First Time Here!

They were a handsome family of four. They brought along a handsome friend to complete their party of five, one short of a six-top tag. They triggered my internal server alarm when the wide-smiling father gushed:

“It’s our first time here!”

“Welcome,” I said, matching his smile.

“Do we get anything for that?” the father smiled, even wider.

“We’re glad you found us,” I smiled back, ignoring his question.

“We have a tour pass for one of those boats in the harbor, so don’t we get a free meal?” the father asked, his smile now carefully morphing into a perplexed frown.

“No, we don’t offer those kinds of discounts” I smiled, even wider. “Can I take a drink order while you look over the menu?”

“Is it free refills?” asked the father, no longer smiling.

“Yes, for sodas,” I answered, smiling harder so I wouldn’t grit my teeth.

“Lemonade for me and my son, if you have it. Coke for my wife. Water for the baby.”

“Certainly,” I said. “And for you?” I asked the handsome friend.

“Water with two lemons and an iced tea,” he replied, staring hard at me as if daring me about an as-yet unspoken challenge. “And give us a round of virgin frozen strawberry smoothies.”

It was the day after St. Patrick’s Day, my section had quickly filled, and I was exhausted and spent from a 13-hour blood-letting shift from the day before. I left the table to fill their drink order. Trouble, I knew with utter certainty, was the only service outcome with this group.

Of course the son’s lemonade didn’t have enough ice in it. Of course the friend needed more than two lemons for his water. Of course the strawberry smoothies didn’t “taste right” and all were sent back, all at different times.

After grilling me about virtually everything on our extensive menu and constantly asking me, “How much do they pay you to say that sandwich is good?”, of course they ordered enough food for a party of ten–five appetizers followed by the seven most expensive entrees. Their tab climbed to more than $150 in a matter of seconds at a place known for extremely reasonable prices, with no alcohol involved.


“Refill!” the mother demanded, waving her three-quarters-full Coke glass in the the air as I passed by their table with a full tray of food destined for another table.

“This and this, too,” said the handsome friend, pointing to his half-full water and the son’s barely-touched lemonade, when I returned with the mother’s Coke.

So much trouble.

Extra sauce for the wings, another steak because this one is fatty, more fries with the two sandwiches because “these aren’t enough.” And my favorite, “Are you telling me this is the normal size of your mahi filets? Gimme another dinner, this one’s too small.”

Refill. Refill. Refill. Trouble. Trouble. Trouble.

And all the while trying to keep up with my patient, six other happy tables.

More trouble than it would ever be worth.

“RG!” barked my stern but very fair and immensely competent manager, waving a printed-out check at me. “Table 82.” The trouble table.

I glanced at the check, wondering why she had printed it out. Then I saw it–an auto grat of 18 percent tacked on to the total. “I am making an exception on this one,” she added. Because she knew trouble when she saw it through the frantic and frustrated pace of her otherwise usually pleasant server.

“Thanks,” I sighed to her. “They’ve been…”

“I know!” she barked once more. “Just drop the check and move on with your other tables.”

But when there’s trouble from the start, trouble has only just gotten started.

“Miss,” smiled the handsome friend a few minutes after I had dropped the check. “Here is enough cash to cover the check amount, minus the gratuity, which I insist be taken off the total. And bring back all the change. Please.”

I directly looked him in the eye. I directly spoke to him through my look that I knew exactly their game; knew their pretense of gosh-golly new folks to area that don’t get out much; knew what lowly, common trash they were.

He understood every bit of my look, even welcomed it, which caused him to smile quite broadly, once again.

“I have to take it off, RG. I’m sorry,” said my manager. “Sometimes shit happens. You’ll make it up on another table.”

Except I would have to tip out the busser, the bartender and the food runner on that $176.23 in sales that I knew would result in a tip of exactly zero percent.

“Shake it off!” barked my manager an hour later. She could tell I was still seething. “They are not worth your trouble thinking about it any longer!”

Two days later, I am still reliving that table, wishing I had given them terrible service or at least politely called them out about the tip. And then again, it’s not really about the tip. It’s about them and their carefully orchestrated complaints in order to get unwarranted comps, their baseless demands to run a server ragged and blame her for any and everything, their disguises of smiling countenances as they know exactly what they do.

Not worth my trouble? Of course not. I just wish the entire episode would quit troubling me. And troubling me.







16 responses to “First Time Here!”

  1. okcmermaid Avatar

    Been there. Had it happen. Kudos to your manager for trying. Just remember … karma is a “b”, and you don’t have to witness it to know it will happen .. in spades! What miserable, unhappy people.

  2. Jennifer Avatar

    What I especially love about this story is the fine example Daddy Cheapness is setting for his offspring. “Look, kids! Here’s how to get something for nothing AND give your teeny tiny ego a boost at the expense of someone else!” RG, I know exactly how you feel, both as regards the matter and the inability to shake it off and stop second guessing. I HATE that so very much…

  3. Restaurant Gal Avatar
    Restaurant Gal

    okcmermaid–I know this is a familiar story for all in the biz. Still, it galls me. Karma? I can only hope! 🙂

    Jennifer–Yeah, the little one was actually sweet, thanking me every two seconds. But by the end of the experience, I figured he was put up to the task by father dearest. Shaking it off a little since I wrote about it.

  4. savannah Avatar

    This is good for you, sugar! This is where you can stop carrying the baggage of a bad table. We’re here to listen and remind you that it was them, not you! Hope that helps, RG! xoxoxo

  5. Clare Avatar

    A table like that was the reason I stopped serving.

  6. Restaurant Gal Avatar
    Restaurant Gal

    Savannah–Always helps to hear from you. Thanks.

    Clare–I hear you. I have had difficult tables before. I have had low–lower than 10 percent–tips before when I know the service and food was fine. It goes with the territory. But for some reason, these folks haunt me, because I feel like I was conned, even when I KNEW I was being conned, and they knew that I knew they were con artists, and they also knew there was nothing I could do about it. Total set up. If it happened on a daily basis, I’d be done next week. Thankfully, this was (hopefully) a rare incident for me.

  7. Kim Ayres Avatar

    You don’t need to believe in a cosmic law of Karma to know these people will end up miserable. If you go through your life conning people, then you become obsessed by it, and feel that everyone is out to con you. This hampers your ability to make, and maintain, healthy relationships with people over time. Ultimately you turn into a paranoid, selfish bastard with no friends. They are constructing their own hell. You just have to make sure you don’t get dragged into it with them. They are living sad lives. How much extra stress and anxiety are they creating for themselves to get out of paying $25? The cost to them is far higher than the amount of money they might save. They are sad, and to be pitied, RG. Don’t be haunted by a feeling they got one over on you – all they did was entrench their path to their own private hell.

  8. L. in CA Avatar
    L. in CA

    Excellent comment Kim. RG…this was a haunting piece. Such a soulless crew …no wonder you felt touched …and not in a good way. Not a good experience as a waitress yet good material for a writer. And you are quite the writer.

  9. Susan Avatar

    I think they would be even happier to know you are expending so much energy letting them live rent free in your head. I know it’s hard to ‘let go’ of some thoughts but the way I do it is to consciously think of something else every time the thought of them pops into your head. Don’t let them ‘win’.

  10. Restaurant Gal Avatar
    Restaurant Gal

    Kim–So well said, as always, wise one. 🙂

    L in CA–Haunting, that’s exactly what the experience was. And thank you for the compliment and hanging in with RG.

    Susan–I hear you.

  11. mur Avatar

    I can’t help but harbor a secret wish that they happen upon this story, recognize themselves and realize, that at least in this instance, their con fooled no one at all.

    (And @Kim – perfectly insightful!)

    I hope the next table more than makes up for this band of fools.

  12. Peaches Avatar

    Damn – too bad that fellow on Restaurant Stakeout wasn’t observing your store and how you handled these jackasses! I’ve had a few bad experiences as a customer/client (food under the warming lights for 15 or more minutes during a “special” dinner; waiting several minutes for a check when the server had passed our table and had to have seen we were finished) but I have always tried to be polite about my disappointment. And, I have never expected to be comped! It has happened, and when it has, it was a happy surprise.

    Do you get customers like that frequently during the “season” down there? Not sure I could handle situations like that as gracefully as you did.

    Oh, yeah – I know it isn’t just my server who gets any benefit from my tip.

  13. Restaurant Gal Avatar
    Restaurant Gal

    Mur–Thing is, they already know they didn’t fool me, and that’s part of their game. Nicer folks have prevailed this week, some tipping well.

    Peaches–Never have I served a group like that in my current job, and I hope never to again. Sure, I’ve had terrible tippers for service and food I know is fine ($5 on $106 tab, for example), but these particular folks set out to cheat my eatery as well as me. They got little to nothing from my store, so they took it all from me by blatantly refusing to pay an auto grat, then leaving nothing as a tip. It’s been a week since they were in, they will never come in again I am sure, and I have had some great customers since–easy, happy, reasonable.

  14. FWP Avatar

    It’s a sad day when you have to deal with such common trash as these people. I have never seen such terrible manners and am glad I haven’t had to deal with such a’holes. Sorry you had to, always remember payback is a bitch

  15. Chris Avatar

    I wonder–should they ever darken your door again, could they be refused service? I would love to live in a world where that could happen.

  16. Aaron DeLay Avatar

    I love the insight into humanity your blog provides story after story…the good, the bad and the ugly. People are fascinating and terrifying at the same time. Rock star writing, RG.