When I was in the third grade, I shared a desk with a Palestinian boy who had a bubble gum habit. One day, Miss Jones caught him taking a masticated wad of gum and mashing it under the table. "Karim!" she boomed. "Would you ever do that at home?"
"No, Miss," he said. Young Karim was made to rub his nose in pink chalk dust and stand in the corner for the remainder of class.
"I'd like to do that to some of the people that come into the bar," Pete, a friend who runs a lively hotel bar in New York City, says. Anyone who has been in Pete's shoes understands this impulse. Though perhaps to a lesser degree, so do those who have borne witness to painful interactions between patrons and restaurant staff, or who have at some point been mortified by family or friends and their public conduct.
If it takes a person cut from a certain cloth to serve food to the thirsty masses and to do it well, then surely that cloth is the hardiest of steel wool. Finessing a living out of people's demands, theatrics and public displays of irreverence is not a job for the faint of heart.
"I'd like to see a story written about the crap we have to put up with," a local chef/restaurateur says. "We're under-represented!"
Restaurants and the people who run them are there to work when the rest of the world is out to play—and how! Off-duty behaviors exhibited in public are a flagrant reflection of our personal values, exposing how we treat others and how we expect to be treated in return.
"Booze and food amplify pre-existing tendencies and bring everything into the open," a local bartender observes. "Some people become caricatures of themselves and others are more veiled and discreet, but the image never distorts. It's endless entertainment, provided you don't let it get to you."
My service industry heroes share an ability to bring levity to the bewildering fact that so many people appear to give little thought or concern to how they act whilst dining out. These tenacious men and women include the wry, bitingly witty and newly published Waiter of Waiter Rant, the folks who contribute to the forums and Shitty Tipper Database at Bitter Waitress and, closest to my heart, a friend whose regard for her line of work rides the fine line between resentment and uncomplicated satisfaction.
"I've seen it all, from people setting things on fire out of boredom, to guys describing the sexual positions they'd like to use on me while I'm standing at their table waiting to take their order," she says.
She notes that the manner in which owners and/or managers deal with these situations varies radically as well, but is quick to add, "I adore my regulars, and a really great table can always turn a bad night around."
With bemused compassion, Santa Feans chime in with gripes and opinions.
"The snappers—they're the worst," a server at a local favorite for fine dining says, snapping his fingers brashly to demonstrate. "Next are the ones who assume that if you're brown-skinned then you can't speak English." He pauses. "Actually, I don't mind being addressed by guests in Spanish so long as they speak it themselves, but the 'Moss…Ogwah…Pore…Fuvor' people make me want to scream."
A hostess says, "I hate the ones that ask to sit outside and then complain about the elements, like the wind. Or a fly."
Their manager agrees: "There are the ones who are always trying to get things comped, so they'll send food back every time. Better yet, some of them will eat almost everything on the plate, and then try to send it back, saying it either wasn't good or it wasn't what they ordered."
When asked, "What frustrates you most about serving?" contributions from two dozen servers, managers, bartenders and restaurateurs included, but were not limited to: "People assuming they can touch me," "people who assume they can treat my staff like crap," "people not showing up for reservations," "when people rearrange the furniture or use the neighboring table for their bags and coats," "when one person orders and you're expected to stand and wait while the rest are still deciding," "people beckoning you over while talking on cell phones and gesturing for you to wait until they're done," "being asked for change from cash and then being left exactly what you brought back as a tip," "when the table runs you ragged by asking for one thing at a time," "asking for more bread or more water and then not touching either," "salt shaker thieves" and "snotty bev naps left on the table."
My pet peeve? That's easy; it's when a table lingers over invisible mignardises long after the restaurant is clearly shuttered and the wilting, exhausted staff is being held captive. Get on home! That's what living rooms and Armagnac are for.
The waitstaff, bartenders and managers
interviewed for this story asked to remain
Got a pet peeve of your own? How about a story about outstanding restaurant behavior? We want to hear about it, but please be discreet, don't name names or restaurants—we can't publish it if you do.