Why do some people seem to revert back to childhood upon entering a bar or restaurant? Most of you have probably never realized this unless you’ve worked in the service industry before, but its true. You may even be doing it yourself! I’ve worked in the bar and restaurant business for fifteen years and have met all kinds but as time goes on you begin to see patterns, or “categories” if you will.
Customers come in the door and fall into one of two categories. The first category marches straight through the door and makes a bee line for the closest open table. Even if said table still has plates, spills, and tip money from the last occupants scattered all over the place and there are five empty, clean tables surrounding it. This type of customer doesn’t care. They will sit rigid, glaring at everyone around them, making sure no one gets any ideas about moving in on their new turf. Once this has been accomplished they turn their glare on you, no matter how busy you are at the moment. If you don’t move over there double time they will usually add aggressive hand gestures to the glare, making sure you notice them.
The second category of people are the ones who enter slowly. They meander into the place as if stepping into a new universe. Moving at the speed of smell, looking around as if seeing walls and tile flooring for the very first time. Meanwhile you are patiently standing, holding their menus, while fifty other people need to be waited on.
Once you get everyone seated, or the already seated’s table cleared off you begin the process of collecting drink and food orders. In all my years of experience things usually work this way, you seat the people and take their drink order. Then you go get the drinks and bring them back and hopefully are able to take their food order, get it to the kitchen and move on to the next table. Sounds simple right? Not so much.
Here you see a wide array of types or categories people can fall into. There is the “never been to a restaurant before” type that never bothers with that stupid thing called a menu that explains what the restaurant has to offer. These people start barking their order at you rapid fire sometimes before their butts have even hit the chair. It does not matter if you are in the middle of taking their companions drink orders or are laden down with a tray of food or drinks for another table. If you do not immediately drop what your doing and scramble for a fresh sheet in your ticket book you get “the look”. The look is something most of us in the business are familiar with. It’s when a customer looks at you like your an early form of chimpanzee. There is no pleasing these types so take a deep breath, smile, and inwardly know that they are in fact the idiot.
Then there are the “I am special, and simply cannot eat off the menu” types. These are the ones who thoroughly read the menu (sometimes more than once), then promptly order something that’s not on it. Usually that something is so far from what the restaurant actually serves that you may briefly wonder if its supposed to be some kind of a joke. I’ll use an example-
Once upon a time I was working at a bar so far out in the middle of nowhere that the mosquitoes wouldn’t even come there. I had a group of four come in, three men and a pencil thin woman with a terrible boob job. Bad Boob Job read the menu, which consisted of four things, all of them deep fried, then asked for a Cesar salad. I stared at her in disbelief for a moment, waiting for the punch line. While looking into her heavily made up eyes I realized she was completely serious. It went something like this-
“Ma’am, we don’t have salads. We’re just a bar that does a handful of deep fried food.” I explained slowly, patiently, in my reserved for small children and retarded animals voice.
“Well,” Middle Aged Barbie huffed, “Can’t you just throw some lettuce, cheese, and maybe some tomato together and put some ranch on it?”
“You mean make you a salad?” I said while trying valiantly to keep a straight face as the woman’s companions began to snicker. “Ma’am, we don’t do salads, we don’t even have lettuce or tomatoes here.” I smiled sweetly as Big Boobs Barbie clenched her overly bleached teeth and glared around the table at her tittering friends.
“I guess I’ll just have an ice water, with a slice of lemon,” she snapped while waving her hand as if I was a bothersome fly.
It took every ounce of will power I possessed not to burst out laughing as I walked away casually saying, “Sorry, but we are out of lemon.”
Poor Barbie was nearly apoplectic with rage after that but hey, don’t go to McDonald’s wanting steak and lobster. And definitely don’t go to a hick bar in the middle of BFE wanting Cesar salad and white wine.
Some of my personal favorites are the reasonably intelligent adults who turn into toddlers on the verge of a temper tantrum when faced with a menu and a waitress. Let’s say they order a ham and Swiss sub. You wait to see if they specify what kind of cheese they would like. They don’t, so you suppress your sigh of annoyance and ask them. Your met with a blank stare. You wonder briefly if they are trying to tell you telepathically, or maybe you slipped into Swahili by accident. Finally they sigh loudly as if you have failed them somehow.
“Well what kind of cheese do you have?” They whine, irritated that you have made them think about it.
“Sir, right above the subs is a section that tells you all available toppings, cheeses, and dressings.” This you say patiently and politely all the while inside you are screaming, “Its the huge bold writing that says SUB TOPPINGS you freaking dolt!”
Finally they select a cheese after ten minutes of careful deliberation and three questions. Meanwhile the entire restaurant is filling up with people to be waited on. Before you can stop yourself you make the fatal mistake of asking if they want any other toppings, and the entire mind numbing process repeats itself. Of course the flip side of not holding the customers hand through this difficult process is when you bring their food to the table and they stare at it dumbfounded. Then they turn to you with disdain written all over their face and haughtily ask for Swiss cheese, lettuce, and mayo, as if this had all been ordered and you simply were to stupid to write it down. Clenching your teeth and forcing a smile you head back to the kitchen muttering to yourself, “Oh you wanted Swiss cheese with that? How the hell am I supposed to know if you don’t order it in the (expletive) first place @#%!!!”.
There is no rhyme or reason to this madness. It doesn’t matter if the customer is in their twenties or eighties its always a variation of the same cycle. They come in, their manners and common sense go out. All of us bartenders, waiters, and waitresses are familiar with this strange phenomenon. We have long since given up trying to explain it. We simply go to work with the patience of saints, and keep our profanity laced tirades relegated to the kitchen.