Saturday, June 14, 2008

Why I Can't Work in the Restaurant Industry

Behind my apartment is a little coffee shop and restaurant - my neighborhood is rife with coffee shops. This is the nearest coffee source to me, and it's not uncommon for me to slip a coat over my jammies on my days off and grab breakfast to go from there, so I can return home and enjoy breakfast in bed without having to make it myself. Sweet, I say. This place makes great breakfast sandwiches, French toast with enough cinnamon to make me happy, but the killer breakfast food there are the pancakes, thick and fluffy, with tons of fruit options as well as grain options (no wheat? no problem.). My faves are the oat bran. However, I digress as usual.

I'm a regular, they see me on the weekends, and while I'm waiting for my to go order I get to watch consumers in action. On one occasion there was an older couple at one of the tables; my guess is they were retired although they didn't look old enough to be have been retired that long. But honestly, they acted like they've been retired for 25 years. As the Man of the House bused their dishes I noticed that they'd each ordered pancakes. The food left on their plates looked good to me, not burnt or crispy or runny. (I'm waiting for an order, I'm hungry, you bet I'm eyeing other people's food and no, I did not dig the food out of the trash.) As they left, the older man accosted the barista and complained that his pancakes were well-done, browner than usual. He's not making a friendly observation; he's obviously deeply disappointed that his pancakes were not the exactly replica of the last order of pancakes. I could feel my jaw clenching as I managed not to call him an asshole. When he and his partner leave the restaurant I snort in their general direction. (Yes, I snorted, not farted.)

Now I'm sure you're wondering why I'm so upset at this person for expressing his displeasure. I've got two verbose reasons, so grab your coffee before you continue reading.

Firstly, this is a little mom and pop place run by a very nice woman; her employees are great people. The decor is funky, signs are written in crayon, the help is tattooed and pierced. This isn't Denny's. This is not the place to come if you want the exact, same, identical food experience time after time. It's not fast food. I've never had a stack of oat bran cakes that I didn't enjoy - but they don't come out perfect circles. I've never had a breakfast sandwich I didn't really enjoy - but they look like something a human would make for another human. They make great cookies there - they look like the cookies I bake (and taste even better), not like the bag of Chips Ahoy, each cookie weighing the exact same amount. It's a home-style hipster place, and no one pretends otherwise.

Secondly, while I appreciate good customer service, that doesn't equate to being someone's slave. Cooks, wait staff, baristas, all deserve to be treated with the dignity on the job that you want to receive when you're on the job. Yes, they get paid - probably not nearly what you get paid. Not enough to be treated like servants in some repressed Victorian household. I tip generously, even though I can't afford to; I appreciate someone else doing my cooking, baking, espresso-making, and I don't believe they should do it for free or next to nothing.

So the other afternoon, after the Dysfunctional Team meeting, I went to this coffee shop to get some caffeine to compensate for the quantity of bourbon I consumed. One of the young girls I see there regularly was working behind the counter - I warned her that, since I was drunk, I might easily be scaring customers away. She said that she'd be fine with that, since they'd been super busy most of the day, and with the next day being graduation they'd be even more packed if it was like last year's. The conversation continued to a discussion of rude customers. I related my observation about the man whose pancakes were browned.

Full of bourbon, I said, "I'd never make it working in a restaurant. When someone makes a stupid complaint like that, all I can think is 'Is this the worst problem you've got? Fucking browned pancakes? Not even burned, just browned?' I'd kick the chap in the ankles and then I'd ask him, 'Eh, what's more important now, asshole? You're broken ankle? Or your browned pancakes? What hurts more, your ankle or your pancakes?' Which is why I could never work in a place like this."

Of course, if she ever breaks some guy's ankle over a complaint, I'll have to consider feeling a few moments of guilt. Maybe.

No comments: