In a way, restaurants are like voluminous cities, where different groups of people coexist — peacefully or adversely. In cities there punks, businessmen, rich, poor, Irish, Somalian, Hispanic, American, Chinese. In restaurants, the lines blur and meld into different groups of old, young, demanding and easy-going, among others. It is the latter groupings that I find most delectable. In restaurants, as in airports and on airplanes and crowded buses, the best and the worst of people oozes out like spicy BBQ sauce from a spilled bottle.
As on a restaurant menu, there are so many fascinating entrees, but I have chosen just a few. In order to dissect and explain more poetically, I will employ a helper. In the restaurant where I work, we serve the ubiquitous Denver omelet: a tempting blend of peppers, onions, ham & cheese, served with home fries and a choice of bread product. The first group of individuals I’d like to focus on would order this entree, eat it and love it.This group — the Happy Customers — would make no changes, roll with the punches, tip well, be polite and fun and generally pleased. Happy Customers are more rare and treasured than a powder day (I’m talking 8+ inches here, people) in the 2011-2012 winter season. This group almost nearly doesn’t exist — like those double digit powder days of yore.
Another variety of customer would not be able to eat the Denver omelet at all. Why? Cheese gives them hives — peppers, too! Gluten is the devil and they can’t have any salt or anything spicy — which rules out pepper, and also the home fries which are seasoned in the stuff. And eggs? Well, they’d prefer egg whites. We don’t offer egg whites, so they would reluctantly agree to Egg Beaters — but scrambled very, very soft. Egg Beaters pour from a container that looks suspiciously like one of those flimsy, square 2% milks from middle school. So softly scrambled Egg Beaters? We may as well just pour liquid egg from that carton straight into your hyper-allergic throat. These people are the I-Can’t-Haves and it’s their (incredibly picky) way or the (often tempting) highway.
And in the summertime, the I-Can’t-Haves often arrive on two wheels. Great, gleaming packs of them roll up and strut to tables where they haughtily demand alcoholic drinks and food, lounging proudly in their matching spandex kits. It’s a phenomenon I — as a lover of all things bike — cannot understand. Did they mistakenly pump up their egos instead of their bike tires in their mad rush to get out the door, ride 10 miles around half the lake and harass waitresses during the lunch rush?
Whilst on the topic of high maintenance, another throng comes to mind: Super High Maintenance Families with Children (henceforth SHMFWC). SHMFWCs — especially of the foreign persuasion — are like a packed bowl of hungry goldfish. At first, no one wants a Denver omelet, so they argue about what else to have. Within a few seconds of looking at their menus, all the children — like goldfish — have forgotten what they are doing in a restaurant. Crayons, home fries (obtained from a mysterious source), ice cubes and small, carefully crumpled pieces of paper are flying into the air and onto the floor like confetti on New Year’s Eve. The adults are circling the table confusedly, trying to talk sense into the little ruffians filling the air with debris. At this point, they revert back to 11 Denver omelets, all with extra ham, three with dry toast and 27 extra plates.
Many years later, when the food has been decided on and suddenly arrives, it is descended upon like — well, picture a multitude of goldfish swarming frantically upwards for that flaky, weird smelling fish food. Tails hit faces, mouths open and close apace, like shutters in a gale. Mothers and fathers then flag down not only their waitress but any other staff in the vicinity, asking for napkins, straws, refills on Sprite, lemons, more jelly, extra plates, coffee, syrup, butter, etc. When the SHMFWC departs, the scene is positively post-apocalyptic. Empty shells of jelly and creamer and hollowed carcasses of discarded biscuits lie dejectedly among their fellow brethren, knocked over water glasses and spilled syrup. The battleground extends all the way to the floor, where the casualties pile up in terms of ground up pancake, beheaded crayons and tortured fruit.
Fourth up, a group that — like ski season and it’s inevitable influx of tourists — I simultaneously dread and appreciate: Elderly Patrons. First off, they are from another era and — some of them — quite ancient. I don’t hold that against them immediately. However, most of the time, they fall into one of two categories: the first splits the Denver omelet with dry wheat toast; they gruffly demand you do the splitting, and need extra napkins and a refill on coffee every three seconds. Moreover, their omelet was too cold and their potatoes too hot — but they wiped their plates clean and complained afterward. And a tip? Unless you count their views on how a true omelet should be presented, forget about it.
The second also splits the Denver omelet with dry wheat toast but they politely request it split (you’re happy to do it yourself). They self-abashedly admit to their elderly quirks like the necessity of too many napkins and a really hot omelet. And they don’t tip either, but it’s fine because they’re sweeter than a barrel of honey.
Another group comes with all the joy and none of the pain: Young Drinkers. Eyes hanging heavy from copious drinking and little sleep the night before, they laugh as they order Pabst Blue Ribbon, Mimosas and spicy Bloody Marys at 9:12 a.m. After a couple rounds, one of them orders a Denver omelet, extra cheese, gravy, side of bacon — and the rest gamely follow suit. Their hungover giggles and expletives paint the room like an audible canvas, but they are pure entertainment in the form of greasy hair and baggy clothes in a ROYGBIV’s spectrum of color. Regardless of how or when their food arrives on the table, they’re hungry, happy and hilarious. And Young Drinkers — many of whom are local and work in service themselves — almost always leave a generous, wadded wad of cash among the rubble formerly known as a table.
Another diamond in the rough — the Single Dude. He arrives, sips his coffee patiently while you clean up the SHMFWC bomb at table 9 and then orders a Denver omelet with a biscuit and a side of gravy. He’ll take more coffee but he isn’t annoyed when you sort of forget — after all, he’s a Single Dude and you’re one of three girls in Summit County. After wolfing down his food, he leaves you a big smile and a healthy tip. And he probably cleaned up after himself, thinking you’d be impressed.
At any rate, these are just a few of the morsels on a server’s plate each day. Between all of them, it’s a truly diverse smorgasbord. And it makes you think doesn’t it? If you’re not a Single Dude, Young Drinker, sweet Elderly Patron or Happy Customer, just remember: a) karma’s a real bugger and b) your server has exclusive access to all your food and beverages, which inevitably end up in your mouth. Think about it.