Local Discount

Under its original owner, my previous restaurant gave a local discount to those customers who patronized the place on a regular basis. No one asked for the discount, because if they did, and those who had worked there the longest didn’t know them, the answer was, “Sorry.”

Under the new ownership, my previous restaurant gives a local discount to anyone who asks for it as well as to anyone they think will spend a lot of money on future meals there.

“But that table is a group of tourists flying home to Minnesota tomorrow morning,” I said to my co-worker one morning when I was directed to give the discount.

“Just do it, RG,” she sighed. “That’s what they want, now. I know it’s crazy.”

Don’t get me wrong. Local discounts for locals, “in the biz” discounts, “That’s on me” discounts are good for business. I applaud such discounts. I am always happily surprised when I leave my Key, travel north to another, and still receive a “local discount” at a couple of spots simply because I am a Keys gal.

Dollar for dollar, time after time, locals tip better than tourists. At my job tending a local bar, I routinely walk with 50 percent or more in tips each shift. No, not every local is an easy customer. No, not every local is someone I’d like to hang out with. And no, not every local customer tips well. But most do. And I appreciate it every single time.

Which is why, on a recent evening, when a party of four tourists came into my bar to experience “what you locals do,” I became very protective of the locals I knew these tourists would never know. Never get.

They were loud as they laughed at one man’s hat, trying to get him to take it off and sell it to them.

They were annoying as they enjoyed a second round and made fun of the music someone selected.

They were disgusting when they made no attempt to disguise their contempt for any of us as they snickered and giggled and whispered about all of us.

“Hey, they’re just having some fun,” said one of the elders at my bar when I turned to him and rolled my eyes. “Buy them a round on me.”

“But, why would you…” I started to ask him.

“RG, it’s the right thing to do when we have visitors in here,” he answered.

I did as instructed, and the tourists laughed and thanked him, but only in a sarcastic, “Can you believe we’re even in this place and that just happened?” kind of way. It made me sick.

Don’t you know he’s a decorated war hero? I wanted to scream at them. Oh, and that guy with the hat? He’s done more in his life than you would ever imagine. Leave him and his hat the hell alone. Her? She’s an incredible cook. And her? She’s worth more money than all of you combined and always thanks me beyond belief.

What’s my “story?” you ask. What kind of stupid small-town-cracker gal am I? is more likely what you are wondering. Have I always tended bar? Did I grow up here? Did I ever attempt to raise kids here? Did you put rumrunners in their bottles? ha ha ha?

No. No. None of your f—ing business.

“RG, they’re just having fun. They’re on vacation. Let it go,” said the war hero.

“I guess I am not that nice,” I told him. “They annoy the crap out of me.”

“Let them be. They’ll leave soon.”

And they did, leaving a pathetic tip behind them.

Local conversation continued without a pause. Music picks continued to be predictable. I continued to pour draft beer and vodka crans. My house was back in order.

“RG, here,” said the war hero as he was leaving. “A little extra for tonight.”

“No, no, you always thank me enough every day,” I said,trying to give the extra $10 back to him.

“It’s yours, for the trouble they gave you. I saw what they left you,” he laughed.

“But it’s not your responsibility…”

“RG, relax. You worry too much.”

He’s right. I do worry. I worry that, now and then–like the tourists I reviled–I, too, may still display vestiges of my big-city, self-important attitude. I worry that sometimes it is too easy to make fun of those who appear simple-minded and beneath a vague barometer of “cultured.” I worry because I know there is a little bit of the tourists’ attitude in all of us when we find ourselves outside of the comfort of our familiar elements.

Thankfully, my local customers seem to overlook my sometimes-superior, often naive attitude, and they grant me a local discount every day.






11 responses to “Local Discount”

  1. Sophia Avatar

    An acquaintance of mine studied for a semester in Ghana and often blogged about the inflated prices Ghanians would charge non-Ghanians — because they knew foreigners had more money than they probably ever would, because they wanted to exploit the foreigners, or whatever. Reading your post made me reconsider that maybe they just wanted to show some solidarity (though based on her other anecdotes it seems more maybe like a combination of Ghanian solidarity and ripping off tourists/foreigners…then again, I live by NYC so maybe I’m just jaded =P).

    Anyway, lovely post as always. I don’t think that it’s that you’re “not that nice.” It simply seems to me that you’re a very empathetic person and in this case you felt empathy for your fellow locals, and not the somewhat crass visitors — and rightly so. I hate the condescending attitude some people seem to get just because they think they’re so above everyone else, and we see it way too often in the restaurant/hospitality business. I always want to tell my rude tables that “Just because I work as your server does not mean I am your slave. I have a name. I am getting a college education. I am a person.”

  2. JoeInVegas Avatar

    Sounds like you are a local now. Didn’t take you that long to qualify, nice.

  3. Restaurant Gal Avatar
    Restaurant Gal

    Sophia–Probably a combination of both, as you say. As for the rest of the arrogant ones, if they were really nasty (and I don’t get this at my bar now, but did at the restaurant), I used to shrug, smile and say, “Yeah, too bad you got the bad waitress today. I’ll get that water with lemon when I can.” And then I’d forget about them. Hey, baby, it’s the Keys. I do not recommend this as proper server behavior, however. 😉

    JoeinVegas–Getting there. But a long way to go.

  4. maureen Lordon Avatar
    maureen Lordon

    I’m always grateful for my time behind the bar. It taught me alot about people I might have written off otherwise, I would have missed out on some really incredable people,but working behind the stick taught me so much . I wish I could buy the war hero a drink !!! He seems to know a lot I could learn

  5. Sarah Avatar

    I start my morning with your blog and today I will remember to be extra caring and polite to the “locals” here in Singapore. Thanks for another lovely posting.

  6. Michelle Avatar

    When I go visiting I will tip as good as the server deserves. that’s what I always do no matter. You have made me more aware. Thank you.

  7. Belle Avatar

    This is one of the most beautiful posts on serving that I have ever read and I read a lot of “in the biz” blogs… Your love of and protective attitude towards those whom you consider to be yours is surely not lost on them!
    May you be blessed with such noble and kind souls for the rest of your life, no matter where you may be.

  8. Restaurant Gal Avatar
    Restaurant Gal

    Maureen–The war hero would graciously accept one and then return the favor.

    Sarah–It’s more about paying attention to the subtleties, the actions. Not everyone who is a local (anywhere in the world) is like my war hero. I have simply found that by paying attention and giving everyone a second look, you discover more of the war heros among us.

    Michelle–Good service certainly earns a thank you. Terrific service earns a terrific thank you.

    Belle–Thank you. I am almost shy to comment back to your incredibly nice words. I may have many days when I wonder what the heck I am even doing here in wasting-away-ville, but usually not so much after a day at work, now that I serve 99% locals. They are sometimes cranky, they sometimes drink too much, and a few demand overly much–but they always make me smile and they would do anything for me if necessary–as I would for them.

  9. SwillMistressWA Avatar

    You know what sucks? People like that make it difficult for the rest of us who have respect for the locals when we go on vacation. I enjoy talking to the locals and getting a feel for the place, and I would never consider tipping less than 20 percent (and I usually tip more), nor would I consider making fun of someone about their hat.

    Thanks to your post, I am beginning to understand the disdain that folks have for tourists. I would never dream to treat someone as shittily (is that even a word?) as you describe here.

    Good luck!

  10. SkippyMom Avatar

    He sounds like a truly lovely man. If I could figure out a way to buy him a drink I most certainly would. I fear I won’t be in the Keys anytime soon.

    Please wish him the best.

  11. Modern Philodoxos Avatar

    I think this is an excellent post. I completely relate to this experience. I live in Indiana and I use to feel self conscious about it, like it made me somehow less of a person. Then I started to realize how vile people’s attitudes were about the midwest… especially people from big cities. They would come and act like my home was some sort of circus sideshow and I was some idiot, Hoosier who knew nothing of the world beyond and I realized how much I loved my home.. simply because the people are genuine and kind and accepting. And taht is worth more than any big city status symbol.