I remember a night in 2001 when I was working at a medium-priced restaurant in Raleigh. A friend and I had gotten jobs there for the summer while home from school. We wanted a little pocket change. On this particular night I served a couple, probably in their mid-thirties, who were extremely time consuming and memorable.
By this point in my career of waiting tables, I had learned to be efficient. Doing three or four things at one time, bussing a table, carrying drinks on the way back out, and greeting a new table. In the busiest periods of the night, it would be non-stop speedwalking. It required me to be fast-paced and excellent. I believe serving others is an art. Serving those who annoy or dislike you is even higher priced art.
In the interest of full disclosure, the true story is hindered by ten years of not remembering, exaggerating, and making up stuff. The couple in question began our relationship by pretending not to see me standing eighteen inches from their table as I announced my presence and introduced myself.
As I took their drink order, it became more awkward, as it sometimes does. Their looks at me became glares, and I became a target. I began to wonder what I might have done to flip their switch. Did I beat up his younger brother? No. Did I run over her dog with my car? No. Couldn’t think of anything.
They ordered mixed drinks, and as you’d guess, the drinks weren’t mixed right. I returned with a new attempt. Still, no go. By the time the food arrived, the steaks didn’t achieve perfection, and the second try on them wasn’t much better. I was seeing a theme of unpleasability. My other tables had vanished from my thoughts. I was focused on one simmering couple. For them alone, I may have made twenty trips to the restaurant’s kitchen.
At the end of the night, on a fifty dollar meal, I made about fifty-two cents in tip. And I would do it all again.
From them, I learned the following:
• Don’t ignore your other worthy tables because you are too focused on the one that screams for attention.
• Serving those who don’t like you is just as important as serving those who do.
• Serving those who don’t like you reveals some of your greatest weaknesses.
• Everyone is looking for something. Some person, some connection, or some type of peace. These people were no different.
• Don’t react. Be intentional. Respond.
… and finally…
• I don’t always get what I want. I don’t always get a large tip. I don’t always get a happy customer when they leave. It is important to not get what you want. It makes you better.
Ten years ago someone probably had to stop me from confronting them in the parking lot about their lame attempt at a tip. Now, I would pay them for that education.