Monday is not normally my busy night, but yesterday was. Monday night is not a shift I expect to make much money, but I had the potential to make much last night.
“We’ll be 7 or 8 when everyone gets here at 6:30,” said the man struggling to pull two of my best tables together.
“No problem,” I smiled. Love a big party. “Let me help you.”
“I’ll take a glass of red while I’m waiting for them.”
After serving his wine, I asked the gentleman if he’d like to order an appetizer or his dinner.
“No, I’ll wait for the others,” he said.
A half hour passed. My guest still sat alone. Still, he did not order anything else. He almost got testy when I asked him a third time.
“I’m fine for now!”
Okay, okay. Just trying to check on you every ten minutes or so.
Finally, 45 minutes later, two other gentleman showed up.
“Hi folks, can I bring you something to drink while you look at the menu?” I asked.
“No, we’re not having anything,” one replied for both of them.
A fourth gentleman appeared 15 minutes later and asked for a menu and a beer. By then I was busy with several other tables, but managed to get him his drink fairly quickly.
“Do you have any questions about the menu?” I asked the latest arrival.
“Give me a few minutes,” he almost growled. “I just got here!”
Geez, easy there pal. “I’ll check back in a few minutes,” I said.
Not 30 seconds later, the first gentleman and the just-got-off-work man flagged down my manager to complain saying, “We want to order food; where is she?”
Uh, I was just at your table every 5 to 10 minutes, trying to get orders out of your table for an hour, and now you complain to my manager? Nice.
No problem, said my manager. Just get their orders. Which I did. One sandwiche and one salad.
“Another round?” I asked those with beverages.
“No,” they all said.
A fifth man showed up and ordered, you guessed it, water. A sixth followed 10 minutes later and ordered a beer. Two others completed the group 15 minutes later–an hour and a half after the first guest had pulled my best tables together and been seated. The newly arrived ordered the night’s drink special–waters with lemon.
As I constantly refilled water glasses, ran the limited food orders that nevertheless constantly needed extra this or more of that at different times, I got the gist of this table’s conversation: how to effectively “occupy” a big city location. I couldn’t tell if they were actually planning to occupy a nearby city, or whether it was a discussion based upon conjecture.
“I’ll clear that for you,” I told the sandwich eater who’d placed a napkin and cutlery on his plate, a fairly universal way of indicating, “I’m done.”
“He’s not done! Don’t take that plate!” yelled (yes yelled) one of the water-with-lemon drinkers.
I looked at the plate: one balled up napkin, some smeared ketchup, and half a dozen cold fries remained.
“Leave it,” barked the lemon-water man.
Again, I asked if anyone wanted another drink, dessert, etc.
“I don’t have money,” said this lemon-water man to the others, “So I’ll finish his,” he continued, nodding to the guest’s plate I’d tried to clear.
“No thanks, nothing more,” all the others agreed.
And so they remained for the duration of my shift, planning a real or imagined occupation to protest and lament all the financial ills and politicians of the world, but they couldn’t buy their moneyless pal a burger?
They needn’t have questioned their success, however. For on this night, they had effectively occupied my best section for three and a half hours, ordered virtually nothing, and protested about me to my manager.
When I finally managed to clear the final plate at the table, I was approached minutes later by the irate lemon-water man in another section of the restaurant.
“Miss, seems like you resent my being here because I’m only drinking water.”
Are you kidding?
“Sir,” I said, “You are not the only one who has been seated at two of my tables for three hours and ordered nothing to drink or eat.”
“Well, I don’t appreciate you throwing out my cigarettes! Why’d you put them on the dirty plate anyway? I think you really singled me out.”
No really, are you kidding? Just go away.
“Sir, I cleared a plate that had two dirty napkins, several used forks, and what I assumed was an empty cigarette pack left on it. I certainly did not place your cigarettes on that plate to take them on purpose.”
He blankly stared at me. “Oh, you didn’t? You didn’t? Oh. Uh, my mistake, I guess.” Then he extended his hand.
Oh for God’s sake.
I am sure you can predict the tip outcome at this table of know-it-all, protest-it-all, 1960s throw-back wannabes: the food eaters left just under 10 percent. So much for helping out one of your 99 percent brethren.
One man, however, the single beer drinker, appeared almost embarrassed by the rest of the group’s dining-out manners. “How much?” he asked, quickly fumbling with cash in his wallet.
“Just one beer,” I smiled as I handed him his check, because he, at least, seemed to get it.
He gave me two fives. “Keep it,” He said, slightly exasperated, somewhat frustrated. I hoped he wasn’t with me. I don’t think he was.
“Thank you very much, sir,” I said to him. He nodded back.
The group remained long after I had been cut, and they were still there when I clocked out–gesturing and making pounded-fist points to one another. “Don’t worry, I’ll clear their table before I leave,” said my great busser.
“Not much left on it,” I said. “Well, except the water glasses.”
“It’s okay. You go. They kind of a big pain, yes?” he laughed in his accented English.
They came, they occupied, they camped at my best tables, they ran me, and they pretty much stiffed me. Yeah, you could say they were a big pain–annoying representatives of the one percent of customers that ruin your shift. Happily, I get along just fine with the other 99 percent, 99 percent of the time.