“You can’t go yet.” She said as she rounded the stairs and stepped into my office. I had my fleece on and my laptop bag in hand. It had been a busy day and was past time to leave, and for one half a second I thought she might be joking. It is something I say to her all the time, a little boss tease I use to let my best people know I’d always rather have them stay. She was smiling, but she always is. Something in the way she dragged out the word “can’t” told me she was, nervous, angry, serious. “What’s up?” I asked.
“Anna Cristina has these two guys, we’re pretty sure they’re drunk, they heard her accent and asked where she was from, she said Sweden. Then one of them said he’d been watching a lot of porn from Sweden lately.”
Now I understood. She was angry at them, serious about the situation, and nervous about what I would do. These things really piss me off. She wanted it solved, but didn’t want a scene in the dining room, which was almost full. She was supposed to be in charge at that time, but knew I’d want to deal with it.
“I’ll take care of it.” I reassured her and put down my bag.
I remember the first time I confronted a guest who was inappropriate to a server. It was probably my 2nd or 3rd year running my own business. I was in the kitchen, it was a crazy-busy day in the middle of a crazy-busy week. A family motor home convention had brought over 10,000 motor homes to the nearby air base and none of the local restaurants were prepared for it. A server who was normally very composed came into the kitchen, her face red and wet with tears. She went outside. I followed. She broke down and could barely tell me about the guy at her table who had been so mean to her, picking on her just for fun.
Without thinking I stormed out to the the table. “Who’s the one beating up on my server” I said. It was an eight top and all at once seven people pointed at a hefty guy who was clearly dominating his environment. He was the kind of guy I’d be afraid to confront in another context, but when he looked at me I knew I had him. He had a look like he wanted to deny it, but he couldn’t.
“You should be ashamed of yourself,” I pointed at him and used my angry voice “she’s been working her ass off trying to make you happy and all you do is treat her like crap and you made her cry. I won’t make her wait on you anymore.”
“He’s always like that.” A member of his party said. “It’ll be OK,” someone else said. “We’ll take care of it”.
I could tell that they would; they were relieved and thankful that I had put an end to it. The big guy even gave me a nod.
After that I realized that people who pick on servers are weak. I guess it is true with all bullies, they beat others down to make themselves feel strong. Picking on people who are working is like a turkey shoot for these people. They use “the customer’s always right” dogma to their personal advantage and they feed their egos with others’ misery.
There are worse people than bullies though. It gets sexual. There are people who seek out restaurants with attractive servers just to hit on them. At least regarding men who pursue waitresses, this type of man isn’t used to being treated so nicely by women. He may be a nice guy who’s intensely shy, or maybe he’s a total creep; both types will delude themselves by blocking out the fact that it is her job to be nice.
There are three types of men who stalk waitresses. The first one I call the hero. He thinks servers have a dead end life. Even though the servers I work with average well over 20 dollars an hour, some men have the impression that they are poor and desperate. The hero wants to come in and save the server from her mundane life, as he sees it. He’s usually middle management or maybe a professional, like an accountant or a lawyer. He is usually at least 20 years older than the object of his affection. Whatever the case, he needs the turkey shoot advantage. He starts out very casually. It may take weeks of visiting before he actually speaks. Then he finds his in, usually on a subject which he considers himself an authority. Usually it is a “helpful” thing. Maybe an offer for help with taxes, legal help, fix a car, I’ve heard it all. Sometimes they even get past that point. One time a real estate agent got a server who worked with me into a home and financed it because he wanted to get into her pants. It always ends one of two ways though. Sometimes with an awkward invitation to go on an expensive vacation, but more often with a love note left on the table. The hero always turns out to be chicken shit and disappears when he doesn’t get any.
Then there is the vampire. The vampire knows he is pathetic right from the start. He doesn’t care, he is out for blood. He needs to be around women, but can’t bring himself to do so on equal terms. He comes in several times a week and sits as close as he can to the wait-station. He is quiet, but attentive. He learns everyone’s names and eventually gets them to use his. He will either be incredibly sweet, bringing in candy or flowers sometimes, or he’ll be incredibly sad and try to get the servers to cheer him up. He will eventually try to touch, maybe on the shoulder, maybe a double hand-shake. If he gets away with that, sooner or later he will ask for a hug. He will stop wherever he gets rejected and try to hold ground because he doesn’t want to blow the gig. If you don’t chase him away the vampire will haunt the place for years.
Then there is the Casanova. The Casanova is more of a one-timer, but not always. Often he is drunk, or you will know him as a nice guy until he is drunk. He thinks every woman who smiles at him is in love with him. He is going to leave a big tip if you don’t piss him off, so he usually works it pretty hard. This is the most common, and probably the least pathetic of the waitress stalkers. However, it can be coupled with the boyfriend-Casanova. This is the guy who knows the server outside of work, wants to be more than friends but isn’t, so he uses the turkey shoot advantage to get attention from his dream girl. The Casanova usually doesn’t present an on-going problem, he just makes servers feel icky because they suck up to him for the tips.
Waitress stalkers are creepy, hopefully harmless, but occasionally they have more of a predatory nature. These ones say things like “I’ve been watching a lot of porn from Sweden lately”.
“They’re at table 10” the shift leader said. I followed her down the stairs. As soon as I entered the dining room I knew which one it was. He had placed himself back to the wall on a banquette, the feng shui spot. I could spot him by his countenance. He was a good sized guy, my size. His companion, the one that sat back to the dining room, was bigger, but meeker. When I approached the table I grasped it with both hands. I leaned over them. They looked like they could have been some trouble, but the meeker guy was a lot older. The bad man looked at me and his eyes were so bloodshot I couldn’t see the whites.
“I’m gonna have to ask you gentlemen to leave” I said. Looking squarely at red eyes. He flinched and I saw hate on his face, but he tried to hide it and I felt like I had the edge. I was ready; inside myself I was hoping, just a little, that he’d make a move. I was not scared, but adrenaline was steaming up inside me. I really did want to throttle the guy.
“Why” he said.
“Because I can see that you are drunk, and one of you decided to have a conversation about porn with our server and now no one here wants to wait on you.” I took my eye off red eyes for one second and glanced at his older friend, then back at him. At that moment I knew he was a coward. He wanted to say something in denial, but the old guy stopped him and said they would leave.
Part of me appreciated the old man’s immediate compliance and the restaurant owner in me said to him “I hope you come back some time”.
“I will” he said rather pleasantly. I watched them shuffle across the street and climb into their van and I hoped he wouldn’t.
Well shit. I recognize a lot of all three types in me.
I go out a lot and always tip well mostly because I love good food, mostly. But I also go out to relax. Relax and chat a bit with the staff. And I know the expression “hitting on a waitress” as an euphemism for doomed action based on false hope. And yet still, some times I catch myself crossing the line. And it’s been happening more lately.
The funny thing is I used to hate the very idea of going out and sitting at the bar. A table with friends sure, but alone at the bar, never. But that was when I was young. I grew up way behind the bar, both my parents worked in the hospitality industry when I was little. And surprisingly that left me with a strong feeling that time sitting at a bar was a horrible waste of life. But then I got old, I got a job, friends got married and had kids, and everyone works and we very rarely get together.
And I started going out alone. And now I’m going out a lot and I am starting to think I’m trading time with strangers paid to be nice, for time I might be able to get with friends if I just tried harder.
And I’m thinking it’s time to cook more at home.
Thank you for an amazingly well written blog. It really makes me think.
To be sure, there is nothing wrong with having a friend behind the bar, and a few drinks can blurr the lines.
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