new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Waiters Are Actually Human!

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Waiters Are Actually Human!

Please: Don't Be An Asshole.

"Waiter Station" by Greg Carter.

I was at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant yesterday, picking up a delicious, delicious papaya salad. The efficient if English impaired staff swiftly took my take out order, and I parked myself at an empty table to look over the newspaper, half noticing the older guy slurping noodles next to me. A few minutes passed, and the man, obviously finished with his food, began tapping his foot expectantly. The kitchen was slammed, and the young woman who was the only server was running back and forth, trying to keep things under control. A large, pissed off woman burst into the room. "If I'd KNOWN you don't take credit cards, I wouldn't have PLACED the take out order," she yelled, as the waitress nodded submissively, trying to smooth things over and keep the restaurant running smoothly at the same time. The woman, obviously flustered, received her refund and stormed out, and the waitress hustled back to the kitchen to pick up some more food.

It was at that moment that Single Guy concluded he had had enough. He picked up his check, stomped over to the register, and waited expectantly for the server to materialize. When she did not appear out of thin air, he angrily stuck his head in the corridor leading to the kitchen. "Heelllooo? Is anyone IN there?" he said, in the most petulant possible voice. Another minute passed and the server zoomed out of the kitchen, managing to simultaneously ring up him and hand me my papaya salad at the same point in time. He paid silently, angrily, and I made a point of thanking her effusively for the food when my turn came up. I truly felt embarrassed.

I see this a lot, everywhere I go - people acting like impetuous douche-bags to people who are working hard and honestly trying to do their job. It appalls me how people seem to think it's acceptable to display that much attitude to wait-staff - and the problem is especially bad in casual ethnic places like my beloved Vietnamese joint. Some people seem to truly 110 percent believe that if a server is of a different ethnicity and a different socioeconomic class then you, it's okay to treat them like they're stupid, slow, and totally undeserving of the most basic social graces. Apparently everything would be much much nicer if food magically appeared from a hatch in the back of kitchen, therefore absolving the customer of having to deal with anyone from the *gasp* underclass. One questions why the hell you're eating their food if the service isn't up to your maddeningly exacting standards, but that rarely comes up.

There is irony here: bad service begets bad service. I was lucky enough to come from a family that knows to treat wait-staff politely and with respect. We don't demand the kitchen eliminate all traces of fat, salt, or flavor from our food in the interest of our delicate, delicate health. We almost never send stuff back. We don't make boring-ass windbag statements about how inferior the Chianti is to the Chianti we actually had in Italy because we are better then you. We don't demand three different kinds of cutlery or the undivided attention of poor Charlie the Starving Actor. And, what do you know - we almost never receive poor service. Maybe our standards are lower. Maybe we're just not paying attention. But I like to think being nice to the staff tends to lead to the staff being nice to you. If I were a server, I'd rather dote on a polite and fun table then a table with a gigantic stick up its ass. And I'd also damned well know which one the better tip would be liable to come from.

Which is why some people, no matter what, seem to get piss poor service. This bewilders them. They often become convinced the entire food service industry is involved in a personal and organized vendetta against them, these poor, innocent diners out to spend their hard earned money on a fantastic dining experience. Reality: these people are invariably huge assholes. They create an asshole vortex about themselves, meaning that every life experience they find themselves in will, one way or another, manage to suck. I almost maintain it is the service industries patriotic duty to irritate these black clouds of the populace in any way possible. Perhaps they will give up and begin subsisting entirely on microwaveable dinners. We can only hope.

Next time, when you're in a busy restaurant and things are taking a little longer then you'd like - relax. Sit down. Read the newspaper. Realize your insignificant job/home/family probably does not need to be attended to in the .5 seconds the harried waitress has not allocated specifically to you. You bought a five dollar salad. You did not buy the adoration and eternal loyalty of the waitress forever.

Please: don't be an asshole.

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