On the House is Eater's column that goes behind the scenes of the restaurant business, written by the owners, operators, chefs and others in the hospitality industry who make our favorite establishments tick. Today, Kate Lacroix of d i s h publicity replies to an article on service. Rachel Cooke claims in the Observer that one should never trust someone who is rude to a waiter. Lacroix, who has extensive personal experience in the service industry, begs to differ.
"Never trust anyone who is rude to a waiter," says Rachel Cooke in her plea for kindness to wait staff no matter what. The problem with that statement is that trust has nothing to do with the customer-waitstaff equation. There are many elements involved in that interaction but judging people and being able to trust them or not based on this is not appropriate. Never trust a man who yells at his mother, but don't be too quick to judge a person who isn't afraid a hand a server their ass.
It's not that I don't think there are some rude customers out there, there are plenty and I have been on the receiving end of many of them. But I never see articles like "Ten Things Servers Can Do to Ensure Guests Are Never Rude." As Mike Myers once said in View From the Top, You're putting the em-PHA-sis on the wrong syl-LA-ble. If servers, for example, spent less time thinking about rude guests more time thing about how to do their job, these rants would evaporate faster than those abandoned water splatters on the bathroom sink.
Famed restaurateur Danny Meyer describes hospitality as "deriving pleasure from delivering pleasure." When I sit at the table and you wait on me, I want a smile on your face, a pen in your hand, and I want you to do everything in your power to please me.
Does it sound like a Game of Thrones rant from the petulant Joffrey? Thou shalt think again.
In her article, Cooke describes almost tripping over herself to properly ask for a glass of water, worried that she might be taxing the overly-beseiged server. Her conscientiousness is admirable, but she is likely failing to understand the probable mechanics at play.
Suppose you observe a man ask rather curtly for a glass of water. "Um, can I get some water here?" You may immediately assume he is being rude but it is possible that this guest of a restaurant did not get eye contact when he came in the door, his wife was never offered coat check for her large winter overcoat and that was after the valet brushed them off in too casual of a tone. By the time he sits down, he's wondering why he came to a place where the inmates are running the asylum.
So, dear waiter who feels sorry for himself, When you deal with that guy who's hyperventilating because he didn't get water two minutes into sitting down just bring the water and skip the dwelling on the possibility of rudeness being on the rise. Sure it was not you who set the tone this way, but you are not an individual in the restaurant, you're part of a unit, a team of people tasked with pleasing the guest. Parts of your team failed and you can't escape that. It's the same with dishes cooked improperly: of course you didn't cook it, but it's still your responsibility.
True, server and guest are both human beings, but in the hospitality industry, they are not equals. It's not the guest's role to care if you've rewarded yourself with a tattoo for each PhD you've earned or if the shoes you chose to wear today are giving you blisters. In this very instance, you are hired help — and you need to act accordingly. And when you don't, buck up and be prepared for some blowback.
As for me, as a guest, first I'll kill you with kindness: "Um, excuse me miss, my steak is burnt." The second time, I will be a bit more frank, "Yes, I've already cut inside to check." And the third time, well, as my grandma once said of transgressions, "once is funny, twice is silly, and third time is a spanking."
Want to avoid rudeness? Remember I am your guest, your audience. Look me in the eye. Use a nice tone. Hey bartender or mixologist or, um, whatever, I am sitting here in front of you. Don't take tickets from the machine before grabbing me a glass of water. Hand me a clean menu. Be sure that my eggs/steak/burger are cooked correctly. It's this simple.
And finally, remember that being accommodating is your core competency. It's all laid out in the acronym T.I.P.S. [To Insure Proper Service]. You wouldn't call yourself a juggler and then not bring your balls to the party.
Guests are well within their right to be on servers like white on rice. And if that rice comes out cold, watch out.
Kate Lacroix of d i s h Publicity is a Boulder-based restaurant publicist and former server/busser/bartender/hostess who has had her ass handed to her by guests on more than a dozen occasions.