It Pays to be Peeved…..Sometimes: Part 1

Waiting tables is an experience I believe that everyone should have. If you’ve never waited tables before, I highly recommend you apply for a part time serving gig at your local diner. You will learn more about the human experience than any Anthropology or Sociology professors. For better or for worse. Guaranteed.

I waited tables throughout college and I know within minutes of meeting someone and carrying on a conversation with them whether they’ve ever waited tables before.  At parties and get togethers, I find the former servers (it’s a sixth sense at this point) and I prefer to hang out with them. I could write a whole post on the serving experience. From the humility to the triumph; the extreme multi-tasking & quick facade problem solving; witnessing others behavior from the perspective of “the waiter”; hearing conversations so memorable and indicative of our culture all while absentmindedly topping off a glass of water.  I hated waiting tables, but I’m so glad that I did.

For more information on the humbling and crazed experience of being a server.

Anyway, onto my point. No matter which restaurant I was working in or what shift, there’s always the guy trying to get a discount. When I waited tables at a local family dinner restaurant, there was a guy named Larry who we all loathed. I don’t even know if his real name was Larry, but that’s what we called him.  If you wanted to get a rise out of your co-worker on a shift just tell them, “Larry just sat down in your section.” Nothing evoked more of an “Oh fuck” response than that.

And rightfully so!

About 3-5 times per month, Larry and his family of five would come in and order everything on the menu. The kids would have “soda drinking contests” and demand refills every few minutes. All of the sugar made them even messier eaters and there was always a heavy dusting of mac n’ cheese, cracker crumbs, and sauces on the table and floor.  While these are annoying expectations of the trade, Larry’s family would take it a step further.

You see, their table would be full of food…but nothing was fully eaten. While every plate had been picked at or half way devoured, there was always still at least half of the entree on it.  As his server, you would look at his table and ask, “How is everything?” Larry’s wife and kids would go silent and Larry would just smile. You’d offer to take plates away to help clear the table. “Are you through with this plate?” You’d ask one of his children. Larry would always answer for them. “No, leave it there.”

And you knew it was coming.

Larry would be incredibly polite to you throughout the meal. Jovial, even.  Of course, the nice guy disappeared and Jekyll came out the second you brought him his check.  Within moments of Larry opening the black vinyl check holder, he was transformed into a raging Thespian asshole.

“This is unbelievable! $3.99 for a mushy cold baked potato?! $11.89 for a steak not cooked properly?! You’ve got be kidding me! I want my bill comped!”

As he began listing off all the entrees he wanted comped from his bill, you’d try your best to sound politely shocked, “Sir, we had no idea you were unhappy with your meal since everything’s been eaten.” Larry loved when you’d say this, he’d smile and stand up and whisk his arm over the table of half eaten entrees and side dishes. “No, we did NOT eat everything! Look at how little my children ate! And they were hungry when we got here! I demand to see the manager!”

Your work was now done. You’d find the manager working and tell them “Larry would like a word with you” and watch them close their eyes in agony.  Because just as the manager approached Larry’s table, his theatrics went into overdrive. His antics could be heard throughout the entire dining room. Tables seated near him could no longer carry on a conversation over the boisterous bamboozling of Larry’s bravado performance. His wife would wimply tug on his arm and shush him before crossing her arms and tightening her lips – her acting skills were not quite as developed. Two of his children looked embarrassed, but the youngest one always got a kick out of dad’s behavior and would climb his chair in excitement with a missing teeth grin.

9 times out of 10, Larry’s tantrum was rewarded though never fully to Larry’s liking. He’d gruff and sit down while the manager considered discounting certain items. At some point, the manager would call out Larry’s behavior and tell him that she knew exactly what he was up to and that he’s done it before and that he’s not welcome to come back in if he continues to cause such a disturbance, etc. Larry would wave her away with his hand and grumble that they haven’t been here in ages, she must have him confused with another, etc.

He’d pay his comped bill, leave a meager tip, and his family would shuffle out leaving a mess on the table and floor.

The thing of it is: I’m not really sure why he did it. He wasn’t saving any money since he was still going out to eat frequently and the amount of main dishes and side dishes they bought was always excessive. He’d end up with an $89 bill for a meal that, had he ordered sensibly, could have only cost him $45. And then he’d embarrass himself and his family and ruin other diners’ experiences and be rude and totally out of breath just to get his ticket down to maybe $70-$75.  He still came out the loser in person and on paper.

There are a lot of Larrys in the world. I see them at garage sales, restaurants, furniture stores. The philosophy is that if I the consumer can be enough of a nuisance to another person, I can shave a few dollars off my bill. I will never understand the trade off. Being a jerk takes too much out of me for it to be worth a few dollars saved. A woman I used to work with spent 40 minutes on the phone with her cable/internet provider trying to lower her monthly bill. She was fiercely and wickedly inappropriate and rude to the provider representative, but got off the phone smiling. “They lowered my bill from $152/mo to $137/mo!”

Right, but you’re still a jerk. I don’t understand the victory. Just get rid of your cable and now you only have pay $30/mo and you’re not ruining someone’s day! That’s a victory!

Realizing the length of this post now – it’s too long. I should have known that bringing up Larry would take me on a long rant…

My point is that there is a right way to complain and a wrong way to complain and this post illustrates the wrong way. Will it get results? Yes. Will you feel good about yourself after? Only if you’re a dick anyway.