They were a handsome family of four. They brought along a handsome friend to complete their party of five, one short of a six-top tag. They triggered my internal server alarm when the wide-smiling father gushed:
“It’s our first time here!”
“Welcome,” I said, matching his smile.
“Do we get anything for that?” the father smiled, even wider.
“We’re glad you found us,” I smiled back, ignoring his question.
“We have a tour pass for one of those boats in the harbor, so don’t we get a free meal?” the father asked, his smile now carefully morphing into a perplexed frown.
“No, we don’t offer those kinds of discounts” I smiled, even wider. “Can I take a drink order while you look over the menu?”
“Is it free refills?” asked the father, no longer smiling.
“Yes, for sodas,” I answered, smiling harder so I wouldn’t grit my teeth.
“Lemonade for me and my son, if you have it. Coke for my wife. Water for the baby.”
“Certainly,” I said. “And for you?” I asked the handsome friend.
“Water with two lemons and an iced tea,” he replied, staring hard at me as if daring me about an as-yet unspoken challenge. “And give us a round of virgin frozen strawberry smoothies.”
It was the day after St. Patrick’s Day, my section had quickly filled, and I was exhausted and spent from a 13-hour blood-letting shift from the day before. I left the table to fill their drink order. Trouble, I knew with utter certainty, was the only service outcome with this group.
Of course the son’s lemonade didn’t have enough ice in it. Of course the friend needed more than two lemons for his water. Of course the strawberry smoothies didn’t “taste right” and all were sent back, all at different times.
After grilling me about virtually everything on our extensive menu and constantly asking me, “How much do they pay you to say that sandwich is good?”, of course they ordered enough food for a party of ten–five appetizers followed by the seven most expensive entrees. Their tab climbed to more than $150 in a matter of seconds at a place known for extremely reasonable prices, with no alcohol involved.
“Refill!” the mother demanded, waving her three-quarters-full Coke glass in the the air as I passed by their table with a full tray of food destined for another table.
“This and this, too,” said the handsome friend, pointing to his half-full water and the son’s barely-touched lemonade, when I returned with the mother’s Coke.
So much trouble.
Extra sauce for the wings, another steak because this one is fatty, more fries with the two sandwiches because “these aren’t enough.” And my favorite, “Are you telling me this is the normal size of your mahi filets? Gimme another dinner, this one’s too small.”
Refill. Refill. Refill. Trouble. Trouble. Trouble.
And all the while trying to keep up with my patient, six other happy tables.
More trouble than it would ever be worth.
“RG!” barked my stern but very fair and immensely competent manager, waving a printed-out check at me. “Table 82.” The trouble table.
I glanced at the check, wondering why she had printed it out. Then I saw it–an auto grat of 18 percent tacked on to the total. “I am making an exception on this one,” she added. Because she knew trouble when she saw it through the frantic and frustrated pace of her otherwise usually pleasant server.
“Thanks,” I sighed to her. “They’ve been…”
“I know!” she barked once more. “Just drop the check and move on with your other tables.”
But when there’s trouble from the start, trouble has only just gotten started.
“Miss,” smiled the handsome friend a few minutes after I had dropped the check. “Here is enough cash to cover the check amount, minus the gratuity, which I insist be taken off the total. And bring back all the change. Please.”
I directly looked him in the eye. I directly spoke to him through my look that I knew exactly their game; knew their pretense of gosh-golly new folks to area that don’t get out much; knew what lowly, common trash they were.
He understood every bit of my look, even welcomed it, which caused him to smile quite broadly, once again.
“I have to take it off, RG. I’m sorry,” said my manager. “Sometimes shit happens. You’ll make it up on another table.”
Except I would have to tip out the busser, the bartender and the food runner on that $176.23 in sales that I knew would result in a tip of exactly zero percent.
“Shake it off!” barked my manager an hour later. She could tell I was still seething. “They are not worth your trouble thinking about it any longer!”
Two days later, I am still reliving that table, wishing I had given them terrible service or at least politely called them out about the tip. And then again, it’s not really about the tip. It’s about them and their carefully orchestrated complaints in order to get unwarranted comps, their baseless demands to run a server ragged and blame her for any and everything, their disguises of smiling countenances as they know exactly what they do.
Not worth my trouble? Of course not. I just wish the entire episode would quit troubling me. And troubling me.