Serving rude restaurant guests leaves you with very few options. In order to maintain my faith in humanity, I tend to chalk it up to a bad day or having a bit too much to drink. Sometimes you just have to grin and bear it knowing that they will be gone in a few hours and never heard from again. I even find some solace in believing that when they wake up in the morning they might stop to consider how rude they were the night before. Last night, I encountered a past guest that may make me reconsider my philosophy.
Last night was a fairly typical night off. I was meeting a friend for a quick bite at a bar not far from where I work when I noticed a lady walking towards me. She asked me if I had been her waiter the night before. I said that was quite possible, then I recognized her as part of the large party from the previous evening. I wondered to myself if this was the moment when my theory would be validated as the rude restaurant guest would apologize for her party’s behavior.
Their visit to the restaurant was memorable for a couple of reasons. The first was the volume of the table. The second was the less-than-appropriate topics of conversation at the table. While discussing lesbianism on the Vassar campus at the top of your lungs might be somewhat appropriate at a bar, it is not really something that the entire dining room needs to hear at a nice restaurant. The table next to them made a comment to me, and the other server said that her guests mentioned it to her. Soon, all of the tables in the restaurant had departed or gone down to our jazz club to get some peace and quiet. When the party noticed this, they joked about their ability to clear out a dining room.
Then they decided to turn their focus to me. The same guest who was now approaching me on the street was telling me that I didn’t seem to be enjoying their party and that I seemed annoyed with them. The reality was that I was probably the least annoyed of anyone in the dining room with their antics. I would at least be receiving a tip for tolerating their crass and inappropriate behavior. When they finally left, it was just under two hours after the kitchen had closed. The dishwasher and busser were long gone. I cleared the table, washed the glasses, and reset the room as my fellow servers asked, “What was up with your party?”
So as the rude restaurant guest confirmed my identity, I was thinking of ways to graciously accept her apology. The conversation went in a far different direction.
She proceeded to inform me that she was an event planner and that she was very disappointed in her experience. She then said that while the service was great, it was apparent that I was annoyed with her table. I was informed that if I had cut loose and had fun with her table, it would have been a “windfall” for me. She acknowledged that they might have been a bit excited, but that they were just celebrating. Several minutes of this lecture were wrapped up under the guise of “constructive criticism” and “things she thought I should know.”
In this moment I had a few decisions to make. I could certainly have told her that their behavior was entirely inappropriate and that my annoyance was mild compared to what was being expressed by the other tables in the dining room. I could have pointed out that two sober members of her party apologized separately for the behavior of their group. I could have pointed out that my job is to provide exemplary service and that “joining in their party” is not part of my job description, especially when other tables were upset that I would not scold them. I could have pointed out my three best server awards, that I wrote a book on serving, and my nearly two decades of experience. I could have pointed out that in all my years working in bars, I rarely encountered a group of college kids that were as poorly behaved as her group was. I know that this would not have ended until she ran away in tears. I have never told a guest off, and the pent-up rage I have as a result should never be unleashed.
Instead, I simply said, “I’m sorry you felt that way, and I will keep that in mind in the future.”
This seemed to frustrate her even more.
At the end of the day, despite making $3.63 per hour, I never get to be off work. She still has the option to leave terrible reviews across the internet. She still has the option of calling and complaining to my boss to try to cost me my job. She could have escalated it into an even larger disruption of my day off. The one option she did not receive was to feel self-satisfaction in knowing that her rudeness helped some lowly server be better at his job.
“I’m sorry you felt that way, and I will keep that in mind in the future.”
I went back in the bar and told the story to the bartender. We had a good laugh and then I said, “It is times like this when I really wish I had a network of websites set up where I could share this story with others.” We both had a good chuckle and I resumed my evening. My thoughts drifted since to how many other occupations carry this same burden.
If I ran across the person who processed my forms at the DMV, I probably would not approach them with ideas about how they could improve their customer service. I doubt this lady would either, although in her case I might be mistaken. Guests seem to feel they have a fundamental right to offer servers direct and verbal “advice” on how to do a job they have never done. In this case, it wasn’t even about the mechanics of how I did my job, but about my personality. Not exactly how I expected to spend my night off, but it resulted in one very happy thought.
“I think I know what my next blog post will be about.”