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.