Dining Out: A customer service tale

Customer service is a toughie.

Sartre, and this wonderfully funny writer, said that hell is other people. Having worked retail I can say for certain that the old saw about how working in a store is fun except for all the customers, is entirely true. People are hard to please, they are mercurial, fussy, rude and silly. And I include myself in that statement. The bottom line is, with low wages and long hours, a job that is without a doubt a challenging and rewarding one is rendered unimportant and thankless.

If I ruled the world, a good salesperson would make at least $30,000 per year and work a mere 6 hours a day- with the proviso that they provide consistent, friendly service or just not show up to work and not get paid, plain and simple. And waitstaff would also make a decent living wage, work shorter hours and good tips would earn them… stuff. Haven’t figured that out yet. Not sure if it would work, but I remember liking my retail job when I had shorter days and a goal to work towards, was praised by my boss, etc. It made a lot of things bearable.

So from reading various blogs and talking to folks and eating out a bit, I can gather that working in the food service industry is royally, asininely difficult. How do I know? From the 50% chance of a pissed off look on the faces of waitstaff. This is sad — personally, if I believe in what I’m doing and the people I work for I can do anything with a smile on my face. Plus, it’s food!

Anyway, the point of this post- two places, two different experiences. One a new, small cafe and the other a larger chain with the feel of a neighborhood pub. Think you know what’s going to happen? Read on:

After canceling on MK several times, I was not about to do it again. It was the weekend of MK- his birthday dinner at a family style Italian restaurant was delicious, Saturday morning a group of us went to TC’s for a home cooked brunch and now we were finally going to Mocha Hut for the waffles we had been jonesing for.

But there I was on Sunday morning, sick as a dog, hopped up on cold meds and woozy. I’d gotten out of the shower and just plain forgotten what I was about to do next, when Alison called and asked me if I was still coming out.

Uhhhh…

Sleeping in the middle of the day is bad, because then you are wide awake in the evening. Or at least I am. I pulled on my favorite skirt and tshirt, dragged myself out of the house drove to the Metro very slowly, oozed onto the train and emerged in the steamy DC air on U Street. Where TR, MK and Alison had graciously waited for me before ordering.

After telling me I looked like death on toast, we ordered in shifts and sat with little laminated numbers on our tiny table, to wait for our food. We chatted, we weren’t rude or too loud. In short we did not deserve the ‘tude we were about to get.

The waitress looked annoyed. She was annoyed when she made the mocha (tastiest ever- I could tell there was chocolate in that there mocha), she was annoyed when she slammed the syrup and MK’s chicken and waffles on the table (they look good, very inoffensive, quite delicious), she was really annoyed when she had to bring me food and we had to move our drinks around to accommodate her.

But what really ticked her off was when she brought TR’s food and there was no space on the table. TR moved things around and as she cleared a space, pushing the numbers aside, she accidentally knocked my mocha down my leg, which woke me the heck up and made me shriek. The waitress stood there, holding TR’s food and glaring at us.

“Are you okay?” TR asked frantically as I sucked air through my teeth.

Uhhhhh…

I looked at the waitress, the waitress looked at me. I narrowed my eyes, she narrowed hers. TR’s food was still not on the table. Mocha was dripping off the edge of the table.

“Um, you got any napkins?” I asked pointedly. The waitress slammed the food down on the table and turned, but TR had already sprinted across the cafe, grabbed a bunch and was helping me mop up my mocha-filled Tevas. It wasn’t the waitresses fault, but in similar situations I’ve seen people, oh I dunno, help. Which she clearly didn’t want to, which was just weird. I mean, who stands there and watches someone drip coffee without offering at least a paper towel?

Two minutes later, as TR was coming back to the table with another mocha for me, the waitress was stalking around with Alison’s food and looking annoyed when Alison kept calling, “We’re over here!”

“This isn’t yours,” the waitress insisted. “This is for 36.”

Alison picked up the number (36) on the table and showed it to her.

“Oh,” she said and slammed down Alison’s breakfast. No, “oops” or “sorry” or “my mistake” or anything. As we ate we noticed that it wasn’t just us, she was treating everyone this way. And it wasn’t like she was older or a character, she was just a pissed off young woman. I spoke to the owner and told him that food was delicious- Belgian waffle, eggs over easy, turkey bacon, yummy- and I understood that low wages and long hours could take their toll, but I wondered what was up with Miss Crankypants and opined that she needed to check herself. He said he would speak to her — she was in training.

“She’s not done,” said TR. “Clearly.”

Mocha Hut doesn’t have a website. It does, however, have good food. But really, would you recommend a place where you have to deal with folks slamming your dishes down and being crabby?

Last night I went to RiRa to use up a $50 giftcard and a coupon for a free round of beer which my team had won in a walk at the previous week’s pub quiz. J met me first and we went in for beer. The waiter was okay with us tying up a table and brought out 4 pints. I told him we had a giftcard and he smiled and congratulated us on our win. When Sarah showed a half hour later, J had to go, so she took his seat and another one of the pints and we ordered dinner.

Sarah and I hadn’t seen each other in forever, so we chatted and took our time perusing the menu, deciding to dive in on the pricey end- she ordered a chicken breast stuffed with brie. I picked salmon stuffed with crab and shrimp- cooked medium on the recommendation of our waiter who assured me that it would preserve the taste of the salmon.

Our food arrived and we dove in. Sarah’s was perfect, but when I peeled back the nicely cooked salmon I found cold, blue shrimp. I’ve eaten sushi and sashimi, and I have been known to eat just about anything in general, but I had to spit out the bit I tasted. It was just… wrong. That there is the “death salmon”- looks good, doesn’t it?

“That is so not good,” said our waiter and whisked the plate away with apologies. The manager stopped by as well and I was offered a complimentary bowl of soup. I chose potato leek, which was quite tasty.

The salmon came back a few minutes later and I peeled it back to appreciate the steam rising from the freshly cooked fish, took a bite…

And the salmon was rubber. I was deflated at this point. The manager came by to apologize again and suggested the scallops, saying that the salmon would be removed from our check. I put in an order for the scallops and Sarah and I laughed helplessly for 5 minutes at my very bad luck.

Just as the scallops were winding their way to me, I noticed that my two hours on the parking meter were up and hopped up to feed the meter- the waiter asked if it was acceptable to put the scallops under the lamps and I agreed. The scallops, which were swimming in ginger burre blanc and sprinkled with herbs, garnished with spinach and mashed, made it back to the table when I did. And they were delicious.

We left a nice tip and I thanked the manager for taking such good care of us and praised our waiter for being so attentive.

If only RiRa served waffles…

Note: I’m BAAAAACK FROM THE FUUUUUTURRRRE to tell you that Mocha Hut closed March 16, 2009. It was a sad, sad day for waffle lovers everywhere.

This post has been brought to you by Liz, who likes you very much!

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3 responses to “Dining Out: A customer service tale

  1. >I’ve never had such a bitter waitress before. Luckily, I’ve never had any really bad experience when it comes to waitstaff. Rarely have I had an AWESOME one either..but…eh. It’s funny how service is more likely to shine if something wrong happens so that they can correct it. I heard people are more satisfied that way than if nothing bad goes wrong…or something like that. I think you know what I mean.Anyhoo. That waitress…lordy…:(

  2. >Dang, sorry you had such a bad time. I’ve had a few recent disasters myself in some restaurants. At least the salmon was removed from the check. Good service on that note.You were also so right to complain, I find most people just suck it up and suffer like a martyr in those situations.

  3. >Robyn- I’ve had bitter waitresses before, just never one that seethed. She was like one of those baking soda volcanos you make in school. Yikes!Garrett- I used to be one of those folks, until I was a grad student in Boston and couldn’t afford a bad meal- food or service-wise. On the other side of the coin, I’m also the first person to overtip or let the manager know when things have gone right!

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