My friend and I finally figured out a night when we could get together for dinner. She has a new job. I have a new job. We have to coordinate a multitude of logistics every time we want to see each other. Among many other things tonight was, when does she get off? When can I finally say “Enough!” We finalized our plan for 7:30 p.m.
“Where should we go?” my friend asked.
I mentioned a place. “We’ve always wanted to try it,” I said, but truth was, we didn’t really know much about it. My friend has a car; I don’t because I take the bus. She picked me up at my job at my downtown restaurant, and we drove around forever trying to get to this place that we’ve always wanted to try, even though it was only a neighborhood away.
We modified our goal after driving in circles, block after block: “We eat wherever is close to where we find a parking space.” No small feat in our city these days, as ice flows resembling mini glaciers still inhabit much of what once was asphalt pavement and concrete sidewalks.
We finally found a place to park within a block of the place we’ve always wanted to try.
It was a Tuesday after a holiday weekend. Might as well have been a Monday night in August, even if it was Fat Tuesday. No one was out, at least here, and reservations were moot. No problem trying out a place that is perennially crowded other nights. We didn’t know it yet, but we needed to lower our expectations a notch–okay, a yardstick or two.
We were immediately ushered to a cute booth for two, albeit close to the front door, “Because I want to keep an eye on you,” said the host, who, I figured really wanted to keep an eye on my younger, single friend.
Our waiter approached us as we are still standing next to the cute booth, shedding our layers of wool coats and scarves.
“I am Jason, and I’ll be you server this evening,” he said.
No, seriously, this place I have always wanted to try, they make their waiters give their names and say that horrible I’ll-be-your-server-tonight phrase?
Three things were immediately and painfully obvious:
–Our waiter was VERY green.
–The maitre d’ had seated us–two women–in the new guy’s section because he figured we’d be easy and it didn’t matter if we tipped well because the waiter was new.
–We sensed a very real undercurrent of stereotyping I thought was ancient history, and my friend and I had been so designated. Yuck.
When we got settled, we ordered two glasses of wine from Jason who had awkwardly stood by while we looked around for where to hang coats and stash our stuff. He hurried off. We opened the menus, perused, looked up at each other after a moment, and exchanged a silent “What should we do now?” expression. The place always looked casual, seemed casual. It was way out of the price range we’d thought it would be.
Oops. Should’ve gone to the bar. Should have asked to look at the menu first. But now we were stuck in our cute booth with just-out-of-training-my-name-is-Jason waiter returning with our wine. A busser brought a basket of wonderful breads to us.
After talking it over for three seconds, we concluded we felt uncomfortable leaving at this point. Guess the 1950s stereotyping was making us play our roles–meek girls out for dinner in a place better suited for a power dinner with the big boys.
We also felt a little sorry for our waiter–so nervous and so new, and we told each other this was why we were sticking it out. We felt sorrier for ourselves, however, because we are both on pretty slim budgets, and we were blowing what was left of our cash on an over-priced, cool downtown place that wasn’t feeling so cool.
How dumb could we be?
The waiter was flustered by having to deal with our table and the only other one he had. I have no clue who he sent to take our order, but whoever it was got it wrong–ALL wrong. When our we-never-ordered-these entrees were served, we said never mind, we’d eat them anyway. It was late; we didn’t feel like waiting for the remake. Love that stereotype thing.
We said all of this nicely, because we still felt sorry for the flustered waiter who had not even taken our order.
To which the server who had taken our order, the server who had silently stood by while we pointed out the extreme difference between what we had ordered and what he had just plunked down on our table, said: “Well, here, people know to say the whole title of what they want, not just an abbreviation of it followed by pointing at the the menu.” And away he walked.
To whom I wanted to say, “Are you joking, pal? I work in this business, and don’t you dare blame us for your getting the order TOTALLY screwed up on a very slow night.”
I hate to blast my brethren, but this place–this place so highly coveted by regulars and one that I really had always wanted to try–basically sucked when it came to serving us unknown walk-ins. I hate restaurants like this. I thought I already knew the ones in my city that took such an attitude. Now I know one more. It makes me appreciate where I work even more, a place where everyone, from tourists to regulars to celebrity bigwigs, are all treated exactly the same way–like someone important, like a valued guest. Because they are.
“Dessert menu?” our server asked at the end of our mistaken-laden meal.
“No thanks,” I smiled. “But tell me, how long have you worked here?”
“Two weeks,” he said, a little embarrassed.
“Did you work in a another restaurant before this?” I asked, but I already knew the answer.
“No, never,” he answered. “Guess you could tell.”
“Well, good luck,” I said. “You’ll feel at home really soon.”
“Thanks,” he replied, then paused. “But, hey, how would you rate me, you know, tonight?”
Oh no. He was just an innocent trainee bystander, and he was clearly more concerned with his performance than how we felt about this less-than-stellar dining experience. So I decided to be honest, maybe to a fault.
“Don’t be so nervous,” I counseled. “Really get to know your menu so you can relax completely. Then actually relax. Smile more. Enjoy your guests. Have fun with them. Start having fun in this job. Oh, and tell your co-worker–the one who scolded us about how we ordered–to drop the arrogance act.”
“Oh, well, sure. Uh, thanks” he said. But I knew he was worried about his tip, because I was so honest in my rating.
It wasn’t his fault the food order was all wrong, or that the wrong food that was served was very so-so, or that not one manager or anyone, for that matter, came by our table to see how things were going. It really wasn’t his fault that the entire time we were there, we felt pigeonholed as unimportant, under-tipping “girls” who ordered cheap.
No, our server was simply a trainee, two weeks into his job. At least he thought to ask what we thought, even it was only about him.
We tipped him 25 percent, more to prove one stupid stereotype wrong than because we felt sorry for him.
I don’t give him two more weeks in the business. He just didn’t seem that connected at all.
And I won’t give that place another dollar of mine, reputation notwithstanding, ever again.