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Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

True 'Gund Rant: Foodservice Peeves

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

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"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

True 'Gund Rant: Foodservice Peeves

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There are few college kids fortunate enough to earn their degree without doing their time in either foodservice or retail. I did mine: For six years, I worked at Friendly's, which is a family restaurant chain on the East Coast that specializes in ice cream and cultivating for itself a shitty reputation. My store was good, though, during my tenure there. (I left when the downward spiral began; in other words, when Judy, the GM for many, many years, retired and was replaced with some young asshole who farted with more intelligence than he spoke.) I worked every position in the store at one time or another--including management--and so got an eyeful of what the general public has to offer indentured servants--I mean, foodservice workers--like me.

Let me say that, if you're into this kind of thing, there are websites that do it much better than me. The Stained Apron hasn't been updated in a while, but the stories are still posted for the world to peruse. Without a doubt, though, the source for foodservice horror stories from both sides of the counter is Bitter Waitress. Check these places out: Fellow food-slingers will laugh for hours and ignorant guests will think twice before acting like an asshole to the person who spends a considerable amount of alone-time with their meal.

Allow me to say, first, however, that I do not approve of putting foreign matter or body fluids into someone's consumables, no matter how much of an asshole they are. Yes, I have thought of it, but those bitter fantasies go in the same place as the ones where I throttle certain conservative bigots who can't understand that closed minds should come with closed mouths. I was the kitchen manager at my store for many years and responsible for training much of the staff in food safety issues: It is disgusting and unprofessional to knowingly contribute to such a health hazard. I always sated the temptation with the knowledge that--despite the fact that I wore the apron and was obligated to call them "sir" and "ma'am"--I remained ethically superior and the better person, no matter what they said or did to me.

Okay, proselytizing complete; launch "Rant" sequence.

Assumptions: The moment you put on an apron and step behind the lines of a foodservice establishment, no matter what you intelligence or your education, people think less of you.

This is one of the main reasons I gave up serving and returned to strictly production work and training. Despite the fact that my hourly rate was higher due to tips as a server, I couldn't stand the thought of someone's bias against me determining how much money I would make. I'd rather negotiate a pay rate based on my strengths as an employee and make that all the time, no matter what some dipshit insurance salesman, his unsatisfied stay-at-home wife, and 2.5 kids thought of me.

My husband and I waited tables on the same shifts, at the same time at Friendly's, yet he would always make much more than me. Did this mean that he was better? No, I was the harder worker, certainly. Furthermore, this wasn't isolated: Every waiter in the store, no matter how dumb and lazy, made better money that the waitresses. We once had a waiter who told tables that we were out of soup, salad, and ice cream because he was too lazy to make it: $5 to $10 on every table. Me, I'd bust my ass making special kids' sundaes and entree salads with fat free dressing for the same people and pick up two bucks for my efforts.

Being a young, blonde, attractive female, when I acted polite or sweet to a table, they assumed that I was a dumb, ditzy blonde. When my husband did the same thing, he was "charming." Plus, why would a woman with an engagement ring on her finger need to put herself through college? Obviously, Bobby had a greater need--as the male breadwinner--for a decent tip than I did.

We worked in a mall, and the worst were the older saleswomen from Hecht's. They would stare down their noses at you and order you around like some kind of slave. A work-friend of mine, Jamie, once had to wait on a table of them, and they had her near tears for their condescension and rudeness. As the unofficial store psychologist, I took her aside and told her to think it through: "You are only working here because you are putting yourself through college," I told her, "which is an admirable feat and more than any of them have done. They make six-fifty an hour to sell makeup. In five years, you will be in a ten-times better job than theirs, making an actual difference and making five times what they make. They look down on you because they know that they are too stupid to ever move beyond where they are now, and they are jealous of you. You are better than them, Jamie."

A note to guests: Never look down on your servers. Many of them are putting themselves through school to enter careers to which you might never aspire. College is expensive and not all of us have trust funds. Furthermore, given the economy, a person often makes more as a server than s/he would with a master's degree in his/her field of study. I graduated with a 3.95 GPA from one of the most challenging schools in Maryland and worked as a kitchen manager for another six months before getting the job I have now, where a degree is actually required. Let me tell you, every job I did in that restaurant--from washing dishes to waiting tables to management--was harder than the job I do now.

"Diet Coke" Is Not a State of Mind: I walk up to a table, my usual chipper and accommodating self, introduce myself, and ask how my guest is doing today. "Diet Coke," she replies. What the hell? When did Diet Coke become a state of mind?

Along with my first point, service staff at times become invisible. They are no more human than a computer that you punch you JC Penney's catalog order into. The very fact that people find that it is acceptable to respond to a polite inquiry as to their well-being with "Diet Coke" highlights this. Were they meeting with a client, who inquired, "How are you today?" do you think they would reply, "Tell me what shit you want to buy and have done with it?"

Advice to guests: Respond to server's inquiry. If I knew my guest was having a rough day, I'd do my best to pamper them. If they had a cold, I'd keep their coffee hot and bring their soup fast, for example. If I knew they were in a good mood, serving them was a pleasure and so I'd be more apt to be attentive and accommodating. Crabby people were always the ones I saved for last.

Furthermore, consider taking an additional ten seconds from your busy day to ask after them. It is refreshing to have someone care for your well-being for a change. It puts us all back on the level of human.

"I'm in a Hurry:" Because we were in a mall, we'd get people (usually women) who were shopping or on their way to a hair/nail appointment and decided to stop in for a snack. Often, these people felt the need to inform me that they were "in a hurry."

So what the hell does that mean? Who isn't in a hurry these days? I was never sure what they expected me to do. I served all of my guests as quickly as possible, paying careful attention to being equitable, however. It was to my advantage to do so: Someone who wanted to get in and out in a timely manner would leave a bigger tip and a faster table-turnover time meant more opportunities to make money. Did they think that I was going to delay them unnecessarily, just for the sheer pleasure of it? "I think it is to my benefit to wait ten minutes before delivering their iced tea." Not likely.

What is more likely is that they expected some kind of special treatment. As though, because they were "in a hurry," I was going to rush back to the kitchen and ask that their food be made first, before the other hundred people in the restaurant, many of whom were also "in a hurry" but didn't feel the need to be inconsiderate and state it outright.

We used to get a lot of mall employees on their breaks, who would come in during the lunch rush, sit down, and inform their server, "I'm in a hurry. I only have ten minutes left on my break." I used to relish telling these idiots that I suggested that they explore the many wonderful options offered at the mall's food court. When I was the kitchen manager, I liked more telling dumbass servers who honestly expected me to make that person's food before everyone else's--just because she was "in a hurry"--that the ticket would go in line with the rest and come out in the order in which it was sent. So I'm supposed to pay extra attention to this person--making others who are patient and considerate wait longer while I do so--just because s/he is "in a hurry?"

There are a few vestiges from my Friendly's days, words that have the power to make me cringe, that make my blood pressure rise and my teeth grind. "I'm in a hurry" is one of them.

A note to guests: There are always moments when we want to get out of a restaurant as quickly as possible, and getting on your server's good side can help you to do this. Instead of stating outright, "I'm in a hurry," and expecting that the world is going to stop just so that you can get out of the restaurant on time, try asking your server, when s/he arrives to your table: "I have an appointment in forty minutes. Will I be able to have lunch and still make it on time?" This gives the server the chance to appraise how busy the restaurant is and to consider the kitchen's ticket times, neither of which s/he can control. S/he might also suggest meals that are quicker to prepare or steer you away from big burgers or steaks that take a while to cook. At the worst, s/he will tell you that the restaurant is running slowly and s/he can't promise anything, sending you to the drive-through or the food court, but able to make your appointment on time. You'd be surprised how much help your server can be if you're polite and do live with the expectation that s/he exists for the sole purpose of stopping the Earth's rotation when it is convenient for you.

"Give me...:" Recently, McDonald's launched a radio spot for their entree salads that featured some dumb-voiced woman saying, "Arugala. It's as much fun to say as it is to eat, in bite-sized pieces...." Besides my usual aversion to stupid-as-hell McDonald's commercials (why they have decided to "go ghetto" is beyond me, but I prefer to revamp their motto as "I'm Shovin' It," personally), this one set me off so badly that I would have to turn it off when it came on.

It featured the aforementioned dumb-voiced woman saying, "The best way I like to make it is like this: (Sound of car pulling up to drive-through window; chipper McDonald's worker says, 'Welcome to McDonald's. May I take your order?') Give me...."

I'm not even sure what came after that, it used to bug me so badly that I would have loud conniptions in my car. How rude is it to say, "Give me" to your server when you're ordering? First of all, no one is "giving" you anything. You are buying food from a company and paying your server--through a minimum 15% tip--for his/her conscientious service. Secondly, didn't your mommy ever tell you to say "please?" Is "May I please have the turkey melt?" so hard to say? Are you in such a hurry that you can't choke out, "I would like the tuna on wheat, please?"

A note to guests: "Please" and "thank you" go a long way. Again, you are treating your server as a human being on equal ground, not a slave expected to serve your whims no matter what your manner of speaking. If your server slapped down your plate and said, "Eat your cheeseburger and get out," instead of saying, "Here's your cheeseburger sir/ma'am. May I bring you anything else right now?" how would you feel?

"Are You Open?": Because we worked in a mall, we had a gate that we could lower whenever the restaurant was closed in lieu of actually having a door to lock. It had a wide grate that anyone could see through. In the mornings, the opening manager would raise the gate just high enough for the first staff to scoot under, usually about three feet. The mall, like many malls, sponsored a mall walker's program, and so there were always old people hoofing around the mall while we were setting up for the day, even though all the stores were closed.

Without fail, on a regular basis, some idiot would stop one of the openers and ask, "Are you open?" despite the fact that there was a gate lowered in their face.

My two favorite reactions came from my mom, who worked as a server trainer for many years for Friendly's. She used to tell people that, yes, we were open, but there was a height requirement, and if you couldn't make it under the gate without ducking, you couldn't come in. The best, however, involved the ultimate in stupid people: Those who would not only inquire but duck under the gate and wait as though in line or even seat themselves at a table. It was strictly against company policy to have non-employees in the restaurant while the store was closed--liability issues--so we couldn't even allow them to wait in a booth until we were ready to open. (Not like we wanted to. The times when the store was closed were welcome moments for all of us, to get our work done and associate without people breathing down our necks.) Anyway, in this instance, an old lady and her even older mother ducked under the gate and proceeded to seat themselves. My mom informed them that the store was closed and they were not allowed inside during this time. The old woman then said, "Well, my mother can't crawl under that gate," and my mom told her, "She sure managed to crawl under it to get in here, didn't she?" and proceeded to watch the two old ladies crawl on hands-and-knees while she held the keys that could have raised the gates.

Another instance involved my dad, who was a part-time night manager. (We literally called it the family business: Nearly everyone who worked there had a relative who worked there in the past or the present.) On this night, the power went out at the mall, and the mall closed early. Lo, the power came back on shortly after, but we'd already gotten permission to close and sure as hell weren't giving up a free night off. However, some stores reopened, so the mall unlocked the doors and people straggled back in. ("Going to the mall" in Harford County is like "going to church" in a midwest Baptist community.) Now, my dad had the gate completely closed and was standing up front, closing the registers while we finished cleaning up for the night, when some dumbass guy walked by and asked, "Are you guys open?" Sure, if you can squeeze through the cracks in the gate.

A note to guests: Restaurants generally want to attract customers by making it easy to enter their establishments and spend your money. If you feel like you need military training to navigate the barriers at the entrance or if you need a locksmith's kit to get in, chances are that they are not open. A better bet would be to look for posted hours or ask a staff member when they open or close.

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