two of them being the right one but is pleased to be able to try two more. While I’m there, I notice one of the other ladies had finished her martini. I offer her another one and she declines, laughing that one was plenty. I make a joke about it being no problem, I just hate to see an empty glass anywhere in Vegas. They all laugh and as I’m walking away, I hear one of the women say to the other “she’s great!”. 

Aww... shucks. 

Their meal starts to wrap up and I clear the plates. As I do, one woman apologizes for not telling me sooner, but they need split checks. Once again, no problem. Unlike other restaurants I’ve worked at, I can do this without a manager so it really is no problem. 

I bring them the split checks and let them know that I will be their cashier whenever they are ready. I tend to my other tables and give the women a few minutes to get their bills in order. When I go back, all three checks are neatly stacked on the edge of the table. I politely tell them I will be right back with their change and they all tell me that it is not necessary. I thank them, tell them to enjoy the rest of their vacation and invite them to return. They thank me as well and the interaction is complete. 

When I get to the register and open up my the check presenters, the first thing I notice are two handwritten notes on the checks from the ladies. The notes give me genuine pleasure as I show them to my co-worker. 

What makes me happier is that each woman appears to have left me a nice tip. I collect the money in each check presenter and as I get to the last one, I take the two twenties, the five and the one (this was on the check that was $41.02), and my mouth drops as I discover the final bill behind the first four is a one hundred dollar bill. My head immediately shoots to the table but the ladies have already left. 

I close my eyes and smile to myself. 

We judge people every day. And I’m not writing this to say how we shouldn’t do that or how it is wrong as a society or blah, blah, blah. Look, we judge. It’s what we do. Shit, it’s practically involuntary. What I AM writing to say is that even though the judgment may always be there, you just never know. And everyone deserves to get treated with respect and compassion. We only know our own troubles and successes. We only know what it’s like to walk that mile in OUR shoes. Judge all you want... but in the end, we are all still humans. 

Tim had some unexpected health expenses this month. He didn’t ask if he could pay the rest of the rent when he got paid this week. But I knew he was hurting for cash and that his next paycheck was going to come before rent was due. The extra money in his savings account that he set aside for rent would ease his troubles until payday. So I told him to give the rest to me Thursday so he would have money all week. No problem for me. 

I unfriended someone on Facebook with incredibly negative energy who never really had anything nice to say in either his status updates or comments on other people’s posts. And try to talk football smack? Forget it... it just turns mean and righteous. After I unfriended him, he told me “good riddance”. Funny... if you wanted to be rid of me so bad, you have the same “unfriend” option, you know... 

I think it’s important to make decisions like these. I think it’s important to have the courage to do what we know in our heart is the right thing to do. It’s not always easy and it’s not always pretty, but at the end of the day, the Universe says “nice work, that was what I was hoping you would do”. 

I don’t know if it’s either of these acts or purely my attitude at work that day, but I believe that I was rewarded for doing things differently than someone else would. I believe that I was rewarded for making a shift and for creating a space where something positive can come out of something potentially negative. For being compassionate... for both myself and others. 

Although, there is a very good chance it’s because of that damn Tahitian Pineapple...

1 comment:

  1. I loved reading this. I need to catch up on your earlier ones. Happened to see on my FB page you added this. I LOL'd when I got to the part where you wrote. Ah, shucks... I know exactly where this blog was headed! I also serve every guest at Chili's like anyone would want to be treated no matter how they look or what country they look like they are from, even if I know the way I know it usually will end. And yes, I do know the feeling when I happen to overhear one of the guests comment in a pleasant tone or phrase. It kinda makes me feel good all over because you know they appreciate good service. Always liked the way you served with me at Chili's. You are not like some that I still work with that drop the level of service when a and dare I say "bad" table gets sat in their section. Like you said you just never know. Also I see the check totals and am jealous, one drink and one entree and its already at $41!