To Serve and Protect You From Yourself

IMG_9348On this — the eve of The Great Grinding Halt, otherwise called mud season — I feel it appropriate to spit out another rant. We restaurant folk have been caught in the tumble cycle of spring break for the last month. First they ambled in from Texas, then drove in from Kansas and the greater Midwest, then bounded up from Denver and other Colorado locales (and throughout March, everywhere else as well). Now, the resorts are closing, dropping off like flies into a pile of slush. Soon the whole place will grind to an exhausted stop, with a sound like a sigh and the last turn of a groomer’s track. Good thing since the locals are fed up and more crusty than a horde of overcooked pot pies.

The crust envelops us restaurant types, too; we’ve been at each other’s throats since March 1. Teamwork? Yeah right. Positivity? Forget about it. When the last of the rental shops lock up and the slopes gradually turn from managed slush to just slush and then mud, we will rapidly retreat into our homes, to our bicycles (maybe) and out of the county. And then, when the gears of tourism start churning again, we will reconvene refreshed and broke, ready for another round of summertime mayhem.

But geez folks, we have some repairs to make. We will have to Spray ‘n Wash some of your ridiculous antics from our bruised cerebrums. Even without eight plus years of customer service experience, I still don’t believe I would behave like a 6 foot toddler whose toy just got crushed by a snowmobile. These antics force me to ask many questions, including: Why would you ever…

1. Not at least take a cursory glance at our menu before calling in a to go order?

It went exactly like this:

Me: Thanks for calling. This is Adam (I routinely use other employee’s names, primarily male, because no one listens anyway). How may I help you?

Him: Yes, hello Adam (didn’t listen at all), do you serve breakfast?

Me: Do you mean in general?

Him: No, right now.

Me: We stop serving breakfast at 11 on weekdays, noon on weekends.

Him: Well… that’s out. What else have you got?

Me: We have a pretty extensive menu… burgers, sandwiches, BBQ, salads, trout, steak… Do you have internet access? You could check out our menu online (what a concept).

Him: Oh, I just found your number at the hotel here. Did you say trout?

Me: (sigh) Yes, we have trout. We have a plate with wilted spinach, wild rice and another with a trout salad and a corncake —

Him: (interrupting) Trout and a corncake. Yeah, that sounds good.

Me: Did you want to place an order?

Him: Yeah (pause, like duh). I’ll have the trout and corncake. Two of those.

Me: The trout spinach salad with the corncake?

Him: It’s a salad? I just want trout and corncakes.

Me: We have a plate of trout with wilted spinach and wild rice. And I can get you a side of a corncake, times two. Is that what you want?

Him: Yeah. Sounds good. You guys are in Dillon, right?

Just a note, this person never retrieved and paid for his trout plates and corncakes. I have reason to believe by the incredible wherewithal of the caller that he either: a) Got lost in Dillon (which is nearly impossible); b) Fell in the lake; or c) Forgot he ordered any food at all and woke up at midnight starving and wondering if there was something he forgot to do? Therefore, I had cold trout and cornbread for dinner, which was great.

2. Make the server decide who pays the bill? I completely understand that occasionally, you want to treat the persona grata joining you for a meal — maybe an old friend or your kids. Totally cool. Just don’t be a jackwagon about it. I mean, when you get to the age of 60 or so (the target customer base for putting the server in the middle of the payment debacle), haven’t you been going to restaurants and paying for your food for at least 40 years?

First of all, Ma and Pa Johnson come in and sit down. Before you have time to say, “Hi folks, my name is –” Ma or has put her hand down forcibly on the table and said, “I get the bill.” And I’m thinking, how about I get you a sedative or at least an iced tea before we start talking about your tab? There’s nothing on your tab, presently.

“All right,” I say, by way of a calming mechanism. “My name is Sylva, I’ll be your waitress. Can I get you an iced tea?”

So you do and then Ma and Pa Whittaker come in. On his way to the toilet, Pa Whittaker steps into the server area, without so much as a hello (effectively blocking your and all other servers way in or out) and says, “Now, I get the bill.” And he stands there looking at you pointedly until you squeak, “Okay,” or continue to play the staring game until he forgets what he was asking you for.

Now the server is in an awkward position, having to decide who pays  — like a gymnast in splits with one foot resting on each of two high horses. Move the wrong high horse, and the gymnast is in a real pickle. A server’s wage — newsflash — is tips. Piss off the person with the credit card and the pen and the tip declines symbiotically. One would expect the party who desired to and does pay for the meal would, sated, tip generously; but in my experience, whenever there is a payment power play, nobody tips well.

So Pa Whittaker decides to take things into his own hands, pressing his credit card literally into your hand the next time he heads for the WC (I don’t need to know why). Problem is, Ma Johnson already forcibly gave you her credit card last time Pa Whittaker was in the shitter and you went to refill her iced tea.

I don’t have time for credit card Canasta, people. Therefore, in order to resolve this awkward and annoying display, I resort to a game we servers call Credit Card Roulette. Luckily, Pa Whittaker had a hat, which I requested use of. I put both cards in the black felt hat, shook them around like Harry Houdini’s assistant, reached my hand theatrically in as if it were full of poisonous vipers, pulled out a credit card with the (forced) glee of a child on Christmas morning and read off the name “Johnson” like a court jester announcing the arrival of the Queen of Scotland.

“Congratulations ma’am, you’ve won,” I say to the beaming Johnsons as the Whittakers scowl over their empty water glasses. Game over.

3. Tell servers how you think the food you chose should be cooked?

“Now, as an experience baker, I want to tell you that this white chocolate ganache does absolutely nothing for this chocolate cake,” says a middle-aged female customer in mid-March. She raps the empty glass plate on the words “absolutely” and “nothing.” “You should really do something different with this. I just thought you should know.” Her husband nods stoically. “She really is a great baker,” he says.

First of all, the cake in question couldn’t have offended your taste buds so horrendously, since your plate is clean and evidently even scraped enthusiastically once or twice. If this is an attempt at getting your money back for something you apparently didn’t adore yet still finished, erase that from your conniving mind. Second, I am a server, not a cook (or a baker). Third, the cooks probably don’t care what you think since the cake is incredibly popular. Fourth, why come to a restaurant if you want things created in your culinary likeness? The restaurant experience aims to offer something that deviates from your own stove top adventures (ignoring that the majority of Summit restaurants offer variations on the same fare: mussels, soup, trout, BBQ, burgers, salad, steak, quesadillas, etc).

For some reason, breakfast garners many such experiences… like the fellow last week who wanted his eggs cooked “between over medium and over hard.” I tried to expound that we don’t really have a button for an “over medium plus” egg, so it would likely be lost in translation. Although we do have buttons for: over easy, over medium, over hard, sunny up, basted, poached easy, poached medium, poached hard, scrambled, scrambled soft, scrambled hard. Are those not enough choices??? Pick one, dude.

“What’s the problem?” He says. “I can cook them that way at home.”

Then cook them that way at home.

To my chagrin, it is now time to put the computer to bed and set out bravely along the restaurant frontier once again. As I strike out, I send up positive supplications to the Restaurant Gods on High that people will at least do their research, figure out how to pay like adults and eat things as they would like to be eaten. If you’re in a restaurant tonight, do us all a favor and take my tips — you’ve earned them.

2 Replies to “To Serve and Protect You From Yourself”

  1. I think we both need a break–Montreal is beckoning. . . . Only a month to go!

  2. Sylva – I just posted on your blog and wasn’t sure what was faster. friends are at storm mountain, stuck there, I need to talk to a forest ranger about the area ….and, who did I think of…the 2 of you! the true mountain people that you are! we think there is a hunting trail that we can get on to take us to storm mtn. to bring the supplies. we can rent a hummer to do it. anyway – does Tyler know someone I can talk to or can he talk to me about this? 720 255 3220 is my mobile. email me or call me

    hugs to you both!!!

    – S

    Date: Sun, 7 Apr 2013 22:11:17 +0000 To:

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