We have 50 seats here at my restaurant. On a busy Saturday, like today, we sell about 400 burgers. About a third of the orders are placed as to-go orders. So, you can do the math. Long story short, it's damn busy and it is not an easy task to try and ensure that everyone who wants to dine in gets a place to sit and eat their burger.
So, long ago, for this reason, we put up a sign politely asking people not to grab tables and occupy them until *after* they've placed their food order. We find that, regardless of how busy we are, if people follow this rule, we nearly always have enough room to fit everyone in.
And don't think that because Edzo's is just a counter-service, order-your-food-and-grab-it-yourself-when-we-call-your-name kind of place, that I'm not paying attention to what's going on in the dining room. I am. I monitor everyone. I watch tables in order to make sure that the young mom with three kids gets a place to sit down, or that older woman with a walker doesn't get squeezed out, or to see if the guy in a wheelchair needs some help getting his drink out of the soda machine. To me, this is all part of the idea of providing hospitality to my customers. Serving them great food isn't good enough, if they're not provided with a comfortable environment in which to enjoy eating it.
Usually, I don't have to enforce the "no table-grabbing" rule. Folks either just know about it, or they see the sign, which explains that this is the best way to ensure that everyone has a comfortable place to eat their food, and, since it (hopefully) makes sense, there's usually not a problem.
Today was an extremely busy day, though. And Saturdays are often the day that we get the most new customers (who probably don't know the rules and maybe don't see the sign), and when it's so busy, folks start to stress about finding a table, and sometimes they can get a bit grabby. So it's not uncommon for me to have to go out into the dining room, politely point to the sign, and ask people to not save tables for their group until after they've ordered. When I do this, folks are usually extremely accommodating and even apologetic (which is unnecessary, I assume ignorance rather than malice).
One woman today, however, was simply not able to accept the fact that she shouldn't have grabbed a six-top before her group even ordered. When I asked the person who was holding the table to get up so that two other groups (who already had their food in their hands) could sit down to eat, the woman rushed over and tried to tell me about the many reasons why it was absolutely essential that her group be permitted to make an exception to the rule.
So she did know about the rule. She just decided that she was entitled to disregard it. As soon as I hear that, that's strike one. It's not that she didn't know. She knew, but decided that she was entitled to blow off the rule.
I tried to politely explain to her that these other people were standing with their food in their hands, but nowhere to eat it, and that this is the exact reason why the rule exists; to prevent a situation in which a group of people THAT HAVEN'T EVEN ORDERED YET are occupying a table for 20 minutes while others with food in their hands have nowhere to sit and eat it.
This woman wasn't hearing any of it. She, again, had a mouthful of extenuating circumstances that made her apparently inconsiderate behavior completely necessary. And, besides, she claimed, they were *almost* up to the front of the line.
I didn't have time to continue arguing with her, and the folks with food either found a spot to eat or graciously agreed to take their order to go, so I just shook my head, walked away from Rude Woman, and allowed her to get her way. I did not try to hide my irritation with her. The rest of her group was clearly embarrassed by her behavior as well. But she got what she wanted.
So they ordered, and then they got their food and ate. Comfortably. Unlike some of the other paying customers who got shut out of a comfortable table to sit at because of Rude Woman's selfishness. Ok...not ideal, but, again, folks were very gracious and understanding and I think they kind of got a sense of what was going on.
Later, after the group was done eating, Rude Woman came up to the register to talk to me. Nevermind that she'd already gotten what she wanted. Nevermind that there was a line out the door and I was already juggling twelve tasks at once. Rude Woman wasn't entirely pleased with how the situation played out, so she was determined to put the screws to me.
First of all, she says, it was rude of me to "embarrass her" in front of her group and the other customers. Seriously??? *I* embarrassed you? Because you chose to break a rule and you chose to be inconsiderate to your fellow diners and I had the nerve to actually call you on it? I do not think so, Rude Woman.
"No, ma'am", I said, "if you were embarrassed, it was because of your rude, inconsiderate behavior. Not due to the fact that I pointed it out."
She didn't like that.
Then, she countered, I didn't charge her correctly for their food. "Why was it forty-eight dollars?" she asked.
"I don't know, ma'am", I said, "lemme see your receipt".
"I don't have a receipt, you didn't give it to me."
Ok, then. So I go into the computer, find the name, and reprint her itemized receipt. Handing it to her, I say (irritation again evident), "ok, here's your itemized receipt, so you can go through that item by item and maybe you can find something to complain about."
She didn't like that either. But, at this point, it was pretty clear that she was just pissed about being embarrassed, she believed that her embarrassment was my fault, and she wanted to make me pay for it. I was not about to allow that to happen. Personally, the way I feel about it is that if you're going to be a selfish inconsiderate jerk, then any feelings of embarrassment you might have about being a selfish inconsiderate jerk are your problem, not mine. I left plenty of room at the beginning for her to back out graciously and she chose not to do so.
So she stood there and pored over the receipt for a few minutes. I ignored her and continued working through customers, taking orders, calling tickets and sending food out, trying not to let my irritation with this situation color my interactions with other customers. Her family, clearly embarrassed and uncomfortable, implored her to give it up and just leave, already. Eventually, she did.
If that were the end of it, I wouldn't be hot right now. But it wasn't. So I am.
A few minutes later, the phone rings. The caller ID tells me its a cell phone. I answer, and a very familar-sounding woman's voice asks for a manager. I respond that I'm the manager, and how can I help her.
"No, she says, you're the guy who took my order. I want to speak to an owner or a manager."
I chuckle, because now I know just exactly what this call is.
"Yes, I'm the guy who took your order. I'm also the owner. AND the manager. How can I help you?"
She keeps it up. "So, wait...you're the owner?"
"Yup," I said.
"Is there a manager?"
"Just me," I said. "How can I help you? I have a huge line of people waiting to order right now, so I can't talk on the phone with you for very long".
"......so you're the only manager, then?"
I just hung up. I explained it twice. I explained that many other people are waiting while you're asking me questions that I've already answered multiple times. Either tell me how I can help you or the phone call is over.
Obviously, she wanted to go above my head to get me in trouble. In my situation, that obviously won't work, but it really pissed me off to think about the fact that this woman was doing this. She was the one who refused to follow our policy about table-grabbing. She got her way. But that wasn't enough for her. She felt embarrassed because I didn't allow her to get her way without pointing out that she was being rude and inconsiderate, so now she was going to try to get the poor counter guy in trouble. The poor counter guy, who was just trying to do his job and ensure that all the customers have a decent chance to have a burger comfortably, is going to, if Rude Woman has any say in it, get written up or maybe even fired for it.
Nice. Really fucking nice. You can't let it go, can you Rude Woman? You got what you wanted, it's all over now, and you're in your car with a stomach full of freshly-ground burgers, hand-cut fries and great shakes, but rather than just be content, you've got to keep pushing it.
So, yeah, I hung up on her. Right in mid-sentence. Click. Bubbye, now!
She called back, of course. Multiple times. But thanks to the wonders of caller id, I could see when it was her and not answer. I let the machine pick it up a few times (after six rings each time--one thing you can damn sure say about Rude Woman, she doesn't give up easily).
I don't have a pithy wrap-up paragraph for this blog post. I'm still hot, although less so now, I suppose, that I've vented this all out. There's no lesson here (except, possibly, don't be an asshole, but don't we all already know that lesson already).
This incident put a real damper on an otherwise great day. We were super-busy, we cranked out tons of great food, and nearly everyone seemed very pleased with their Edzo's experience. So it bums me out that I'm dwelling on this one interaction and letting it get me down. I have very high standards and want every single customer to leave my restaurant super-pleased. Rude Woman didn't, and I suppose that was my fault. I could've done what was necessary to placate her and she would've left super-pleased, but I made a conscious decision not to do so.
Was that the right call? The wrong one? I'm not entirely sure. But it's the one I went with at the moment, and I feel ok about it, even though the incident left a very bad taste in my mouth.