Tag Archives: tipping

Xenophobia

30 Dec

I am a masochist when it comes to foreigners: no matter how many times I’ve been stiffed, I just keep smiling.

Last night I had a section of Aussies, Italians, Brits, Indians, and Norwegians (in that order.) I didn’t have a single American table. First the Aussies left nothing after holding my table for three hours, then the Italians profusely thanked me by leaving $20 on $556 (“Grazie?”), and the Brits left their traditional Medieval tithe of 5%.

At my old place, I could just ask management to slap 20% on the bill. Unfortunately at my current establishment, you have to wait for the table to slight you, then you can ask for a manager to “talk” with them. As you can imagine, this policy is just embarrassing and ineffective.

As a waiter, I am not motivated by tips. I don’t do a better job if I think there is going to be a “fat tip” at the end of the night. I do a good job because I am just wired that way; I take pride in my work. I think most of us in the industry share this attitude. Waiters don’t walk around thinking, “Oh, I better get her drink now, or they aren’t going to tip me.” If we did, we’d all go crazy. Now, that said, when you realize you’ve been working all night and you’ve contributed twenty-two dollars to the tip-pool, reality sets in and you realize that indeed, you need some Goddamn tips or you’re not gonna’ be able to pay the rent.

Enter the Indian kids who turned me into something out of the French Revolution. Indians, (Yes, “Indians,” I’m just gonna’ start making mass sweeping statements about nationalities, so brace yourself ((I earned it)). No, let me qualify this statement a little further before I’m accused of being Xenophobic, rich Indians.) Rich Indians are even worse than the most loathsome, offensive group of international diners that the world has ever produced: Spaniards. Spaniards are simply insane, but rich Indians are not only insane, they’re emboldened. You would be emboldened too if you grew up in a country where more than 160 million people are rendered “Untouchables,” by an ancient caste system.

Well Mr. Kunadharaju, this is Manhattan, and while you might be able to get your government friends to kill me and get away with it in Bangalore; while you are here, you cannot hiss at my Bengali busser like that, and you certainly cannot leave us twelve bucks in cash on a five hundred-dollar tab. Oh the rage, the rage.

And you wanna’ know what I did? I went New York on him. I smacked that check presenter with his twelve singles in it back on his table, and said, “Keep it.” He seemed confused, and insisted, “This is for you!” I then gestured grandly to the twenty front of house staffers working the floor, as if he was a child visiting the zoo for the first time. I pointed to all the animals by name, listing about thirteen servers, bussers and runners in total, “You see [insert server name here], and —-, and —-, and this is my friend —. We all work here for fun. Please, keep this!” And you know what he did? He took the twelve bucks! Took it!

I just laughed, and moved on to the Norwegians.

Advertisements

The Dragon Lady [PartI]

8 Oct

“Jamie? Sammy? Daaaaaaaavid? Where IS everybody? I’m here!”

Our most infamous regular had arrived. It was only 4:30pm,  the restaurant was empty. And I was the only person on the floor. It was just me, The Dragon Lady, and the bruised shadow of her Ego, secretly hiding in the dark folds of her waist-length black hair. 

“Where is everybody?,” The Dragon Lady asked again, this time with suspicion. The creature in her hair was already roused, assessing the threat, ready to attack.

I waited on Nikki, The Dragon Lady, for the first time on October 8th, 2008.  I was at my old restaurant then, a small french bistro on the Upper East Side.  Nikki struck me as so eccentric, that I held onto the waiter-pad from that night (I was thinking about TheInsideWaiter blog even then), and I wrote about her in my journal, the whole train ride home. 

The first thing I noted about Nikki was her delicious voice. She spoke like a queen, with heightened speech, and long sung vowels.  Her voice was more than “affected,” it was effective, making even the most stubborn waiter hinge at his waist. 

The Dragon Lady was a modern regal, a stunning, petite woman of  ambiguous Asian descent, and the Ex-wife to a famous New York restaurateur and club-owner. She was highly educated, and yet, there was something just plain cow-town American about her, especially when she said things like, “Awwww’ come on!,” and, “gimme’ a break!”  

Sonny, our most senior server, once told me the story of the afternoon Nikki earned her celebrated alias, The Dragon Lady.  Nikki was one sexual cat, a cougar one might say. In the summer, Nikki’s idea of “Sunday Best” was a coral silk negligee with bamboo print, that she proudly wore, without underwear, to our bistro’s brunch, every Sunday.  Nikki loved to bring her one night stands with her, usually younger men, and make-out with her Johns on the patio, after being emboldened by a few bottles of Peirre Jouet.       

One afternoon when Sonny was waiting on her outside, and her John was in the W.C., she asked Sonny, “Hey Sonny, What do you think of Brazilians?” Sonny didn’t quite understand what she meant, until she uncrossed her legs and opened her silk negligee, and said once more, “Now… what do you think of Braaaaazilians?” And so The Dragon Lady was named (After a racist-sexist stereotype, perpetuated in film and on this blog). 

Sonny once warned me, “Waiting on her is like riding a wild Bull.  If you can ride her once, she’ll remember. But if you can’t ride her, she’ll remember.” Tonight I  intended to ride her for at least 8 seconds, if not for eight courses.

And I was well prepared. This was not my first encounter with the Dragon Lady. I had waited on her many times before, but only as the back-waiter to her favorite servers, the aforementioned Jamie, Sonny and Daaaaaavid (He was as pretty as his long “a’s” implied).

I knew what to expect: In the first place, she was an eater. Secondly, there would be many questions. And most importantly, The Dragon was as indecisive as she was decisive, and the process of ordering would probably take twenty minutes, if not half an hour (Fortunately I had no other tables);  and once the kitchen got the ticket, multiple changes to the order would be made throughout the night. Things were inevitably going to be sent back: “smudged” glassware, “dry” bread, “unsippable” cocktails,  “measly” mussels, “overdressed” caesar salads… you are getting the idea.

I escorted The Dragon to table,  Table 41, her corner-booth of choice. 

“Oh. Let’s try something in the sun this afternoon. I’m cold,” she said, before assuming her throne.

She was testing me already. I knew very well that she would move from “something in the sun” to her old table 41, in a matter of five minutes; but, let the games begin.

“So where is Sonny. Where’s Daaaaaaaaaavid?” she insisted again.

I explained for the third time, that her preferred waiter toys were “off tonight.”  I watched her trying to imagine Sonny in civilian clothing –without an apron– not anticipating her entrance into the bistro. She was clearly nervous to be taking risks with a newbie like myself, but not as disappointed (or nervous) as I was.   

Whatever; I’m hungry,” she said whimsically, pretending that it didn’t matter. “Oh, I haaaaaave to eat. I am FAMISHED. Just FAMISHED!,” and then she began laughing at herself, with those delicious low tones. “I have a new trainer. I can hardly moooove, but feel these abs, feeeeeeeel them. Go head. Feeeel them!,” she demanded.

“Just say NO,” right? Easier said than done.  It would have been more awkward not to touch her, than to touch her, so I petted the cat’s belly.

“Can you believe I’m forty-seven. Forty-seven! Aaaaaaaah!,” and she screamed like a party girl. “And I have five kids. FIVE. Feel that stomach.”

Nice. You have kids?,” I asked.

“Oh my god, yes, they are with him tonight. Thank God,” she said. “Do I want a cocktail? What do you think I want?”

She asked the most dangerous question a customer, let alone a Dragon, could ask: What-do-you-think-I-want? Ohhhh, She was bold, buttering me up like that with her abs, her kids, and then hitting me in the face with a question like that.

“Well— I hate these sweet cocktails. What would you get?,” she queried.

The time had come to ride the bull.

“Honestly, right now,” I said. “I’m craving a dirty, dry, Plymouth martini up.” I thought she’d never go for it, but hey, tell the truth.

“Oooh. I like how you said that! I’ve never had a gin martini. I must have one.”

Bombs were going off in my head. Never had a gin martin? She was a forty-seven-year-old Manhattan socialite, the divorcee of a prestigious bar owner. How could you avoid a gin martini?

“What does it taste like?,” she asked, now concerned by her hastiness.

My God, this was like asking, “what do eggs taste like? What does the sky taste like,” It tastes like eggs, the sky; but still, I tried to muster up some description.

“Well, there’s definitely juniper berries, and herbaceous notes on the gin, with hint of pine. And… the olive juice adds a bit of saltiness? You have to try one.”

“If you think so,” she dared.

“Yes, lets,” I countered. She smiled at my boldness. I turned to place the drink order, before she stopped me.

“What’s your name?,” she asked with a smirk.

“TheInsideWaiter,” I said.

“Well InsideWaiter,” she said, “Do you happen to know what TIPS stand for?”

“Uuuugh— no,” I said.

“To-Insure-Proper-Service. TIPSsssssssss,” and she slid a tightly folded piece of paper into my hand, while looking directly into my eyes.

Indeed, she was a dragon. In the server station, I opened my hand and unfolded the bills. That’s why Sonny was so protective of her, that’s why he worked himself into conniptions over her entrees; he was just insuring proper service. By the end of this dinner date, I would insure that she was my regular, not for the money, but for the material . . . [Pt.2]

 

 

 

The Wine Nazi: “NO WINE FOR YOU!”

7 Oct

You all remember “The Soup Nazi” from Seinfeld? Well, I just met “The Wine Nazi;” he’s a twenty-eight-year-old Lebanese tight-wad (or should I say tight-end?) who graduated from Cornell, works in a PR firm, and who lost three-hundred dollars on Fantasy Football last week (Yes, I got all that information from his conversation tableside).

 Tonight the Wine Nazi thumbed through the wine menu for his party of four. Price was the only factor.  The varietal, terroirvintage and winemaker were inconsequential.

He chose a cheap bottle from a mega-wine-maker, a $72 dollar Malbec that you can get at Trader Joe’s for $13 bucks. 

After he tasted and approved the Argentinian grape juice, I started to pour his guests a small glass (To begin with, I am always conservative when it comes to the first pour; I find that a series of consecutive small pours kills a bottle faster, and ensures a second sale; the guest always thinks there is more coming, and therefore, drinks more liberally). 

I was just about to pour 1.5 ounces on the first guest’s glass, when Wine Nazi threw out his hand like a traffic cop, covering the guest’s glass, and scolding me, “No-no-no! No more.”

I thought maybe his friend didn’t want to  drink much, and the Wine Nazi was trying to help me.  And so on the next pour I went even slower. Sure enough, just as I was about to hit 1.5 ounces (less than half a pour), the Wine Nazi’s  hand flared up to stop me.

It’s not unusual for guests to silently indicate they don’t want to drink more, by raising their hand to the glass (This is a polite and traditional gesture. Blue Monied persons usually just raise the hand without comment, or thanks.  It’s very classy, much like putting your knife and fork parallel to eachother, as a signal to clear the plate.) 

However,  I’d never had the person ordering the wine, physically and verbally command me to “STOP!” pouring, before the first toast.  The Wine Nazi seemed to get a real kick out of ordering a bottle, and then having the power to dispense it over his friends.  It was pretty rude and messed up in my opinion.

The strange part was that he didn’t just pour the wine himself, and looked at me impatiently when his friends’ glasses were empty, as if to say, “Hey lazy, aren’t you going to fill our glasses?” But of course, the moment I started to pour, there was the traffic-light hand again, telling me to stop.

I should have just yelled at him, “NO WINE FOR YOU!”

Virgins: Weapons of Mass Destruction

6 Oct

“I’ll have a virgin Kir Royale, please.”

Only in New York City, does a fifteen-year-old  know what a “virgin” drink is, let alone a “Virgin Kir Royale” (Does anyone know what a “Virgin Kir Royale” is, besides the bartender at a Dalton School Bar Mitzvah?)

Creme de cassis and ginger beer, (Chambord is the traditional choice)” instructs our savvy adolescent  (Let’s call her Kit, shall we?) 

             “Well Kit,” I say. “Sorry– can’t do the cassis, but I can get you–”

             “Soda and pineappe; just a splash of pineapple will do,” she replies.

Kit isn’t “putting on” being thirty-two. She is a convincing adult socialite in every way (sans the job, or income), but probably with just as much of the sex, alcohol and therapy bills.

Kit is a lanky blonde, with a cherub’s face. She is dressed in ’90’s retro, like Mayim Bialik in Blossom (I forgot how awful the introducing credits really were), with purple leggings, leather boots, a belted baggy thrift dress, and an outlandishly large rimmed hat.  She is out with her dad, a sixty-something Texan-turned-New-Yorker, who talks of nothing but smart bombs and missile tracking devices, over their foie gras and virgin drinks (He insists on not drinking if his daughter is not permitted to imbibe.)

Kit is a trip. One might think her pretension bothers me, but I find it fascinating, if not freakish. Clearly she has eaten almost every meal of her life in a restaurant.  She has already mastered the art of talking to waiters, and uses a knowing tone, both charming and insistent.  She doesn’t even bother looking at the menu.

“Just send us whatever you think’s best. I trust you. But can you make sure to space it out. And I know you wouldn’t do this, but, no chicken. Pleeeeez.”

This kid is too much. What is she going to be like in twenty-years? If she is already “over” chicken, how long will it be before she is over filet mignon, before she is over Burgundies, bourbon, blow?  Might she ever be over… dare I say it… chocolate?!? Poor Kit.

After the espressos, Kit is in a hurry to get home.  She slips me her credit card for the bill. The Amex is indeed issued to her, and when I place the bill on the table, she gives me one of those “thank you’s” that implies an apology, as if to say, “Can you believe he’s still talking about Weapons of Mass Destruction?”  She glances at the bill for two seconds, just enough to garner a total, before tipping and signing it like a businessman at lunch –quick, nonchalant, pre-calculated–. 

It is Tuesday night. There’s still homework to be done. Romeo and Juliet must be read by 8am.  There are boys to be called, and prenuptials to be hashed out over a real Kir Royale, or maybe a cosmo, or maybe just a Xanax.

Mean Girls

5 Oct

Tonight I got a signed credit card slip with a message on it. Usually the messages are something nice like, “Thanks So Much” or “We’ll be back,” or perhaps a “Call Me” with a phone number; but tonight I got a passive aggressive rant:

“HORRIBLE SERVICE! SO DISSAPOINTED!”

I’m a little embarrassed by how much this message, accompanied by a less than ten percent tip on a three hundred dollar bill, truly bothered me.  I felt like I had just been bullied.

The questions kept flaring:

What did I do? Why don’t the mean girls like me? Like me damn-it. Like me!

Why leave a message? Why do you have to justify your punk-ass cheapness? Just leave a tip you think is “appropriate,” and leave it at that. Why go for the obligatory “fuck you” at the end, and then smile when I pick up the check? 

And to top it off, it was written in the hand of a second grade teacher, perfect girly print, that insinuated stars, hearts, and smiley faces to follow. The two exclamation points, punctuating the end of two incomplete clauses, also really pissed me off (P.S. I hardly edit these posts, and I acknowledge that my complaining about punctuation right now is literal irony). 

People don’t realize that waiters can get fired over these middle-school notes (Correction: Women don’t realize… It’s always women leaving these silent slurs, these back-handed bitch slaps ((–yes, that’s right, I’m being sexist–, but you can still call me when he breaks up with you.)  The men don’t bother with it; they just don’t tip you.))

I once had a friend who was fired from an Elephant and Castle, when a woman wrote, “Check the attitude,” on a signed slip. Fortunately I showed the comment to my manager, and she just laughed.

“You have five seconds to get over this,” she said.

Well, it’s 1:04 AM and I’m still not over it. Maybe I should have passed the Girly Handwriting Lady a secret note of my own, just snuck it in the bill, or in the pocket of her windbreaker in coat-check, an innocent  ruse like, “Okay face! Awful shoes!” or “Fix your voice.”

Well, well… Look who’s being the mean girl now?

BAD ROMANCE

2 Oct

People dining on dates don’t talk over a meal anymore, they text, tweet, and tube. They spurl-flick-deal-click.  Smart-phones are slowly killing romantic conversation, and changing dinner as we know it (Call me Laura Bush, but if you loved food and dining as much as I do, you’d understand that Apple, Microsoft, and possibly North Korea, have created an Axis of Evil, determined to ruin dining everywhere).

Why bother dressing to the nines, and paying for a $400 dollar meal, when you can follow Rachel Ray’s Tweets?  I don’t think I’m exaggerrating when I say that cell phone technology has dramatically changed how our culture interacts –or fails to interract–  at the dinner table. 

The dining experience is no longer limited to real time or space.  People are communicating, and having experiences (see the ipad below), outside the immediate circumstances of dinner. To be brief, people are fucking distracted, and it’s pissing me off.

Before texting, people would have to ask to “excuse” themselves before making/receiving a call. Now you just place your phone on the table, like a piece of esssential stationary, and wait for the phone to light up.

I try not to praise Europeans at any cost; but, when it comes to cell phone use, I would be remiss in not commending them for being tactiful tableside.  In general, Europeans seem to appreciate the experience of having a meal. Also, I believe they understand the value of moderation. Americans, however, are prone to developing medical compulsions over new gadgets.

People on their phones simply can’t be bothered to eat; but the server still must “serve,” often to the dismay of the guest. The server is either bothersome for interrupting conversation, or unattentive for not being available at the very moment that the guest puts down their phone. 

It didn’t always used to be this way. Guests had a responsibility to order.  I came across a corporate  hospitality manual from 2007, from my old restaurant that states:

Guests on cell phones: If a guest is using their cell phone upon being seated, greet the guest with eye contact, and offer ice water without asking water preference.  Do not interrupt the guest’s conversation. However, remain attentive until the guest has completed their call. In order to avoid miscommunication, do not take an order while the guest is on the phone, even if the guest indicates they would like to do so.”  

Doesn’t that sound lovely? Now people expect you take their full order while they are mid-conversation, while passively scolding you,  “Hold on Hank, this guy needs an order.”  Right, you don’t need the order, I do.

Cell phone conversations are the least of my worries.  2010 was the year of Apple’s Ipad Touch (Yes, people actually bring Ipads out at dinner. And Yes, I work in a restaurant where the majority of our socially programmed  guests own one.)

Now, what can I say about the Ipad touch, other than that they are totally obnoxious at the diner table?  To begin with, they look awful in dark dining rooms, radiating a white flourescent glow, like a  bug-zapper on the back porch in summer.  Additionally, Ipads are a complete liquid liability for the service staff.  Cells phones were hard enough to avoid, but try deshelling a four pound lobster tableside, around an ipad. It’s a disaster.

But these Ipad users aren’t concerned about lobster, or eating in restaurants.  Why eat when you can finger paint, play the Magic Piano, and my personal favorite: steer your ipad like race-car, with Real Racing HD. Turn that curve, but don’t knock over your bellini, bitch! People just aren’t really “there” anymore.   

I had a couple last night on a 6:30 reso date –not a business lunch– who decided to bring both their Ipad touches with them.  The lady facebooked, while the gentleman seemed to be arranging some sort of slideshow of their dog. Atleast the lady looked up from her screen to give me her order, but the gentelman couldn’t let his eyes drift away, not even to request his steak frites (Wrong temperature, surpise.) I pictured the two of them in bed with their ipad touches, never touching, making love with their Apple applications. 

I imagine that when television was first introduced into the American home, there were critics like myself, who were concerned that it would destroy the quality of family life.  Or maybe not, maybe the intelligensia didn’t notice a shift in family interaction until it as too late (See 1992). I’d rather not wait forty years to see what the smart-technology will do to the culture of cuisine. And for the record, I do not own a television.

Dining is one of the greatest joys in modern life.  In Manhattan, there are two places where people commune: the theatre and the restaurant. The theatre has already been lost as a cultural force.  The satisfaction of thirty-second youtube clips, has forever recoded our attentive DNA. We haven’t the patience for ideas, for experiencing life in the real. The restaurant, however, still may have a chance at surviving as a communal event. Food cannot be ignored; it must be contended with; it must be eaten, and perhaps even enjoyed, if only for our survival.

What is our romance with these new technologies?  Eating, drinking, talking. These are the actions of life.  The texting, the tweeting, the tubing — they are distractions. What purpose do these distractions serve? What compels us to busy our minds with the clicking? Why isn’t the plate in front of us enough?

OVERHEARD: Dynasty Brunch

30 Sep

This past Sunday brunch, I was a witness to the most impressive order regarding eggs, that I’ve heard to date. It was delivered by a Grande Dame in her late sixties. She was real blue money, with real fake red hair, straight out of the late ’80’s soap Dynasty. (For a good time, check out this classic catfight from the show).

She thought I was writing down her detailed order, but really I was just jotting down the gold that was spinning from her mouth:

“My friend, I will probably like this omlette with lamb sausage, but, can I do it without the onions, without the tomatoes, -AND- with goat cheese instead of the gruyere -AND- no creme fraiche, -AND- the merguez extra well done? -AND- Can it be firm, but, not too firm? OH, -AND- with Canadian (Is it actually Canadian?) bacon? If it’s not real Canadian bacon how much would it cost to take it off? Do you know? And if they can take it off, make sure it’s one not two eggs; I haven’t eater anything all day.”

The order to the kitchen, looked something like this:

Table 72, TheInsideWaiter

MERGUEZ OMELETTE

-ONE EGG

-NO ONIONS

-NO TOMATOES

-NO GRUYERE

-SUB GOAT CHZ

-NO CRM FRAICHE

-SAUSAGE XWELL

-FIRM

-SEE SERVER