Or is it all just for the halibut?I have a bit of a bone to pick with members of the food service industry, the illustrious group of people that we like to call servers a.k.a. waiter/waitress/doormat (oops, scratch that last one). I don’t know if they have actualized the potential value of their positions, meaning – Don’t they understand that it is their job to serve and wait upon those who came to pay for food? It’s a completely radical idea, to be sure, but one that desperately needs some attention…at least according to a couple recent experiences in restaurants.
Last night I took Caden out for our weekly “Date Night” and I decided to go have a nice dinner with him at the Little America Hotel downtown in SLC. This is the place to go for halibut as it melts off of your fork, it is that tender. I usually try to take Caden to someplace a little fancy now and then just because I think it’s good experience for kids to learn a few manners instead of seeing how many fries someone can jam down their throat at the next booth over.
So we get there and are seated at a nice table and of course the hostess says, “Your server will be right with you.” Of course she will – unless she has just been sat 8 tables all at once in which case you have no idea if you will ever be eating that night. Such was the scenario I found myself in as I waited for our server who came bustling past fast at one point saying quickly in passing, “I’ll be right with you! Just a little busy…” Uh, mmmmm-kay. This translates into meaning “Sorry, you’re just not important enough for me to stop right now because a) there is a larger table and therefore much more promising tip that just got seated, b) I am new to this and not sure what I’m doing yet – I think it has something to do with food…, c) I am being chased by a wild boar and if I stop right now and help you, you’re son will be traumatized by the ravenous devouring of my fleshy self.” Okay, that last one is a bit far fetched, unless you want to categorize the restaurant manager as a wild boar. Some are, so it’s not that bit of a stretch.
Thankfully, some other person (a very old man in a nice dark suit) saw we weren’t being attended to and brought us ice water at least. But rather grumpily, sheesh. When I thanked him, all he said in return was something like, “Harumph” which is elephant for “I’m old and trying not to lose my tusks, sweetheart.” (I didn’t know he even spoke elephant…)
We were finally able to order and of course, our waitress would zoom by in passing every now and then just to sort of smile and nod as if to say, ‘See, I’m noticing you, I’m not totally forgetting about you’. When she did stop, she would ask the requisite “How are things? Do you need anything?” And as I start to answer and say, “No, we’re fine…”, I realize I am talking to the back of her head because she moved on the second she heard me start the “No”. “Nnnnnnn” – ‘all right, they’re fine, time to check up on my next table, what time is it? Is there something in my hair? What happened to my pen? Ooh, that guy on Table 9 is checking me out!” Sigh…
A similar experience took place a couple of weeks ago when all the girls went out shopping and to lunch. We did a few rounds in Pottery Barn Kids, Bath & Body Works, and a variety of other shops and found ourselves deciding to eat lunch at The Spaghetti Factory in Trolley Square. We get sat at a table rather quickly as it was a little late in the afternoon for lunch so the lunch crowd had diminished. You would think that with it being so light the attention showed to us would be overflowing. Ahhhh, not so much. Admittedly, our server was given two more tables right after we sat down, neither of which were as large as our group was. We had placed our order before the other tables too and yet, amazingly both tables got their food much quicker (and I’m talking bread, salad, water, the works) before we did. I started to wonder, “Have we offended this guy somehow? What’s the deal? Why is bringing us the food we ordered such a chore?”
To make matters worse, or rather more comical, the two tables he was taking care of (besides us) were placed on either side of us so anytime he made a visit to one, he had to drop in on the others. You know, like I said above, the requisite “How are things going? Do you need anything?” The icing on the cake with him came when he asked us that all important question – “Do you need anything?” And we said “Yes.” Suddenly, it was like his world had exploded and beads of sweat began to dribble down his face. Katie, being 8 months pregnant, asked “Can I get some more water, please?” His eyes bulged, he placed his hands up on his bald, gleaming head and replied, “Um, uh, just two minutes! I can get you water in just two minutes!”
Let me just paint the reaction on our faces for you here. About 3.5 feet behind us was a water station with several pitchers of water filled and ready to be poured. All of us girls raised our eyebrows, glanced behind us, and thought pretty much in unison “Are you kidding me? It will take two seconds to walk over there, grab a pitcher, and fill our glasses.” But whatever! Well, he didn’t come back in two minutes – or 5, or 10. He came back 15 minutes later, asked AGAIN “Can I get you anything?” Katie held up her glass and said, “Um, water?” with a slight tone of well-deserved derision. Uh oh, there went his hands again, up to the head and eyes starting to bulge. Apparently we were asking the impossible with him. “Oh, that’s right. Uh, um, just two minutes and I’ll be back with water.”
WHAT?!?!? He walked away and we just stared at him dumbfounded. “Forget this,” said Katie and she got up, walked over to the water station and brought back a pitcher of water to our table. It took her all of about 10 seconds to complete this apparently monumental task for our server.
I still think we should tip people that way that I saw it portrayed in an episode of “3rd Rock From the Sun”. Dick is learning about service and tipping and he goes to a restaurant, lays a small pile of $1 bills on the table as the server introduces himself to the group. “This is where your tip will be starting at,” Dick explains, “and should you do anything I’m not happy with – provide slow service, bring me food that isn’t hot – I will start removing $1 at a time from this pile. If you do things that please me, I will add $1 to the pile.” Throughout the episode, the server is in a tizzy trying to keep his tip from diminishing and not lose out on the cash that is placed before his very eyes. I propose this is how we start conducting tipping from now on. Forget trying to calculate it all at the end. Give them an incentive to serve that is visually palpable and see what happens next. Who’s with me?