I have a secret to share. In the summer of 1985 I had the distinction of being the most well-educated busboy on the entire east coast. No kidding. If you walked into the restaurant at the old Turf Inn on Wolf Road and got the (then famous) all you can eat “Walk The Plank” buffet, yours truly was the kid with the scraggily hair cleaning up your dirty dishes. Now anyone who knows me is doing some quick math and thinking, “But John, I thought you graduated from college with your Bachelor’s degree in May of 1985?” That is correct.
Somehow, despite four years of working on the school newspaper and television station and achieving a litany of A’s, when I walked off that stage with my diploma nobody gave a hoot. I could not find a job in journalism. One piece of advice I had gotten from my toughest teacher at SUNY Oswego, Fritz Messere was: “If you can’t find a job in your chosen field then take a job you’ll have no problem walking away from when the right job does come along.” So bussing tables it was.
I bring up my days in the food service industry because this month’s issue is dedicated to honoring your favorite places to eat, drink and be silly. While most of my time has been in food consumption not distribution, I do have friends who work in restaurants and bars so I thought it might be nice to tell you some of the things they are too polite to tell you. Stuff that, if they did dare to share, might cause you to throw hot spaghetti at them.
Let’s start with the hostess. His or her job is to greet you, take your coat and direct you to your table. That’s it. I bring this up because someone from our area who is quite well-known once got confused on the role of the hostess. While this person was waiting to be seated they asked the hostess, a beautiful young college student, what the specials were that night. She said politely, “I honestly don’t know.” This person then responded, “Oh, I guess you just need to stand here and look pretty.” The hostess was insulted and our rude friend couldn’t understand why; after all he/she just called the hostess pretty. Pretty insulting if you ask me. So if you’ll forgive the bad grammar – the hostess greets and seats. That’s it.
Let’s go to the bar; I know I’m parched. This next part is for the guys out there so pay close attention and repeat after me: “The pretty bartender is not an escort.” Nor did she take this job hoping a guy like you would come in, ask her out and save her miserable, bartending life. Stop right now because I know what you’re thinking, “She’s dressed a little provocatively,” which means she’s secretly giving you the “go” sign to hit on her, again and again and again. Hmmm… not so much. Chances are she’d rather give her cell phone number to “Knuckles” the cook who smells like onions, has a nervous tick and a lengthy criminal record, than you. Get your drink, smile and move along young man.
Ah, I see we’ve managed to get seated without insulting the hostess and procure a Coors Light without the bartender needing a restraining order, so it must be time to order some food. Excellent. Now, if you want her to bring those amazing biscuits with the garlic cheese flavoring on top you need to follow a few simple rules. First up, pay attention because she’s going to tell you her name. Example, “Hi, I’m Jennifer and I’ll be your server.” This is important because in a few minutes you’ll need her for something and yelling, “Hey you, Ketchup,” is not cool. Is her name “Ketchup”? Nope. Who knows her name? You there in the back, the guy who smells like onions with your hand up? That’s right, Jennifer. Also, if you’ve forgotten her name don’t you dare ever, EVER snap your fingers at her. You’ve heard stories of waiters and cooks doing terrible things to food because someone was rude? They are all true, so unless your server is a long-haired Shih Tzu wearing a pink bow and diamond collar don’t you dare snap or whistle.
When the server brings you things – drinks, food, an extra fork – say thank you. If something is wrong with the food just tell them politely. They didn’t prepare it, nor was this a secret plot by everyone in the restaurant to overcook your salmon. Show the server what’s wrong and they’ll happily take it back. Also, understand that you can’t eat three quarters of the entree and then tell the server it stunk and you want a refund. Two or three forkfuls is the statute of limitations on that one. And please, if the food is NOT cooked at all, like a certain piece of chicken at a certain local pancake house, STOP EATING IT. You know what raw food looks like, don’t you?
When the meal is done there are a few really big do’s and don’ts. DO tip at least 15 percent if the service was average to good. Anything better than “good” deserves 20 percent, especially if you have children and they left the table looking like a disaster zone. These people waiting on you depend on tips to pay the rent and phone bill, so please be nice.
Secondly, this is a restaurant not the “good will” so it is not cool to clean out the place before you go. Taking all of the sugars and Splenda from the little holder and sneaking them into your purse under the table is tacky. Plus, we can see you. I’m watching you right now, in fact. PUT THEM BACK! Also, shoving rolls in your coat pockets as if this is your last meal before you meet the executioner – again not very Fonzy-like. It’s just bread after all, and if you have one of those newfangled contraptions, what are they called? Oh yeah, an OVEN, you can even make your own at home.
Dining out should be a pleasure, not just for you, but for the people happy to serve you. I don’t care who you are or how much you make, the guy flipping the burgers and the gal in the apron serving them, are people just like you. That’s someone’s mom, dad, son, daughter. Heck, it might even be a future writer and TV anchor, who is here now asking you ever so sweetly to just be nice. Oh, and since we’re talking, can you, for the love of God, stop sniffing the wine and swishing it around in the glass above your head like you’re Niles Crane from “Frasier”. It’s an $8 dollar bottle of Yellow Tail, just drink the damn thing you cheapskate.
John Gray is weekely columnist for the Troy Record and the Saratogian newspapers and news anchor at ABC 10 and FOX 23. He can be reached at email@example.com.