If you earn your living as a server, then be happy if you see my husband seated in your section. Before he became a minister, Brian spent the bulk of his career laboring in a variety of food service jobs. He’s washed dishes, delivered pizza, and cooked homemade meals for elderly folks in assistant living and retirement homes. Steak houses, greasy spoons. country clubs, casinos, you name it – if they serve food, odds are worked there.
He understands, more than anyone I know, how challenging a life in food service can be. Long hours – often on weekends and holidays – and low wages are all too common. Though he was usually employed out of sight behind swinging kitchen doors, he also appreciates the challenges faced by wait staff everywhere. It’s a hard job. Long hours on your feet, demanding customers, and a frantic pace make physical and emotional exhaustion the norm for waiters and waitresses.
Because of this, it is almost impossible for wait staff to get a bad tip from Brian. He understands they can’t help it if the chef overcooked his steak, and he’s sympathetic if the demands of a sudden rush cause our server to forget the extra napkins. He’s been there. You can relax, because he’s on your side.
For twenty-five years, he’s made it his policy to never dint anyone on the tip, not by the tiniest percentage….except for one, solitary occasion.
We were in a diner, one of those chain restaurants like Perkins or Denny’s, that you find all over the nation. We were on a date, and decided to stop in for pie and coffee after an evening at the movies. We were the only ones in the restaurant, and apparently our arrival had interrupted our server’s plans for an evening of sitting on his rumpus.
He sighed as he approached the table, and tossed menus at us with obvious disdain. When he returned much later to take our order, he took note of us holding hands across the table top, and mocked us. Yes, you read that right. Our waiter commented on our public display of affection with a sneering, “Oh, aren’t you cute? Not.” He followed this observation by an eye roll.
We should have left at that very moment. I don’t know why we didn’t. Maybe we were too shocked to respond. I think a part of my brain couldn’t accept that anyone would act this way. Perhaps right now even you feel tempted to give him the benefit of the doubt. No one would intentionally insult their customers, right? Maybe he was shooting for playful banter, but after a long day’s work, it sounded more like rude idiot.
Whatever the reason, we placed our order. And then we waited…and waited….and waited. Finally just as we getting ready to walk out, our food and coffee arrived. We started to eat, but without our usual chatter and smiles. The waiter glared at us from behind the counter. I was starting to understand why we were the only customers in the establishment.
Before we consumed more than a few bites, the waiter brought the check. And I think that would have been the end of an uncomfortable, but forgettable dining experience if the waiter had not paused a moment to comment on the scarf I was wearing. “That is the ugliest scarf I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe you go out in public like that.” He seemed to find his observation hilarious, because he laughed and tried to draw commentary from Brian on my taste in fashion.
I was too shocked to respond. Brian’s face turned bright red, and his fists were clenched, the skin across the knuckles white with pressure. To his credit, Brian took a deep breath and maintained his civility. He dug two pennies out of his pocket and laid them on the table.
We walked to the register where Brian informed the manager of the terrible service we received. He explained that the two pennies on the table were all he planned to pay for our “dining experience” that night. He could take the rest out of the server’s paycheck if he liked, but he wasn’t going to get any money out of Brian for three bites of pie and verbal abuse.
The waiter sputtered and argued while Brian was speaking, but the rude interruptions only acted as validation for our complaints. We left, leaving the manager to deal with his employee as he chose.
Outside, Brian and I looked at each other. At the exact same moment, we each said, “What the heck was that about?” (We may not have said “heck.” I can’t be sure; it was a long time ago.) And then, because he really is a wonderful man, Brian took my hand, held it tenderly and said, “I think your scarf is beautiful.”
We laughed for a long time after that.