“Would you like bottled water or just regular water?” I asked the gentleman who sat down at the bar.
He looked at me and just shook his head angrily. With 20 years of service experience, I'm still occasionally naïve enough to think I've seen it all.
I looked at him like a parent would their tantrum-throwing child. We were both aware he'd answered "no" to what was clearly not a yes or no question. I made a face showing the gentle sympathy only offered by pushover parents and customer service employees: “So, no water then?”
A tighter nod and a glare this time, and I immediately left him with the wine list and another server.
Minutes before, this man had strolled into the dining room with a baby stroller and sat down at a table as if he were in a McDonald's. I kindly explained the table was reserved, and he looked up at me in disgust, as if, in spite of exhibiting all the other symptoms of a Beverly Hills schmuck, he'd never heard of the concept of reservations.
He isn't the only of his kind. Apparently, the planet is overrun with sociopathic narcissists who would say the world doesn't revolve around them, though all of their behaviors indicate they believe otherwise.
The man's bill was low, about $35, and for the tip, he left us “a tip:” “Plenty of open tables,” scrawled in pen where it should have said $7.00.
I thought this was unfair -- not just my place in life or the power given to psychos over my weekly earnings -- but that only they can leave us a tip, and never the other way around.
It reminded me of my passion: Stand up comedy. There are endless critiques of comics in the media, on YouTube threads and of course from the live crowds for whom we are performing, but why not the other way around?
There isn't a comic on the planet who wouldn't like to fill out a comment card after each set to be handed out to the crowd on their way out: "Too stupid. Read some books." "Too chatty. Shut the fuck up next time." "I can't believe you didn't like that bit about my mom. EVERYONE loves that bit!"
Maybe if we were able to critique our listeners the way they do us, we wouldn't feel the need to interrupt our performance to save face and/or calm down.
And maybe if tips went in both directions, customer service employees wouldn't have to spew every four-letter word out there on our walks to the kitchen to do who knows what to your next drink.
I've waited tables in several establishments in both New York and L.A., from absolute dumps to white tablecloths, and I've always felt judged on whether I'm a good server or not.
But what about how to be a good customer? We take it for granted, like driving or kissing, but we've all been in the car with someone who scared us or in the mouth of someone who, well… scared us even more.
If you're worried that's you, here are some tips on how to be a good patron:
1. Please and thank you.
It's pretty much the first lesson we learn as soon as we're able to talk, but somewhere along the way some people obviously forget.
Don't get me wrong. Although it's appreciated, you don't necessarily have to interrupt your conversation to say thank you every time your water glass gets filled, but you should say please every time you ask for something.
And every time you don't, we know your mom and/or sex life is awful.
2. Save: “We hated it. Haha!"
Yes, you think this is a clever response to the clean plate on the table, but we've heard it a thousand times.
Please, people. Our jobs are difficult enough, as we have to stand on our feet for hours on end talking to people. Spare us the obligation to fake laugh at a joke even hackier than the worst one ever told by the struggling comedian currently forced to take your order.
It isn't strange or unusual for a patron to eat all the food. No need for the bad, self-conscious humor.
3. Be ready to order when you claim to be.
Don't call me over to take your order if you're not fucking ready.
Again, this dining room does not revolve around you, even if your table is dead center in the middle of it and you're spending more than everyone else.
Part of being a fine diner is being a fine adult, logically. This includes patience, communication and consideration.
The longer I stand there with my dick in my hand watching you assholes try to get on the same page about which salad you want, the longer you force me to ignore other tables, and the faster you force me to work, once freed from the shackles of your indecision and narcissism.
4. “Can I try another wine?”
What is this, a Napa vineyard? No. You get to compare two wines, and that's it.
Here's the thing: Firstly, such particular taste should go hand in hand with a decent knowledge base of what you like.
Secondly, what is this, your last glass of wine? Pick a goddamn wine and drink it.
Much like your order of food, you may love it, you may like it or you may not be into it. This mystery is part of the experience of going to a restaurant. If you dare request more than one sample, you're officially a pain in the ass and better tip accordingly.
5. Endless modifications.
Again, the experience of going to a restaurant is having a cook make you something special.
If you want the vegetables steamed instead of sautéed, a different dressing placed on the side and ingredients added that don't even appear on the menu: LEARN. TO. COOK.
If you have allergies, fine. I mean, ugh, but I get it. If you don't, and it's just about creating the plate exactly as you would at home, then step up your game to live as someone as high maintenance as you requires, and get a personal chef.
6. Look at me when I'm giving the specials.
Sorry, I realize you're reading the menu, but we have to do this first. Assuming you've been to restaurants besides Applebee's and Chuck. E. Cheese, you are aware there are specials that aren't on the menu that a human being has to tell you.
And that's exactly what I am: a human being. Just a person speaking to you, another alleged person, for about 30 to 90 seconds about other options you might be interested in, as I'm required to do so by my employer, for the benefit of all parties involved.
So please, find the emotional strength to lift your head and look in my direction so I don't feel like my words are falling on the same deaf ears as my decades' worth of jokes apparently have.
7. Tipping is essential.
Is tipping bullshit? Yeah, I mean, sort of, but not really. In theory, it's bullshit our restaurant industry has convinced its patrons to pretty much pay its employees for them, but the bottom line is if there wasn't gratuity, prices would simply be higher.
Unfortunately, people can be vacuous, godless pieces of shit without an ounce of empathy or consideration for their fellow man.
The fact is everyone can afford 20 percent on a bill. If lunch was $20, you can probably afford $24, and if dinner was $200, you can obviously afford $240.
Tipping 18 percent is fine, I get it, and have admittedly done it -- but tipping 15 percent is the most penny-pinching, hokey, pathetic extension of dicklessness on the planet.
Only someone who's never worked in customer service could fail to recognize that while the difference between leaving 15 and 20 percent is negligible to the tipper, it's potentially huge to the recipient(s).
8. Be nice: Smile.
There is nothing more pathetic than a patron who employs a rude attitude to give off the appearance of entitled prestige. Believe it or not, plenty of super rich people are sweet, patient and understanding.
Trust me, no one is more sorry than your waiter when mistakes happen. Shamed and insulted for our error, overcome with fear thanks to our fragile job stability, and dealing with guilt for having ruined this person's meal -- it's an awful feeling.
Once again, we realize you're spending your hard-earned money in here, but if that makes you behave like that, maybe you should stop coming in. Service is subjective. Whether it's a haircut, massage or a meal, services cannot always happen with immediacy and immaculacy. We're only human.
JUST. BE. NICE. In fact, that's the only real bit of advice I can offer. Be nice, and we'll love you. That's all it takes.