Brian Cook | IF YOU DON’T KNOW | Web
Half the guests for your friend’s 12-person birthday party are over 30 minutes late. You’re sweating. The other half is only drinking water. You order a second double and an appy. It’s 6 o’clock and your date doesn’t like the table you’ve been given. You’d rather die than ask to be moved. Your entrée came out cold. You’re overly understanding. The restaurant is swamped and they forgot to ring in your order. You tip 25%.
You are Industry People.
While these scenarios might be cringe worthy for the common patron, they cut like a steak knife for those of us in the industry. We don’t FEEL the same way non-industry people feel about dining. We know too much.
Imagine David Copperfield going to a magic show. He’d know how the tricks work, and if he didn’t he’d be trying to figure them out instead of enjoying the experience. I can picture him, standing at the back all in black with his beautifully coifed hair, palms sweating, knowing which part is going to be difficult for the young performer. That’s me when I see a server clearing my table, and almost dropping a dirty plate on my date. I fall silent, and my heart pounds – I want to help.
There is something about seeing behind the curtain that has ruined the dining experience for me entirely. I no longer have the luxury of feeling entitled to great service. I don’t get the satisfaction of complaining about poor service. Instead, I have empathy. When my server is running around, clearly in the weeds, I don’t feel like another drink – I want to pick up a table for them.
Sometimes, in desperate attempt to comfort a server in distress, I drop the, “Don’t worry, I’m a server too…” line. Is that embarrassing for them? Is the expectation higher now? Have I made it worse? The real questions is, why am I distracted by how this person feels at this moment? They are the ones doing a terrible job.
The worst part is always tipping. I find it impossible to tip less than 15%, even for abysmal service, which leaves me with an acute case of diner’s remorse. If, during the course of the meal, I mention that I’m a server, I’m guaranteed to throw down a minimum 20% tip.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve received my fair share of incredible service and delicious meals. In these instances, I still find myself distracted with thoughts resembling, “I wonder who their produce supplier is… GFS?”; “How big are these sections?”; “Is my server going to do quality check on the temperature for me?”. I simply cannot go out and enjoy a good meal without overthinking the entire process from my server’s well-being to the chef’s personal hygiene.
In truth, it doesn’t matter where the red peppers came from, and the steak is cooked perfectly. I’m not David Copperfield, and that drowning server isn’t going to let me pick up that table. I know all of that. But my mind wanders, my emotions follow, and my enjoyment of the dining experience wanes.
There must be a part of you that is expecting me to provide some kind of solution to this problem. Some new mantra you can repeat to yourself the next time you find yourself incapable of allowing yourself to simply enjoy being a customer. Well…I don’t. My only advice is to find somewhere you like and become a regular, or get good at cooking at home and tip yourself well. You deserve it.