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That Waiter You Stiffed...


Fay Jai
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Article in the NYT:

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/02/dining/0...html?oref=login

When I was working my first job as a manager in HK, the staff often talked about how funny it would be to have a TV show about the various insults that had been thrown their way by the customers that they had ("Especially the Americans..." they would sniff, and then look my way...They were all Brits).

Everything that I read in that article I first heard there and have heard often since. I can completely agree w/ Mr. Elizondo in the article. Servers talk, they remember, and they can "arrange" for things to happen to people's food. I always keep in mind that I don't generally see my food until it has been set in front of me. I've heard too much about what has been done to food then to even want to try to take the chance.

Is it right? No. But does it happen? Yup.

"So, do you want me to compromise your meal for you?" - Waitress at Andy's Diner, Dec 4th, 2004.

The Fat Boy Guzzle --- 1/2 oz each Jack Daniels, Wild Turkey, Southern Comfort, Absolut Citron over ice in a pint glass, squeeze 1/2 a lemon and top with 7-up...Credit to the Bar Manager at the LA Cafe in Hong Kong who created it for me on my hire. Thanks, Byron. Hope you are well!

http://bloatitup.com

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Article in the NYT:

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/02/dining/0...html?oref=login

When I was working my first job as a manager in HK, the staff often talked  about how funny it would be to have a TV show about the various insults that had been thrown their way by the customers that they had ("Especially the Americans..." they would sniff, and then look my way...They were all Brits).

Everything that I read in that article I first heard there and have heard often since. I can completely agree w/ Mr. Elizondo in the article. Servers talk, they remember, and they can "arrange" for things to happen to people's food. I always keep in mind that I don't generally see my food until it has been set in front of me. I've heard too much about what has been done to food then to even want to try to take the chance.

Is it right? No. But does it happen? Yup.

Thanks for posting this. It's true. If any of these 'rude guests' saw half of what I saw in restaurant kitchens, they'd think twice about getting on a waiter's bad side.

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Thanks to eG, I bookmarked bitterwaitress and ontherail a while back. Great stuff! Thanks to that article, the cat's out of the bag, so I'll bet their servers will be smokin' now.

"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

Portland Food Map.com

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and they can "arrange" for things to happen to people's food. I always keep in mind that I don't generally see my food until it has been set in front of me. I've heard too much about what has been done to food then to even want to try to take the chance.

Is it right? No. But does it happen? Yup.

I'm sorry, but i want to speak up here and say that it doesn't matter - no exceptions - how obnoxious a guest is, no server, no cook, nobody, no way, no how, ever, ever has an excuse to "do" anything to someone's food. Unprofessional. Unethical. Sure, some guests run the whole spectrum from snarky to downright abusive. Abusive guests should be asked to leave and never come back. But if i ever caught someone "arranging" for anything to happen to a guest's food, they'd get fired where i work - no excuses and no questions asked. It just makes everyone who works in a restaurant look bad when servers post on a forum about all the cute things they do to plates to get back at guests who stiff them or make them mad. Go out to the parking lot and slash their tires if you must, but you better not spit in their food - the food I sent out - or you'll answer to me, the Chef, and maybe the justice system.

Culinarian's Code, anyone?

Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

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Disgusting to "add" something to anybody's food. I never saw it done at any of the places where I've worked. If I did see it, that person would be fired on the spot.

As a chef I prefer open kitchens and a clear view of the dining area.

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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zilla369 and chefzadi ---

Please don't get me wrong. I'm with you! IF that had ever happened at any of the restaurants I have been at, the result would have been the same, they would have been canned.

That being said --- I stand firmly by my assertion that it happens...probably more then we would like to think... :hmmm:

"So, do you want me to compromise your meal for you?" - Waitress at Andy's Diner, Dec 4th, 2004.

The Fat Boy Guzzle --- 1/2 oz each Jack Daniels, Wild Turkey, Southern Comfort, Absolut Citron over ice in a pint glass, squeeze 1/2 a lemon and top with 7-up...Credit to the Bar Manager at the LA Cafe in Hong Kong who created it for me on my hire. Thanks, Byron. Hope you are well!

http://bloatitup.com

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FJ - no worries. I didn't mean my outburst to reflect on you. But i am bitter at "bitterwaitress" because they glorify the passive-agressive remedy. Believe me, i have a sense of humor - a good one. And believe me, i know that sometimes it's difficult to hold your tongue and your attitude. That i can deal with. But i draw the line at contaminating food. I'd like to think most in the industry do draw that line. But because of a few stupid braggarts, people everywhere say "we'd better not complain - they might spit in our food!" I wish regular diners didn't have to feel that way because of a few...wait for it...bad apples. :biggrin:

Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

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When I was Chef the joke was that if a customer was rude the FOH should tell me so that I could go into the dining room with a cigarette dangling from my mouth, a pure carbon steel sabatier in one hand and play the role of mad/ranting French chef.

:cool::laugh:

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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When I was Chef the joke was that if a customer was rude the FOH should tell me so that I could go into the dining room with a cigarette dangling from my mouth, a pure carbon steel sabatier in one hand and play the role of mad/ranting French chef.

:cool:  :laugh:

Now THAT we need more of in this world :biggrin:

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My sense is that if you take a large enough cross section of server/diner disputes or complaints, the server is right the majority of the time. I've never believed the customer was always right or deserved to be treated as if he was. I understand that sometimes it's just good business for a restaurant to treat a jerk as if he's right. That said, I still don't understand, or care to tolerate the bitching precisely because I think of the front of the house as professionals. If I came to associate that kind of talk with the folks who serve my table, I'd stop eating out. Therefore, it seems to me that those people are not doing themselves a favor. I also suppose I either pick my restaurants very well or I'm fooling myself. I still suspect that the most bitching is done by the least professional waiters.

I have one opinion that's not popular with waiters and that's that they should be paid a professional salary, restaurant prices should be raised by perhaps 20% to cover salaries, and tipping should be outlawed. I can't stiff the salesclerk in a deparment store no matter how incompetent or rude they are, why should I have the power to stiff a waiter.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Bux, you may well be right that the least professional waiters have the most complaints, but as far as I know, all professionals have complaints. Professional orchestral musicians often gossip about conductors, for example -- for both good and ill. (We love the good ones!) Not to mention professional teachers . . .

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Interesting and disgusting, some of those web sites. I wonder if there are any similar ones in Europe, and what the contents would be like...

There is something that really nags me about this. I have been a restaurant critic for 24 years, working mostly in Spain, and so I have been eating out for far too long, far too often and in far too many places. Yet I very, very seldom see customer/waiter or customer/maître d' clashes of the sort that would, not justify, but at least explain the kind of retaliations these web sites so lavishly detail.

So my question is: Are these clashes really so frequent in NYC or in the US in general? Or is this just hyperbole, or perhaps a tool for disgruntled employees to blackmail restaurant owners? Because if these problems really are commonplace, then the adversary relationship between customer and restaurant is really something that sets the US restaurant scene apart from the European scene as I know it.

Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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Victor, for whatever it's worth, I eat out very often in New York (mostly in low-to-moderate-priced restaurants), and I seldom witness really bad behavior by customers.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I don't have Victor's long and excellent dining experience, but my impression pretty much matches his. I have seen fights break out between FOH and BOH twice while dining in Italy but never between waiters and customers. If that described is the real situation, and not, as suggested, an hyperbole, where does the reason lay? Are US customers generally more demanding, or difficult, than their European counterparts? Are the working conditions for waiters in the US so much worse than in Europe? It would be interesting to hear the opinion of those who often travel between the two.

There is one concept expressed in the article that I found slightly superficial.

enduring an influx of Euro-rich tourists who, restaurant staff members say, often pretend not to understand American tipping practices.

In my experience most Europeans are not pretending; they really do not understand the tipping practices. Most people keep tipping the way they're used to at home, but even those who try to find out how to behave can have problems. European travel guides can add to the confusion: I've read more than once, in Italian and German guidebooks, that tipping max 15% is OK in the US. If waiters, as quoted in the article, expect a tip of at least 17% than there's a good reason for misunderstanding. Clearly I'm not talking about the experienced restaurant goer here. But how many tourists are, generally speaking?

Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.
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I think in some parts of the U.S., tipping 15% probably is OK. In New York, you are expected to at least double the tax of 8.25%, but I doubt that a similar percentage is widely expected in, say, South Carolina, though I stand to be corrected.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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"When I was Chef the joke was that if a customer was rude the FOH should tell me so that I could go into the dining room with a cigarette dangling from my mouth, a pure carbon steel sabatier in one hand and play the role of mad/ranting French chef. "

Sometimes..I, too, wish I could be that crazy chef... Uh...but I don't smoke... and uh. I'm not French... I have the carbon steel Sabatier...and, well, uh, we have an open kitchen. So people see me all the time! Hahaha

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I had never heard of "adding" to a customer's food untill I came to the States. I've never seen it. My wife told me about it. But in the restaurants that I've worked in the States, the path from the kitchen to the dining area was pretty well lit and visible. It would have been difficult for the servers to "do" anything to the food without getting easily caught by someone else.

Maybe this sort of stuff happens more at the chain restaurants or lower end places. I'm just guessing here. I've never worked at one and hardly ever dine at them (I mean chain restaurants. I like a good mom and pop place). Again I'm guessing, the high volume and lower average cover, maybe teenagers dining out. A long long time ago my wife and I ended up at a chain restaurant in downtown LA at around 2:30 AM. The customer base there and the FOH... ummm I could see how things could get ugly.

Also female waitstaff probably have to put up with a lot more than men. Customers trying to cop a feel. I can see how that could get be extremely upsetting.

Some of the complaints on these websites seem more like hyperbolic rants, a game of one upmanship, tall tales, rare incidences gathered together giving the misleading appearance of deep and wide spread problems between servers and customers.

In the reports of scuffles and fights between servers and customers, there is a third player Management. I made the joke about me coming out of the kitchen with a cigarette and a sabatier knife. But the idea was that if a customer was difficult I would go out to the dining room to deal with them as diplomatically as possible and the servers also felt better because of my support. So if anybody reading this is in restaurant management try this approach rather than pounding the Wal Mart philosophy of "the customer is always right."

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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I think in some parts of the U.S., tipping 15% probably is OK. In New York, you are expected to at least double the tax of 8.25%, but I doubt that a similar percentage is widely expected in, say, South Carolina, though I stand to be corrected.

I'd say, for the most part, in Northern VA/DC area...at least in my restaurant and what I've heard from my servers who've worked elsewhere..20% is the norm.. It's not rare for us to see 25-30% on a check... now, I'm not saying that high is the norm.. but easily 18-22% is.

I don't think it's so much that Americans are more picky.. I just think that America, as a whole, is still in the middle of it's culinary revolution.. we're still in our infancy when it comes to good food. I mean, really, pigs in a blanket and broccoli with cheese sauce was as good as it got in the 50s/60s ...with a few exceptions.

As much as I hate to admit it, because I"m no fan, Emeril, I believe was partly responsible for simplifying good food for the home... between the barrage of shows on the food network, magazines, great new chefs and restuarants, books, etc... America, in the last 30 years, is finally learning how to "taste" food. It used to be limited to New York, Chicago....but now you find great restaurants in small towns across America.. I think it's awesome.

However, remember back to your teens...when you learned to drive, you knew everything in 1 day of driving.. or so you thought. I think that's where the American diner (in the general sense....there are some great palates out there) now. Now everyone knows pate, foie gras, well-cut steaks.. med rare vs. med.

We didn't have Taillevant, Escoffier, Careme, and other cullinary greats of Europe..

We didn't get our own until the 1900s with Julia Childs, James Beard.. and the like.

Phew...sorry....Sometimes it takes a little bit to get the thought out..

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"When I was Chef the joke was that if a customer was rude the FOH should tell me so that I could go into the dining room with a cigarette dangling from my mouth, a pure carbon steel sabatier in one hand and play the role of mad/ranting French chef. "

Sometimes..I, too, wish I could be that crazy chef... Uh...but I don't smoke... and uh. I'm not French... I have the carbon steel Sabatier...and, well, uh, we have an open kitchen. So people see me all the time! Hahaha

I have to admit the French accent goes along way in buffering customer complaints, Lack of English language skills help also. :rolleyes:

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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Interesting and disgusting, some of those web sites. I wonder if there are any similar ones in Europe, and what the contents would be like...

There is something that really nags me about this. I have been a restaurant critic for 24 years, working mostly in Spain, and so I have been eating out for far too long, far too often and in far too many places. Yet I very, very seldom see customer/waiter or customer/maître d' clashes of the sort that would, not justify, but at least explain the kind of retaliations these web sites so lavishly detail.

So my question is: Are these clashes really so frequent in NYC or in the US in general? Or is this just hyperbole, or perhaps a tool for disgruntled employees to blackmail restaurant owners? Because if these problems really are commonplace, then the adversary relationship between customer and restaurant is really something that sets the US restaurant scene apart from the European scene as I know it.

I was a hostess in Atlanta for three summers in college, and I waited tables in Dublin, Ireland after graduating, so I have experienced both sides of the pond. While we would often complain about our customers at the restaurant in Dublin, I never witnessed any out-and-out arguments. I am sure they must have had complaints, but I don't remember them being unpleasant about it. I did witness a decent amount of hostility between the kitchen and the servers, and we all hated the GM, but she was nothing but polite to customers, and they were nothing but polite to her.

In Atlanta, however, plenty of stiffing of tables, lots of drunk jerks (sure, lets go to the bar upstairs and get tanked before coming down to enjoy a nice meal!) who would abuse the hostess station as well as their servers, and a fair number of fussy guests who made it difficult to make their visit a pleasure. We also had just as many people who would comment on the food/service/ambiance and swear they would be back again and often, but those weren't the people the servers would talk about after hours. It was the jerks were remembered. Shame, no?

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So, here's a practical question:

I sometimes have to dine out with my father--in-law, who is the rudest person in the planet to all waitstaff (not like he's that pleasant otherwise, but that's a story for eCrappyInlaws.com!).

I cringe at his behavior and, having been a waitess myself, really feel for the staff.

Will "pre-tipping" help make the experience more bearable? Like, sneaking off to the restroom, grabbing the server and saying "hey, I know he's a major dickhead, here's $10 in advance to help you make it through the dinner"?

Needless to say, he undertips like crazy as well and I'm always "forgetting" something in the restaurant so I can go back and correct that mistake.

Perhaps this isn't the right place for this question, but while we are talking about customer/server relationships....

Humiliated daughter-in-law wants to know.

Stephanie Kay

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I think most of us have first hand experience with older relatives who simply don't get it. I don't know that I would pre-tip. I'd just take the wait person aside and explain the situation. I think a professional will understand and not hold your FIL behaviour against you or the rest of the diners at the table. It could even turn into a funny "inside" joke as your FIL being the butt.

There are all kinds in this world and part and parcel of any customer service job is to DEAL.

Edit: Deal to a certain extent. Where's my cigarette and sabatier again?

Edited by chefzadi (log)

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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So, here's a practical question:

I sometimes have to dine out with my father--in-law, who is the rudest person in the planet to all waitstaff (not like he's that pleasant otherwise, but that's a story for eCrappyInlaws.com!).

I cringe at his behavior and, having been a waitess myself, really feel for the staff.

Will "pre-tipping" help make the experience more bearable? Like, sneaking off to the restroom, grabbing the server and saying "hey, I know he's a major dickhead, here's $10 in advance to help you make it through the dinner"?

Needless to say, he undertips like crazy as well and I'm always "forgetting" something in the restaurant so I can go back and correct that mistake.

Perhaps this isn't the right place for this question, but while we are talking about customer/server relationships....

Humiliated daughter-in-law wants to know.

I feel for you. My late FIL was notorious for wanting to go to places that featured young, attractive female waitstaff and then hitting on our waitperson relentlessly and without shame. He never did anything truly egregious like groping, but the flirting started the moment we sat down and continued without cease until the end of the meal, and usually included gratuitous comments about the waitperson's physical attributes, request for her phone number, etc. At the time my FIL was late 50s and not what you'd call attractive, so even if the poor women weren't working I'm sure the advances would have been most unwelcome.

After this happened a few times, much to my and my husband's embarrassment (most times we could actually see the waitresses talking indignantly to their coworkers across the room about the lecherous old bastard), I did start pre-tipping waitresses. After we were seated I would excuse myself to the restroom, find the waitress, explain the situation and throw her some extra bucks. I don't know if it ever prevented our food from being spat in but it made me feel better. Just my $.02.

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