I was in University for 6 years, working on two degrees and doing my damnest to delay entry into the “real world”. During that time, I served people just like you food and drink. Prior to that, I even worked at McDonald’s all throughout highschool. So I’ve put in my time – nearly a decade – when it comes to food service.
And, in fact, I am a firm believer that everyone should have some food service time on their resumes. The experience provides some life lessons about humanity that you can’t really get anywhere else.
Previously, I’ve brought you other itemized (non-dog-related) musings on procreation, Facebook, renters, and weddings, so, in honour of those days that ended many years ago now, I present you with another list:
35 Kinds of Restaurant Patrons
The Unable to Find a Sitters: The generally nice couple who usually come in alone, but not tonight. They stick their kids at a nearby table, give you explicit instructions on what they are and are not allowed to eat, and proceed to ignore their offspring and any accompanying noise/mess for the duration of the meal. Usually come with empty promises about discipline and control.
The Verbal Tipper: Tells you – and maybe even your boss – how amazing the food and service was and how they had such a great time. Leaves less than 10%.
The Old-Timey Tipper: Is convinced that 5-10% is still reflective of good service, unaware that market inflation and minimum wage have not increased at the same rate over the last 40 years, or that many servers also have to tip out bartenders, hostesses, and kitchen staff.
The Unexpected Surprise: Curmudgeonly and curt, but not overly unpleasant. Somehow leaves >18% tip; the best kind of customer.
The Personal Trainers: The group of six or more – any combination of men and women – who can’t get their poop in a group long enough to make collective requests. For example: one asks for a glass of water. You canvass the group to see if anyone else needs anything. No reply. You come back moments later with the water, and just before you’re out of earshot, another request is made. These repeated trips continue throughout the duration of their meal. Your pedometer thanks you, and you are thankful for mandatory group tip amounts.
The Hot Water with Lemon: Seriously? All the effort – and dishes – for something free that requires constant topping up? And the water isn’t hot enough, requiring an apologetic trip to the Forbidden Kitchen Area to use the microwave? Oh, and you’ll split a scone? Wonderful. This will make a huge dent in my accumulating $20,000+ student loan debt.
The Former Servers: The double-edged sword: they are sympathetic to your plight and handsomely reward good service; however they will punish poor service and poor excuses swiftly. They know just how taxing the job is, but also just how easy it is to get it right. They have been known to literally count your tables to estimate competence when quality of service appears to slip.
The 2005 movie Waiting is a crass – yet accurate – look into the food service biz.
The Girls’ Night Out: They will probably socialize for 90 minutes before even looking at the menu, but as long as you keep everyone hydrated and don’t screw anything up, it’ll pay off.
The Guys’ Night Out: Just as much maintenance as the girls’ night out, but don’t tell them that. As long as you keep smiling, it’ll pay off.
The Fake Foodie: Easy to spot by the way they drown their venison in ketchup or order their tuna steak well done. If you help them keep up the charade, it could pay off.
The Fake Wino: Sniffs the cork and refuses to order anything with a screw top. Add as much pomp to the wine-serving ritual as your stomach can stand, and ask them later how they felt about the “notes of leather” for your own entertainment.
Honesty is refreshing.
The Third Degree: Eats out for the social interaction, questioning you on your day, your other job/school studies/kids/significant other/travel plans/you name it, oblivious to the fact that you probably have other tables to get to. Not necessarily a lone diner.
The Over-Sharer: The other side of the coin of the Third Degree, instead telling you about their lives in intimate detail as you smile, nod, and slowly try to back away. Also oblivious to your other tables and the fact that their confession hour is detrimental to the service you can provide other customers.
The Pop Quiz: Wants to know everything about the menu, and wants to hear it from your lips, not read it on the page. “This says gluten free – is it really? What are my choices with the burger? If I ask for medium-rare, is it really going to be medium-rare? What kind of blend is the house red? Is arugula a perennial plant? How many capers on the smoked salmon – be specific.” Probably couldn’t handle this kind of interrogation about their own job, but that doesn’t matter since you don’t know where they work.
It says “free range” right there.
The This Is Not a Buffet: Basically wants the kitchen to revolt violently against you: “I want the burger, but instead of fries or a salad, I want fettuccini on the side, and you should be able to do that since I see fettuccini elsewhere on the menu. And can you make the paella with quinoa instead? And substitute chicken for the chorizo? I don’t see a kids’ menu here, but we’d like chicken fingers and a grilled cheese sandwich – no crust.”
The Doesn’t Understand There’s a Division of Labour: Holds you personally responsible for any error or imperfection with the food and tips (or doesn’t) accordingly.
The First Date: Uncomfortable with each other and also with you. Do them a favour and make yourself the common joke by waiting until they take a bite to go and ask them how the food is. Ensure you put the bill fold in the EXACT centre (to the millimeter!) between the couple at the end of the night – assumptions are no one’s friend.
The Last Date: Awkward City, Population: All Three of You. Efficiency is your friend and theirs – get them out of there ASAP.
The 2,000th Date: They’ll come at the same time, sit at the same table, order the same thing, and share a newspaper and not talk the entire time. Really, it’s adorable and we should all be so lucky. Don’t interrupt their peace by trying to chit-chat.
The Forgetful: “I thought I ordered another drink? I know I didn’t order fries instead of salad. Oh, didn’t we say separate cheques?” Arguing is futile – just get it done.
The Great Expectations: The. Worst. Ignorant to the fact that servers are people, too, that no one is a mind reader, doesn’t understand the distinction between servER and servANT, refers to your manager as a maître d’, and is an unapologetic douche about knowing you’re there to wait on him/her. Livid that a place they may choose to go doesn’t have high chairs, their favourite chardonnay, or some disgusting poutine-nacho hybrid they had at a pub once in another city. Unaware that most people in Canada don’t wait tables as a life-long career, and thus the commitment to the job can only be so great and only so much can be put up with. Can be passive-aggressive or downright rude, and has been known to throw a very public temper tantrum about something trivial like the free bar snacks. It is supremely satisfying seeing these people post-serving in a professional context, and regaling colleagues with survivor stories.
The Misery Loves Company: Not their usual demeanour, but had (or having) a rough day and lucky you get to be the person they take it out on, because no one ever taught them not to mess with people who touch their food. Irrational, emotional, and cannot be cheered up, so just keep your head down and do your job. If a regular, may fly off the handle simply because you ask them what they want with their beef dip, rather than knowing they always get seasoned fries with the beef dip, you insufferable moron. Silver lining: they may over-tip at the end as compensation for the emotional abuse.
The Zero Self-Awareness: Blows their nose, flosses their teeth, changes their socks, and clips their toenails at the table (true story). Basically a walking health code violation, unaware that this (a) isn’t a washroom, or (b) isn’t their own dining room where maybe that revolting behaviour is tolerated. Disgusting to you and the other customers, and is likely oblivious to your passive-aggressive comments.
The Not Actually an Employee: Will roam around the room at will and without boundaries, searching serving cupboards for extra sugar, napkins or cutlery, despite you having just asked if they needed anything. They’ll rearrange tables, swap out chairs, adjust the blinds, wrestle patio umbrellas, and try to manoeuvre and ignite propane heaters themselves. Thinking they’re being helpful rather than a public nuisance, they’ve even been known to bring their own dirty dishes back to the dish pit, entering a Narnia no customer should ever see.
The Tree-Hater: Uses literally dozens of napkins throughout a meal, often dismantles them to single-ply form, then crumples them up and leaves them strewn about the table/booth/floor/planter.
The Finger-Snapper: GO TO HELL.
The Thief: If you need that cutlery so bad, just take it. But you need to work on being more stealthy about it.
The Jokester: Thinks he’s hilarious, but he isn’t and anything remotely funny is easily recognizable as a Seinfeld or Louis CK bit. Work on your fake laugh, though, or they’ll explain the punchlines to you, thinking the problem is with you, not them.
The Grab-Ass: Often a Jokester who’s had too much to drink or a lonely Over-Sharer who mistakes friendly service for something more. Can be handled with as much force as necessary.
The Flirt: Ultimately harmless and they probably can’t help it; their flirtatious nature says more about them than about you, but mind some specific boundaries when they’re with their significant others – reciprocating is still fine, but keep your hands to yourself.
The Domestic: If any group or couple asks you to settle a debate between them, even if it appears lighthearted, RUN! There is nothing to be gained by your participation.
The Unsupervised Teenagers: Nightmares despite even the best parents’ attempts to civilize. Keep service roughly proportionate to their behaviour and wait patiently for the day they’re wearing your apron.
The Indecisive: You will come by three times to ask them what they want and they will have no idea, which isn’t usually a problem until you give them too much time on the fourth go and they’re upset you’ve neglected them and their guests are upset that the whole ordeal has taken even longer.
The Shock Factor: Forgets their glass eye and their eye patch and expects you not to stare into the void. Good luck. Also comes in the form of super baggy athletic shorts, no underpants, and feet up on the table. (Also true stories.)
Friends got it exactly right in 1997 with Phoebe’s boyfriend: “Oh God! Here we go again. Why does this keep happening to me? Is it something I’m putting out there? Is this my fault? Or am I just nuts?”
The Genuinely Nice People: Polite, adequate tippers, and a pleasure to serve, but ultimately unremarkable and forgettable.
Of course, these categories are not mutually exclusive – patrons can be multiple types at once, and I know I’ve been more than one when on the other side of the serving tray.
Can you think of any I forgot?