You may remember from my last entry that I reported being left a $0 tip on a $200+ tab earlier this week by some European guests. I also said that I was pretty sure why they stiffed me, and that I'd be telling you why today.
I'm not going to make you wait to find out, or build it up (so not like me, I know!)...
They stiffed me ... because ... I brought them their check.
Yup. My bad. Just what in the hell was I thinking?
"What?" you say? "But how could doing that cost you your tip???"
Well, it's like this. I don't remember how many years ago or even what restaurant I was even working at - it's been that much time - when I was serving a small group from Europe. They had finished their dinners, and their after-dinner drinks, and their espressos, and had also told me twice that no, they didn't want anything else.
So I routinely walked up to the table and unobtrusively put their check down, planning to walk quietly away until I was needed again.. but I did not see coming what happened next.
The guy went near-ballistic. "WHATTT?!?!?" he exclaims. "You trying to hurry us out of here? Do we have to leave now, or something?"
"Then why you are bringing us check? Who says we are "feenished?"
The level of offense and hostility this man exhibited had me feeling like I had just spit on his mother's grave or something, and - suffice to say - left quite the impression on me. I was a bit confused by his reaction, so he and I actually had a nice little ideological chat about the matter.
Right there, in front of everybody.
This gentleman let me know that where he's from, they are there to talk.. to enjoy one another's company. The meal is just what brings them together - but not why they are there. He concluded his lecture by telling me that the evening is far from over "when food is gone."
I explained to him that that is somewhat different from the way "we" often do it.
"We Americans" are so often is such a hurry to be somewhere else ... that "the meal" is sometimes just a necessity that precludes the "main event" - like a movie, or concert, or any other event that brought us together. And that we're probably running late for already.
(Oh yeh, I remember. This was when I was working at The Prime Cut on 2nd Avenue, Downtown Nashville Tennessee, where there was always some big event going on that had people rushing out our doors on their way to, after dinner. At this particular place, we routinely heard, "Hey. We're in a bit of a hurry. Do you think you can get us out of here kind of quickly? We're going to see ......."
It was honestly hard NOT to say "Yeh, you and the other hundred people in here. They're all in a hurry too. And they were here first. I'll do what I can.")
So... in this culture... presenting the check is sometimes a genuine courtesy (if the server has read the situation correctly, that is. Which turns out I had not in this case).
The intent (often) is to keep the guests from having to wait for, or find us, once they're done eating or need to leave. People are *of course* welcome to stay as long as they like, but they are also free to leave quickly as well, if they need to.
So that's how I explained it to him at the time. Yeh.. maybe I was back-pedaling a bit, but he bought it. Things smoothed out, they all chilled awhile longer, left with no hard feelings, and tipped me.. well, like Europeans.
I'll just leave it at that for now. That's a different topic. But for a good decade at least, I had learned my lesson.
Back to present day. I'm serving three European guests. They're done with their dinners, their after dinner drinks, and their espressos. And we're closed now. All of my other tables have paid, and I routinely drop off the check unobtrusively, and walk away until I'm needed again.
It's just what we do here. Sure, sometimes it's a hint, but it doesn't always mean you have to leave. Unless a manager says so, it's still pretty much your choice. I've got maybe an hour of "closing sidework to do" and I'm going to be "in the back" and out of sight for longer periods of time now, especially if I know you don't want anything else (at least for awhile). This is just me placing your check on the table for when you're ready. Basically, I'll leave you alone to talk until I see your card sticking out of it.
It's just what we freaking do here.
Thirty minutes later, the host places his credit card in the check presenter. I return with it, and wish them a nice evening. Ten minutes later, they're still talking, and I unobtrusively pick up the check presenter. Open it up at the computer, to close the check out, annnd "goose-egg."
Am I mad? No.
Does that make this guy an asshole? Absolutely 100% Yes.
But I immediately acknowledge my mistake.
Now, it's not that I think he really had the right to do this ... but I do in fact know better by now.
"Europeans hate being rushed." Right or wrong being irrelevant, as far as money in the bank goes, I screwed up, and I paid the price. What's worse, is that in this particular case, I already knew that it's not just that "he's a foreigner who doesn't know our customs". I know this because I personally returned their bar tab to the bartender once they were seated (and didn't worry about my tip just "because they were Europeans" in this case, because I saw it myself.. he tipped them okay).
It's just that from his perspective, I rushed them, and he took it personally.
I see that he wants to make it even more personal.
The group hangs around afterwards, for another half-hour, talking amongst themselves, well after every other guest has left the restaurant. This guy however actually has the nerve to make more eye contact with me in the 30 minutes AFTER I picked up his voucher, than in the entire two hours prior. Drunken, self-satisfied, smirking, red-eyed, eye contact I might add.
He's baiting me.
I honestly think he wants me to say something about it. He's inviting a confrontation (similar to the one I had 12 or 13 years prior with my other European guest) .. but in this case, he just wants to "go off" on me because he's drunk, offended, and now he wants to make a scene.
Nope, you're not getting a peep out of me. I'm not giving you the satisfaction. You've failed to pay me for services rendered as it is - now you want free entertainment too?
Nope, not gonna happen.
I'm too long in this business to even let you see an emotional reaction. Twenty years ago..? Probably.
But today I've got a wife and two cats to support. I think about what's most important to me, take the abuse, and cut my losses. It's part and parcel of every server's job at one point or another.
Whatever degree of satisfaction I might obtain by telling you how I really feel about your petty BS pales in comparison to what really matters in my life. This has already cost me $11 plus what you might have tipped, and I'm not about to let an altercation with a guest cost me my job on top of it.
Expensive lesson learned. Again.
As promised, the specific details of why this instance of "getting stiffed" additionally cost me $11 out of pocket - next time.
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Stories about restaurant life, from my current & past waiter/bartender jobs. WHAT THIS ISN'T: I'm not here to complain about my guests, job, co-workers or tips. I love what I do (much of the time anyways, and I'm not mentioning names, except positively. I have around 25 years "in the biz," some fun stories to share, and at times some pretty unique life lessons to impart. Hopefully, I'm both informing and entertaining you as I go.
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