The Customer From Hell

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - September 19, 2007
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The other night, during a memorable and fun wine dinner, it hit me just how difficult the restaurant industry can be - and why I respect those within it who work so hard.

Throughout the evening I watched in amazement as a series of complaints from a lady next to me went from mildly annoying to simply outrageous. She didn’t like the table she’d been assigned (in the completely sold-out restaurant) and insisted on being reseated. She was. Then the wine came. Oh, it was glorious. Jammy and bursting with fruit and just a little hint of fizz - served in a sparkling clean Reidel crystal glass. I tried hard to savor mine and not down it all in a simple 2-ounce gulp, but not my neighbor. Her wine was “filled with sediment” and her glass dirty. Dismissively she waved a hand at the waitress and sent the glass back.

Then we started to eat. Our beautifully smoked fish was quite the best of its kind I’d ever tasted - hers was “too tough” and went back to the kitchen. Her sushi needed to be cut - it wasn’t in small enough pieces, so it went back to the chef, and her fall-off-the-bone short ribs were sent back to the kitchen because the black pepper on top was not ground coarsely enough. And in a final twist, the dessert was sent back because she didn’t like the ice cream.

It was fascinating to watch on lots of levels - almost like dinner theater - with the wait staff playing some wonderful roles.

“Oh, we don’t mind,” said the manager, cheerfully, “it’s just part of the job. You always get these kind of customers.”

But why should they? Complaining about poor service is one thing, but rudeness, dismissing staff and treating them badly is not acceptable. Wait staff are not indentured servants, and the $75 or so you leave in exchange for food and wine does not give you carte blanche to insult and demean these hardworking people. Restaurant staff are in the food and beverage industry for a number of reasons. Some of them are die-hard professionals with a lifetime of experience and the varicose veins to show for it; some are working their way through school, and others are trying to find their next stop on this journey through life. They all deserve respect for the efforts they put into making sure you have a pleasant evening.

Of course they’re not all perfect, and there’s a time and a place for effective complaining. But it’s not at the table, and it shouldn’t be with an attitude.

If you can’t behave nicely, complain well or don’t know how to tip, just stay home and grumble at the TV. It might be safer in the long run - not all servers and chefs are as accommodating and good-natured as the ones we had the other evening.

Happy eating!

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