October 26, 2009

To inconvenience, or not to inconvenience

I waffle on this subject a lot: are you really "inconveniencing" someone whose job it is to serve you? And if you are, does it matter?

When this question inevitably comes up in a restaurant or bar, your friends probably all have differing theories. What's surprising is those who have worked in food service aren't always the ones wanting to give the waitress a break or tip the bartender extra just because. Out of habit, I usually leave generous tips but sometimes I catch myself - I'm just about as broke as a server and if the service was bad (truly bad, not just that I went somewhere insanely busy on a Friday night and had to wait five minutes longer than normal) I will tip exactly 15 percent, possibly less. I will sometimes not ask for something because it seems like it will inconvenience somebody, but then I remember - that's their job. When I was serving, I would much rather have someone assertively ask for (or remind me of) what they need rather than pull that passive-aggressive bullshit of "Oh, I don't want to bother her. Now I'll just be quietly upset all night that I didn't get extra salad dressing, and tell everyone later that the service was bad."

I was visiting friends in Brooklyn this weekend and while we were walking back to the train a little before 2 AM, we (unbelievably) couldn't find any late-night food options in the neighborhood we were in (I know, not even pizza! In Brooklyn!). Drunk and hungry, we finally stumbled upon a hot dog place. They closed at 2, and one of my companions and I declared we didn't want to be "assholes" and go into an establishment a few minutes before closing. They were probably cleaning up and wanting to go home. Our other friend, annoyed with our passivity, reminded us that the restaurant was open until 2, and made a living off of providing food for people. It's their JOB. Distracted and drunk, we wandered away from the hot dog place but I thought about it later - she's right. It's their job. In fact, I just got pissed off at a bakery in a small town a couple weeks ago where I went in a half-hour before closing and basically could not get them to sell me anything because it was all "put away." How annoying.

On a side note, the friend who reminded us that the hot dog people make a living off of selling hot dogs, and would probably be glad to do so even right before closing, is a former server and even worked at the same restaurant as me in high school. She also once left a condescending biyatch waitress at some crappy tapas bar in Uptown a bunch of scattered change on the table as a tip after she was excruciatingly rude to us.

Proof that fairness doesn't always mean accommodation, even if you're trained to think that way.

October 18, 2009

Crying at work

Once I was a customer when a barista started crying. She burned herself on the steam wand (which you get used to pretty quickly working in a job like that). She tried to hide it at first and when I asked if she was OK, she just muttered "yeah." But it quickly became apparent that either due to the burn or (more likely) due to other things, she was not. I tried to send her telepathic messages. "It's OK. I'm one of the good ones. You can let it out." And as if she heard me, she started crying. I told her I knew what she felt like since I'd burned myself about a million times on steam wands all over the Minneapolis metro area, but what I was really saying is that I know what she felt like because I know what it's like to be treated like shit all day. To know that despite that, if you want to make any money, you have to be nice to everyone no matter what's going on at home or at work or in your head.

October 12, 2009

One time...

I cut myself pitting an avocado and bled all over someone's sandwich. I told him I was going to get somebody else to take care of his order and he simply asked, "How long will that take?" Meanwhile I cradled my hand as blood pooled on the floor.

October 8, 2009

Jane Adams, you are a bitch

Wow.   This is amazing. It pisses me off in so many ways.

I understand why the restaurant is so concerned with its image but give me a break. This woman walked out on her $14 tab. Plain and simple. Any of you who have worked in a restaurant know that if a customer dines and dashes, your manager will literally kick your ass out the door to chase them down the street.  And in some places the server will get stuck paying the tab out of his or her pocket. It is simply not acceptable for a grown-up (especially a “celebrity”) to eat at a restaurant and not pay. OK, so you “left your wallet in your car.” Go get it and come right back. Have one of your entourage or your driver or your fellow actors who have nothing but time and money bring you $20.  Don’t think because you’re on a TV show, you don’t have to pay for the food you eat.

This also brings up some really interesting questions about how free those who deal with the public are to speak about their jobs. Would it be OK for Jon-Barrett Ingels to tweet about the same thing if it were a non-famous customer? It’s not like he was even making it up; it did happen. And he wasn’t completely negative about it; he complimented her acting for chrissakes! Servers by trade deal all day with people who have delusions of grandeur, so why is it such a crime to point it out when it happens? The bitch should be thanking him for putting her on the radar (who the hell is this woman anyway? I’ve never even heard of her or her show).

I just feel horrible that he got fired for this. I know there are millions of worse injustices in the world, but this one just really upsets me. It’s not enough that you get walked on all day, but when you try to express yourself in order to deal with your crappy job, you get fired for it. I hope Jane Adams is happy that her absentmindedness (or maybe just cheapness) and her bitchy little tirade cost someone the ability to make a living.

October 6, 2009

Coffee Shop Crushes

I could go on for days about the psychological and social aspects of the customer-server relationship. In fact, I think I literally do go on for days about it in the SMBHBD print zine...which has just been restocked at Microcosm by the way, if you'd like to order one.

There's a great zine called Coffee Shop Crushes, which might be out of print now, where people pour their hearts out about the baristas they've obsessed over and how they've (usually) embarrassed themselves trying to express it. The common theme seems to be that coffee shop crushes are better left to the imagination. To force one into a relationship hardly ever works and the result is usually a) humiliation b) awkwardness and c) having to find a new coffee shop. It's just kind of funny how people are so intrigued by their servers and baristas (it goes the other way too, but that's an entirely different subject).

Unfortunately, I've lived it. My last boyfriend, whom I dated for three years, started out as one of my regular customers (he later also became a coworker - again an entirely different subject). He wooed me by ordering carrot juice every day and sitting for an hour trying to talk to me about music. Always a sucker for a guy who actually recognizes that I actually know quite a bit about music, I finally gave in and hung out with him outside of work. Three years later, cut to me crying on Christmas Day while hauling home the presents my mom bought for him and finding out that instead of skipping my family Christmas to catch up on sleep, he had skipped my family Christmas to go to the bar - with another girl. Granted, this could happen in any relationship, but I think the early dynamics of our server-customer relationship had something to do with it.

There are some customers who use their local coffee shop, restaurant or bar as a dating pool. Once I went out on a date with a different customer (who it turned out was already sleeping with another customer who was a friend of mine) and he spent the entire time trying to get me drunk and talking about how smart he was. He was so smart that after I left him sitting at the table and walked out, he would still come to my workplace, set up shop for a couple hours and try to talk to me. And would come in when I was not working and ask my coworkers for my work schedule.

The point is, I really don't think the customer-server relationship can ever work. Friends, maybe. Drinking buddies, yes. But the conditions are not ideal for anything meaningful because the dynamics are already so fucked up.

I'm mostly writing this for all the lonely middle-aged guys out there who think that barista at Starbucks who remembered your drink or the waitress at Applebee's who gave you a free side of ranch has some sort of attachment to you. I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but she does not. Just please don't even go there for everyone's sake.