Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mr. Delaware

In standing around telling war stories to the staff last night, none of whom have been with me for the entire tenure of the restaurant, though some are close, I remembered an encounter in the very early days of the restaurant with a diner and his wife from Delaware. I'll never forget this guy because he was mad as, well, a wet blue hen and just dead wrong too.

Dinner went pleasantly enough and the server and I had an amiable enough chat with the couple who were on summer vacation and chose to stop in our town and dine at our restaurant on the last night before making the short drive back home to Delaware in the morning.

The problem started shortly after the presentation of the bill to the customer. He looked at the bill for several minutes and I could see the wheels spinning in his head. At lot of customers want an explanation of their bill, even though it is all spelled out on the check, so the server went over to the table and asked if she could help with the bill.

She went through the bill line by line with him and assured him that the bill was correct. Then he pointed to the penultimate line of the bill, the one just before the final total, the one labeled "ST" for sales tax. When she explained that that amount was sales tax, I could see that he was starting to get a little angry and I started heading to the table to remove the server in case it escalated, which it did.

He had me explain the sales tax rate, which is 10%, half to the Commonwealth of Virginia and half to the City of Winchester in the form of an additional meals tax. He complained that the tax rate was unfair. I agreed with him that I thought that it was a bit excessive, but that I had no choice—as custodian of the Commonwealth, I am required to collect the money and send it off to Richmond. I don't exactly relish being tax collector for the state, but it goes with the territory.

He stated, "I'm from Delaware and we don't have sales tax and I'm not paying this." I tried being nice and agreeing with him that not being used to paying sales tax, our tax must come as a shock, but that I had no choice in collecting it.

What I was really thinking is that this guy is just coming off a week on vacation outside of Delaware and given that he was about 50 years old, chances that this was his first exposure to sales tax were nil. He was just being a jackass.

I persisted in trying to persuade him to comply for another minute or so, but he kept dialing up the volume and getting more and more angry. Finally, I had enough of this customer acting like a five-year old and I had other things to do, so I said to him, "Sir, you have two choices. You can either hand me that credit card and I will charge it for the full amount of your meal including the sales tax or I can call the police and they can take you to a judge and you can have your chance to prove to him that the Commonwealth's sales tax is unfair."

I actually had to call across the dining room to ask the server to bring me the telephone before he handed me his credit card in a big huff.

Judging by the lack of tip that he left, I guess they don't tip in Delaware either.

Mr. Delaware, wherever you are, thanks for the memories and the chuckles every time that I think of you, and, oh yeah...good luck with that crusade to rid the world of sales tax.

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