Find the Time to Be Nice: a Restaurateur’s Rant
Readers of this blog might reasonably conclude that I am a cantankerous, misanthropic insert euphemism. But it’s only an act, it’s just my schtick. I’m otherwise a normal, pleasant, upbeat person. I’m nice to animals. I vote conscientiously. I shovel and salt my sidewalk when it snows. I donate to charities. I sign petitions regarding climate change, and the rights of women and girls. I practise yogic breathing when the elderly lady in front of me at the grocery checkout pays her bill with nickels and dimes. I return library books on time. I courtesy flush. I signal when changing lanes in traffic. I put on makeup so I don’t scare little children. I cry watching Tim Horton’s commercials (Sidney Crosby you SLAY me). And I never turn down the opportunity to participate in a friend’s Facebook quiz (FYI, my alternate universe celebrity boyfriend is Ryan Reynolds!). But I think my favourite Facebook quiz of all time is the word cloud generator. To my surprise and delight, my most commonly used words on Facebook are “ha ha” and “thanks”, followed closely by “happy”, “yup”, “holiday” and “cat”. Seems that, at least in my social and social media life, I am cheerful, grateful, agreeable, nostalgic and a feline fancier.
It got me to thinking about what a word cloud generator might produce from my working life. As a restaurateur, these are the words that I say most frequently, each and every day, and certainly more often than anyone else of my acquaintance I am quite sure: “hello”, “welcome”, “good”, “nice”, “happy”, “may”, “please”, “thanks”, “yes”, “certainly”, “pardon”, “excuse”, “enjoy”, “pleasure”, “lovely”, “absolutely” and “goodbye”. Of course, it is my job to be accommodating and friendly but, and this I assure you, I am compensated in reverse proportion to my geniality. When I was a lawyer I liberally used words like “no”, “not”, “dangerous”, “criminal”, “unlawful”, “sue”, “charge”, “unreasonable”, “law”, “rule”, “insupportable”, “tax”, “tariff”, “money”, “fee”, “bad”, “lose”, “wrong”, “mistake”, “error”, and so on. While I was certainly more generously compensated then, I was also a lot grumpier. Because my job now requires a high degree of energetic positivity, I am that much more disappointed and depressed when I encounter rudeness or insensitivity in a customer. And I am reminded that one cannot be paid enough to be regarded as inconsequential or to be treated like dirt.
Dining out is pure theatre. Depending upon your choice of restaurant, your dinner experience may be an opera with a burly and bellowing chef, coquettish barmaids, elaborate mise en scène, rigorous choreography and an unsung manager directing traffic. Or perhaps like a three ring circus with clowns, belching fire, exotic animals, sleight of hand and dangerous feats of derring do. Sometimes it’s like a comedy club with ad lib, audience participation, raunch, hecklers and rickety sticky tables. Or even like a dim, hushed and reverential midnight mass with thuribles wafting scents of Arctic arboreal breezes and organic, lumberjack sweat-infused small batch bourbon while you gnaw on your palate-cleansing “intermezzo” stick of aboriginally-foraged old-growth pine.
When I unlock the restaurant doors at 5 p.m. each night, I think to myself “it’s showtime”. And I have my costume, my face paint, my well-rehearsed routines and my memorized lines. Depending upon your mood (and mine), I will do my shmoozy stand up act, or trot out the dog and pony show. Sometimes I am expected to jump through hoops or bend over backwards, metaphorically speaking. I can be unctuous, obsequious, flirtatious, and any number of other five dollar words as the situation or the patron requires. The point is, everyone, including the customer, has a part to play. For the most part, a customer’s role in the dining spectacle is simply to pay attention. To eat, of course, but also to watch, listen and experience. Don’t answer your phone during the show, don’t trip the dancers, don’t fondle the divas, don’t flip off the impresario, and don’t ignore my aria, thank you very much.
The other day I approached a party of four diners shortly after they had arrived. My usual spiel is to welcome our guests, inform them of any house specials and offer a cocktail. Sometimes, the diners are talking amongst themselves in which case I preface my spiel by apologizing for my interruption. It usually goes something like this: “Good evening everyone, thank you for joining us. I apologize for the interruption. May I tell you about our specials tonight? Can I offer anyone a drink before dinner?” Could I wait for a lull in their conversation instead of barging on in? Sure I could, but the show goes on at 8 p.m. and it opens with my solo so listen up. With this particular group I got about four words into my monologue before one of the diners, after appraising me in a brief but harsh once over, growled “CAN YOU GIVE US FIVE MINUTES!?” I felt my shoulders stiffen and my eyes smart, as if I had been slapped in the face. “Of course”, I said, and then I turned and walked away. “You can rot in hell for eternity for all I care”, is what I thought to myself.
I looked at the clock. 7:34. I will wait exactly five minutes, no more no less. Even if he spontaneously combusts at the three minute mark I will pointedly ignore him. I told the server not to approach the table. “I’ll handle it”, I said and went about my routine of seating customers, bringing menus, clearing tables, pouring water. I could see out of the corner of my eye that rude guy was trying to flag me down. As I passed him I said, “just one more minute please and then I’ll be right with you”. Rude guy’s guest laughed and said “oooh, buuurrrn”. And then I was at the table, at 7:39 on the dot, all smiles and stephin fetchit servility. An hour or so later, when it was time for dessert, rude guy’s friend said to me “CAN YOU GIVE US FIVE MINUTES!?”, and then he smiled at me and winked. “I’m just giving my friend a hard time”, he said. It was all I could do not to laugh out loud and shake this guy’s hand. “Nicely played my good man”, I thought.
Was my behaviour stupid, reckless and immature? Yup. But rude guy was just so, well, rude, and so self-involved, that he probably didn’t even notice and almost certainly didn’t get my point. But his friend did, and that entertained the both of us. My job can be so demoralizing sometimes and, like my Facebook word cloud indicated, I just want to be cheerful. Well, sometimes a stupid, reckless and immature smart ass little stunt can cheer me right the fuck up.