Monday, January 11, 2010

"Server" does not equal "Servile"

I can't keep this to myself anymore. My wife will probably disapprove of this blog post, as the contents are less than positive, but I will ask her forgiveness later.

At the end of 2000 I left the city I had lived most of my life in, and headed east for a "Razor's Edge" odyssey of self-discovery. Yes, that sounds a bit corny in 2010, but that's what I did, nonetheless. I left behind a solid job in IT (Information Technology) and purposely entered customer service jobs for the experience of more human interaction. It's been almost ten years, and I've finally had my fill of 'the people.'

The conclusions I've arrived at regarding human beings are, oddly enough, pretty much the same conclusions I had as a network and systems administrator, before I began my journey. My desire to avoid most people was not softened by actual interactions with them in the 'real world.' The jobs I worked put me right into the trenches, so to speak, and although I was seeking some sort of positive revelation regarding the nature of mankind, that expectation was sorely beaten down time and again within depressing work scenarios.

I purposely took 'menial' labor jobs. I worked in small offices, grocery stores, mail rooms and restaurants. The restaurants being the last two jobs I've held, they also happen to be the most people-intensive. The restaurant I currently work at, which shall of course remain nameless, features Italian food, 'classy' atmosphere, and more financially accessible menu for those on a budget.

Before I begin the focus of this post, let me include a disclaimer: I have encountered plenty of kind, decent, merciful and generous human beings as a restaurant server; therefore please do not mistake the contents of this blog entry as the typical ravings of an incorrigible misanthrope. The events I'm about to describe actually occurred last night, and they occur to restaurant servers day in and day out, all across the world.

For reasons that will probably remain unknown to me, last night's shift became a preposterous parade of every sort of horrible guest that can possibly frequent an eating establishment. I'm not clear how many of my fellow servers were facing this onslaught of nonsense, but I became convinced at some point that my section was cursed for a night.

Let's jump in now, shall we?

First off, I seem to have gathered the most illiterate boob-tubers last night, because I lost count with how many times I had to explain the very straightforward and easy-to-read menu. I came close to using baby talk at times for the dullards who can't discern the difference between items they see on the menu and items they assumed would be on the menu. Keep in mind that when things don't magically appear on the menu as these guests see fit, the server and the restaurant are automatically relegated to idiot status.

We're the idiots... and yet just a month ago, I had a guest come in and get extremely upset at me and two managers for "not being very accommodating" because she was allergic to garlic (huh?) and we didn't have anything to offer her that she wanted to eat. Excuse me? We're not the ones who possess an alleged allergy to garlic and have the audacity to go to an Italian restaurant and complain that there are no garlic-free dishes. After being yelled at in front of other guests, our manager comped the entire table's bill just to get her the *bleep* out the door.

FYI - using the term "guest" instead of "customer" is a generic convention that most restaurants use, in a transparent ploy to pretend that the individuals who walk through the front doors are somehow worthy of more than common courtesy. Is it any wonder that these pampered patrons sometimes take unscrupulous advantage of their status?

My first table last night was a woman who seemed as though she might emotionally crumble any moment, and an overbearing lothario who insisted on sitting kitty-corner from her instead of across from her. Keep in mind that this was a small two-top (two person) table, so what could have been an intimate setting was instead an uncomfortable exercise in how effectively he could breach her space bubble and talk her into bed back at his hotel room.

At another table, one guest resolved to take little jabs at me all evening. Every time I returned to the table, another snide remark. He apparently had ordered something other than he actually wanted, simply because he didn't bother to pay attention to the name of the dish he was ordering. There were no technicalities or tricks here; just an inebriated joker who always has to be right, despite obvious evidence to the contrary. The ladies who accompanied him must have been genuinely impressed by his attention to detail as he chugged down his second twenty-ouncer of Michelob Golden Light.

A third table contained a bearded wonder from Green Acres and his mail order China bride, as well as daughter, hapless son-in-law and relentlessly screaming baby. While judging people by their appearance is a losing venture because people will often surprise you, this particular table held no such pleasant conclusion. I was treated to backwoods barking, shrewish micro management, ultimately uneaten (but requested) refills and continuous demands on my time that considerably ate into my other guests' experience, like hot water in a bowl for the wailing baby's unheated pabulum.

Let me pause and remind the reader that it's normally not a problem for a server to fulfill special requests by guests. However, the guests making the special requests often don't seem to have a realistic perception of the server's available time, and usually make multiple special requests. The result, of course, is that these myopic guests unduly overburden the server with time demands that inevitably subtract from the other guests' dining experience. This isn't about good or bad servers; it's about simple math. Unlike electrons, servers can't be in two places at once, let alone three or four. And by the way, apologizing to the server before you overburden him or her does not magically justify the offense.

Another table began their string of uninterrupted poppycock by demanding that the host remove their chairs and go to the other side of the restaurant and bring back some rolling chairs that are normally used for persons waiting to be seated at a table. So before I even get the chance to greet these special guests, they have already set the very busy host about three squares back, so to speak.

I finally get to greet this couple whose posteriors are too wonderful for a normal chair, and then I really get a feel for how picky they are. At his request, I take the time to explain our soup selection (information clearly visible on the menu he's holding open in his hand), only to have him settle on salad instead. I must explain, in painful detail, why the bottomless salad that comes with the entrees can't be split without an additional fee. Then I have to wait and smile while the grunting, malcontented man hems and haws over the menu selections... all the while asking me repetitive, mind-numbing questions that even a stoned teenager can easily grasp the answers to. The woman in this precious pair took great care (and joy?) informing me about all the particular special food-related needs she requires because, well, she requires them.

The man also wants some sort of "drink I had before," and these two spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to decide if it was vanillla before, and if he wants almond now. They explain to me, as though I'm supposed to find it infinitely fascinating, how he doesn't want any ice in his Italian cream soda, because he doesn't want it, it ruined his drink before, and we put too much ice in our drinks.

Then he goes on another time-eating excursion blathering about some other dish he had before that he didn't care for (at this point I'm wondering why they came back - perhaps because somewhere else, say McDonald's, Ronald himself would have firmly placed his red boot up their anal canals?). Then he wants to know if our Parmesan-encrusted tilapia can be made without the Parmesan.

His salad must of course be without dressing, and his counterpart (wife?) must have inordinate amounts of dressing on the side. He can't have black olives or yellow peppers in his salad, so there's yet another dish with extra goodies for his wife that must be provided at a table that's destined to be supplied with enough dishware for a eight-top table. They were incredulous that I brought them two salad plates and a single large bowl of salad without dressing, instead of their requested individual plates with salad that I would have had to replace every two minutes.

Two other tables of mine are forced to wait for their initial greetings and are twiddling their thumbs while these selfish, picayune patrons waste not only my time, but as a result, everyone else's in their vicinity as well.

I find myself going on non-stop miscellaneous errands for these two black holes of my shift. Multiple piles (and I mean *piles*) of cheese, freshly grated (by me) on separate plates. Handfuls of lemons (also on separate plates) for their waters and her diet soda. Bread stick requests every time I return to the table (do the math on that one). I had to box every morsel of food on the table, including the salad, which will be soggy and inedible by the time they get home.

The aforementioned drains-of-patience were not the only unreasonable guests I dealt with last night, not by a long shot. I don't want to turn this post into a novel just because I was treated to a collection of thoughtless human beings. So, just one more is 'worthy' of mention.

The capper of the evening was the obvious first date of a tightly wound lemon with the glare of a hawk, and a disingenuous cherub who found himself a great deal more interesting and amusing than he truly was. He can't just order a martini, he must order, "Stoli Martini, chilled, no ice, no vermouth, served up in a birdbath, two olives, and a side of club soda." By itself, not so bothersome; combined with his incessant pretension, one more thing to add to my irritation. The hawk-woman drank so much hot tea, for the third round I brought her an entire large carafe of hot water, instead of the usual miniature tea kettle.

This man was another time-consuming, self-important guest who seemed convinced that the best way to impress a date is to inundate her with endless pontifications about whatever happened to enter his gin-blossomed cranium. My interactions with him were saddled with fake-chuckling at his lame excuses for humor, and buttressing his desire to seem important in her eyes by bringing items to their table as quickly as possible, at his magnanimous demand.

This table stayed so long past the dinner hour that I was forced to do my final section detailing (condiments, carpet, etc.) while they continued to converse. At one point, I had the carpet sweeper (a relatively quiet apparatus), and was trying to pick up the remaining detritus underneath the surrounding tables in my section. I sensed that their oh-so-important discussion about market equities was halting due to my presence.

Not wanting to make these special, entitled, cherished guests feel uncomfortable, I made the mistake of trying to finish up quickly near their table, in an effort to give them back their vital cone of silence. I came too close to the man's chair, and his true colors came out when he turned his attention directly toward me and aggressively requested that I give him some space. I looked him directly in the eye, wanting to take the pole portion of the carpet sweeper and unhesitatingly insert it deep into that same smug eye socket, and said "Yes sir" instead, leaving the carpet sweeper leaning next to a nearby table.

And therein lies the paradox I have faced throughout this entire journey of rubbing elbows with the public. I philosophically reconcile the situation as the penance I must pay for making such a foolish decision to leave a job I am more suited for, and walk for a while in the muck that many people are forced to wallow in for their entire lives.

Make no mistake here; I'm not placing myself above anyone else. I have just learned the hard way that for the most part, human beings can be thoughtless, rude, cruel, selfish and completely oblivious to the feelings of others. It's not about crying in my beer that someone wasn't nice to me; I'm recognizing that human beings, when allowed to act out at others' expense, eventually come to believe their own delusions of self-importance are justified in the ill treatment of others.

So there you have it. Until I return to IT (which I'm actively facilitating), I am forced to serve lunch and dinner to a menagerie of mental midgets who ironically treat me as though I'm their intellectual and societal inferior.

But no worries; at least I have another path I can take. I feel great sadness for the hardworking people out there who don't feel like they have any other options than to be pin cushions for hypocrites who can't face the truth about their own pathetic lives.

And I feel a great deal of respect for my fellow laborers; much more than for those who casually stroll the 'corridors of power.'