I saw something the other night that brought me back to my days behind the bar; a patron at a music club tried to talk his way into the show without paying the cover. He eventually coughed up the cash — peeled from a stack of twenties — and charged into the barroom. A short while later I saw him in a confrontation with another, much larger patron of this establishment. Eventually one of the bartenders came out from behind the bar and pulled the guy aside. I heard only a snippet of their conversation:
“You can stay, but you can’t talk to anybody.”
I’ve been saying this for years, almost as long as I toiled in the service industry myself: Everyone should have to work in a restaurant for a couple years, like the army in Switzerland.
Every male in Switzerland, and many women, go through basic training, are issued guns and, probably, those cool red knives, and if their country goes to war — pretty unlikely, trust me on that — they all show up with their gear.
If we do the same thing in the United States with the restaurant business, people might get a better understanding of what their servers go through every night, and the whole business would be a whole lot more pleasant.
It’s not just persistent and chatty drunks that pushed me to this position. Anyone who has ever refilled a glass of water knows the list of nightmare customers that will always show up sooner or later, no matter where you work, no matter what shift.
There are your basic low-tippers, who somehow missed the message that 10 percent is more of an insult than a gratuity, or who somehow think “tip” means whatever coinage is left over from the transaction. Four days working the counter at a diner would take care of that.
Then there are the high-maintenance ones who are always sending food back or asking for more bread or a different table. Sometimes they think the restaurant is too cold, or the music is too loud, or the meal is too spicy. A couple years pouring drafts in a dive bar would clear that condition right up.
There are the people who come too early, the ones who stay past closing, the ones who share desserts and the ones who “aren’t hungry,” the party who reserved a table for 24 but only eight people show, the ones who argue about the check, the couples who fight at the table, the parents who bring babies to fine-dining restaurants, the guys who sit at the bar and tell jokes (they’re always guys), the women who flush things never intended for toilets and the ones who just straight-up don’t know how to act.
I say issue them all corkscrews and hard checks and put them all to work.
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