I did something today that I haven’t done at all in my adult life: I didn’t leave a tip at a restaurant.
As someone who has worked in a variety of restaurant jobs over the course of my teens and twenties, I cut a lot of slack for a lot of the standard crap that goes on in the course of someone serving you your meal. I understand, to some degree, that omissions and substitutions can sometimes wreck havoc on the kitchen and I also realize that a ten table station is downright ludicrous.
What happened to me today at lunch was just a snowball effect of horrible management and apathetic self-victimization.
I’ve been going to a Thai joint near my office every week or so for the past five years: my first time being about a week after they opened their doors. It’s a pretty simple place with a mere dozen menu items for lunch that comes standard with a little cup of soup and a tiny eggroll. On most days, about half of the fifteen or so tables are filled and the whole lunching experience takes about thirty minutes and it’s right back to the office again.
Today I walked in and everything seemed moderately normal: about ten of the tables were seated and the normal Asian server/manager was hustling around from table to table. I sat in the corner and she immediately came over to get my usual order: Thai fried rice with beef, medium spicy and an iced tea. She shuffled off and sent the other girl who typically acts as food runner over with my iced tea.
From there, the circus began.
As is typical with most days I’m out at lunch, I had my Kindle with me and was reading the latest crap novel that I crave so much, so I don’t often pay attention to much of what is going on around me. After five minutes of reading with no sign of soup, I started to look around. I would guess that more than half of the ten tables had their food and were throwing down the nom while the rest of us waited. A table near me who, I’m guessing, had recently ordered, flagged down the server/manager type who was standing in the corner opposite me. From their gestures I gathered that they were curious as to where their soup was. At that point I was curious as to where mine was, so I made the “inquisitive” face towards the server/manager. Rather than wander over to see what I needed, she merely yelled across the room “No soup yet?”
She hadn’t brought me the soup, and her runner had made herself scarce in the kitchen, so yes, she knew damn well that I had no soup. She proceeded to take three more tables of orders and, as an afterthought five or so minutes later, brought me my damn soup.
When the soup was dropped off at my table I asked her if I could get a refill of my tea. She motioned to the other end of the dining room and told me it was over there. Not once in my five years of going to this place have I ever refilled my own drink. I looked her in the eye and said “Seriously?” and her reply was “Yes, it’s over there.”
At this point I was already starting to get a tad pissed off.
Another twenty minutes passed and Thai fried rice with beef, medium spicy, was still not in front of me. The remainder of people without food around me were also wondering where their dishes were and started signalling to the server/manager that they needed to get their food out now or packed up to-go. The server/manager would make these exasperating huffs and then go back into the kitchen only to return a few seconds later explaining that she told the cook(s) to make the order. She proceeded to do this five or six more times for five or six more customers.
Finally, someone who had been seated before I got there got up and said forget the order and he was going to have to leave to get back to work. The server/manager got really indignant and said that the customer couldn’t do that because the food was finished. The guy gave a little chuckle and then walked out the door.
I was still without my Thai fried rice with beef, medium spicy.
Two more tables say they either need to cancel or have the food packed to-go right now and stood up. The server/manager began scurrying around the restaurant like ants after someone upsets an anthill; and, like those ants, it seemed that nothing was being done.
Suddenly, a plate of pad Thai came out of the kitchen and was delivered to a table where three gentlemen were seated. I’m not sure where the other two dishes were, but the other two guys got up and left.Â After another couple of minutes another plate came out and the food runner angled towards my table. “Fried rice?” she asked. “Yes,” I responded and she plopped the most lacklustre plate of greasy fried rice I’d ever seen in this joint down in front of me and scurried off. Sure, it was Thai fried rice, but it was chicken instead of beef and had a spicy factor of zero.
It had been about forty-five minutes since I had sat down, so, instead of sending the plate back and trying my luck with another hour of waiting, I began eating.
Another plate emerged from the kitchen and it was another plate of Thai fried rice; a plate that looked suspiciously like beef. “I ordered chicken,” said the gentleman server/manager tried to put the plate down in front of. “He took yours,” said the server/manager pointing in my direction.
That was it.
I shovelled a few more forks full of rice into my gullet and gathered up my stuff. As I headed towards the counter where the cash register was the server/manager scurried over to find my check. We didn’t exchange a single word as I gave her my best head-shaking stink eye and paid for my failure of a lunch. I’m pretty sure she knows that I’ll never be back in there again.