Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hey Big Spender!

The holidays at the restaurant were fairly uneventful, given the fact that the stupid economy has everyone 'economizing' in some way and consequentially, the numbers--reservations, ticket-prices and tips--were down in every way. There was but one exception to this new rule this year, for the Big Spender was back.

There are other namers for these types of guys--yes, always guys--like 'high roller', 'baller', 'fat cat' or the simple and utilitarian, 'big tipper', but the bottom line is just that. It's about the money, honey. Usually, it is fair to say that this money comes at a price, which I have for some time found too terrible to pay, in spite of the apparent nature of our business.

I say this because in fact, while it may seem obvious in the situation that waiters find themselves in--being paid only after their work is deemed satisfactory by the client--they would go after every single penny they can wrest from the hapless diner, sometimes it's just not worth it. Techniques for running up the check and hanging around obsequiously angling for cash are legendary among waiters (and even more so among the public who think these are common occurrences) but often as not, we would rather get modestly tipped and generously treated than the other way round.

Indeed, waiters are good at angling for more money, but if they are really any good, they are also good judges of character. Consequently, they know that simply 'running up the check' is a) not easily done, because b) buying more stuff is something that the client, not the waiter will ultimately decide. If the patrons don't want another bottle of wine, they aren't going to get it, no matter how artfully and well timed the waiter's pour of the last drop is.

Then again, there are patrons who invite the very kind of ridiculous fawning and greed for which waiters are often justly caricatured, because they themselves are such foolish posers.

On Christmas Eve, we had one such fellow, a real Big Spender. He was with a group of six, and they sat at a large round table at one end of the small dining room. They arrived late and loud. The room was still full as they bulled their way to the table and loudly proclaimed that they had come to enjoy themselves. No one, least of all the other diners, would wish them otherwise, but at least the other patrons were allowed to leave shortly thereafter, while the staff was obliged to stay and take care of them.

Him, I should say, for the other five diners were actually polite and quiet enough. I do not begrudge folks the right to be a bit boisterous because, after all, I have been know to be that way in a restaurant from time to time. There is a line, of course, between loud and rude, and these folks stayed right at it--not quite over--from the first moment they arrived. One guy, that guy, however, was over the line.

"I am an ass", he told me later in the lobby as I checked the reservation book and he waited for his wife to come out of the bathroom. I didn't disagree, though I know he didn't pick up on the disrespect because it was perceived as such. I agreed because prior to that I'd endured an hour and half of his loud, rude and obnoxious behavior, culminating in his swearing at me:

"What kind of fucking restaurant is this? You don't have another magnum of Duckhorn?"

Honestly, I don't have a ready response to this type of comment, at least not one that is witty, so I remained firm in my assertion that he had already had the two magnums I had in the rack, and I offered him one of the single bottles I had in the cooler. In spite of the rest of the group adamantly declining this offer, the big tipper accepted, so, obliged, I served it quickly and made what I thought would be my exit from his presence for the evening and hopefully forever.

Sadly, yet profitably for me, this was not to be. Moments later, I came out of the kitchen to find him standing by the door. I made an abrupt about-face, but to no avail, as he had spotted me and called out a drunken yet compelling "Hey!"

Never failing to respond to this polite appellation--which I have heard often, believe me--I turned around and went back into the lobby. There, in the dark corner under the wine rack I literally ran into him, or more accurately, a hand out with money in it. I shook the hand, took the money, put into my pocket and went back in the kitchen, where I discovered that it was not just a twenty but a hundred dollar bill I'd just been handed.

Well, it was nothing special for in fact, I had only gotten one bill, but the other waiters and busboys who chose to hang out with the guy in the lobby all got at least two hundred dollars. Shameless might be a good word to describe the frenzy that ensued in the lobby, but I don't know because I left. The descriptions afterward were enough to make me uncomfortable with this aspect of my chosen profession. Oddly, I felt a bit guilty about my tip until the big spender gracefully absolved me with his keen observation about his character.

Later, I found out that he also tipped the waiter and hostess five hundred dollars each.

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