Saturday, November 15, 2008

That Table

All of us in the business have one: the name in the reservation book that makes us cringe, that table. You know the table. You recognize it when the servers all scramble to make sure that the party is not seated in their section.

These are parties that secretly I would prefer were clients of your restaurant rather than mine, but money is money and while we don't like the experience, we'll suck it up and take the money.

We don't have many such tables, but there are a few such as the one I'm about to describe. After a couple-year hiatus, during which I really thought that just maybe we had pawned them off on a competitor, one really heinous couple came back to dine with us recently.

Our issues with them start at the front door: they project an air of entitlement that you couldn't dent with a cutlass. They make it plain that they are superior to you in every way.

If that weren't enough to rub us against the grain, let us recite the litany of customer sins: they're cheap, they don't tip, they're arrogant, they monopolize all your time with dozens of questions about the menu especially when you're busy as hell, they want to customize every dish that they order, they find fault with everything, they will send back at least one dish every time that they dine because nothing is ever good enough for them, they're never appreciative, they run you constantly for this and that, and probably worst of all, they are campers: they will just never leave.

On top of this, I have a couple of personal reasons to be ticked off with them. The husband has very distinctive hair and once he sent back a dessert with one of his own hairs on it and proceeded to chew me out at the table when I delivered the replacement dessert. I should have thrown him out.

And the wife, she is a real card [substitute favorite noun here]. She once called in the middle of Saturday night dinner service and demanded to be connected to me. That evening, she was putting on a dinner party that was way beyond her ability to carry off and she wanted a special ingredient that she thought I might have and she wanted some advice. In the middle of Saturday night dinner service! Does her arrogance know no bounds?

In desperation to get off the phone, I gave her a couple of words of wisdom and told her I would give her some of whatever long-forgotten ingredient it was she was seeking. She never even said, "Thank you," nor has she ever acknowledged that I helped her out. Why? Because she expects everyone to bow to her every whim.

Beyond whatever we may think about such tables, they are poison in the dining room because they put the service staff in a bad mood and that has to translate to the other tables. Worse, the other tables seated nearby have to listen to the incessant griping.

When faced with tables like this, we just have to go into what we call "server mode." We do exactly what we need to do to take care of the table and nothing more. We don't try to engage them in conversation and I certainly don't visit the table, lest I might fail to bite my tongue. They get bare bones, efficient, robotic service.

Besides the income, I only see one benefit to tables like these. They give us all the chance to exercise our professionalism.

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