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Uncommon Courtesy

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

September 24, 2009
Sarah Ruppenthal · Editorial Assistant

A half-hour later, our server approaches the table with obvious trepidation, wringing her hands nervously. “I’m so sorry,” she stammers, visibly distraught. “There was a problem with your order.” I smile reassuringly, preparing to tell her that it’s no problem, but my friend interrupts me, snarling with palpable contempt, “You better fix the problem now, missy, and you can count on not getting a tip.” Dumbfounded, I stare down at the table, mortified by my friend’s rudeness—and silently vow never to step foot into a restaurant with her ever again.

Just about anyone who has worked in the food service industry (myself included) can easily recall such incidents of unbridled rudeness, some comically absurd, others painfully humiliating. Many restaurant servers sadly admit they have seen an ugly side of human nature, as they encounter patrons who scowl, sneer, bellow, clap or whistle for attention or—and this always seems to be the worst—simply ignore them.

Witnessing a grown man throw a temper tantrum over an undercooked steak or a mother of three unleash a tirade over a rogue crouton in her spinach salad certainly sheds light on an unflattering spectrum of human behavior.

Article Photos

Sarah Ruppenthal · Editorial Assistant

These melodramatic exhibitions may be rare occurrences, but when they do happen, they can leave a mark—and sometimes, a trail of tears.

I agree that diners should expect courteous, timely service, and in some cases, discontent is warranted. But remember, these are human beings—single mothers, college students, aspiring artists, dot-com refugees—and we should treat them with common courtesy. Walk a mile in their apron—it’s not as easy as it looks.

In 2006, New York Times food critic Frank Bruni wrote about his harrowing, weeklong experience working as an “undercover” server at an upscale metropolitan restaurant. According to Bruni, “Waiting tables isn’t a job. It’s a back-straining, brain-addling, sanity-rattling siege.” He also noted, “In addition to dexterity, poise and a good memory, a server apparently needs to be able to read minds [and] be calm in the face of chaos, patient in the presence of rudeness, available when diners want them, invisible when they don’t.”

Keep in mind, servers usually earn minimum wage ($7.25 an hour, the last time I checked), so they rely on tips to pay the bills. And in these tough economic times, these hardworking men and women rely on the generosity of others more than ever.

Although I left the victim of my friend’s abhorrent behavior a generous, compensatory tip, no amount of money is compensation enough for rudeness. When dining out, practice the Golden Rule.



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