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Friday, July 27, 2007

Service

I was extra-lazy today. The day was dominated by taking my mom for a treatment at a pain clinic. This is something I have done most recently in September and in January, and was the sort of thing that I would take the entire day off from work for. (Most of the time; one treatment was on Thanksgiving Eve in 2005, and I just shifted my working hours so that I went in at noon and stayed late. Because we were busy then, and the work needed to get out, and I was dedicated. Hah.) Not having work today to begin with, I decided to just slack off.

Well, not really. After I dropped my mom off I came home and paid some bills. I then did some screwing around on the computer, and then checked on Wiggles.

I haven't mentioned Wiggles before. One of these days I'll write a full post on him...and then there will eventually be another post. Wiggles is a feral kitten who was dumped on my mother by a cruel and heartless neighbor who either took him and two other kittens from their mother, or who (as he claims) discovered the litter after their mother had been killed. Wiggles is a sickly cat, and will probably not live to his first birthday. But I will write about that later.

Anyway, Wiggles had pooped in his box, and had managed to smear the poop on himself. I cleaned him up as best I could and replaced the soiled towels. I bottle-fed him for a few minutes until he decided he didn't want anymore, and then headed up to a pet supply store to buy more baby bottles. (He bit through the nipple on this one.)

Shortly after I checked out of the pet supply store I got the call that my mom was ready for pick-up. She was woozy, as she always is after these treatments, and hungry. I took her to Cracker Barrel for a late breakfast. It was already after 12:30, and she had not been allowed to eat anything since the previous afternoon.

We had the worst service at Cracker Barrel I have ever experienced, and the second-worst service I have experienced anywhere. It wasn't the food that was a problem, though they didn't have any cherry fruit topping for my pancakes, so I had to settle for blackberry. No, it was the coffee.

The coffee that was poured for us while we were ordering was very hot. Very very hot. McDonald's lawsuit hot. Unfit-for-human-consumption hot (which is why I do not consider the McDonald's lawsuit over scalding hot coffee to be a frivolous one; it is not reasonable to expect that a beverage intended for consumption should be capable of producing first-degree burns.)

But that wasn't the problem. Given enough time, and enough blowing on the coffee (using "the wind under your nose", as the Polish saying goes) we were eventually able to nurse it down. The first cup even lasted halfway through our meal.

No refill was proffered.

Now in other countries, I know the U.S. policy of unlimited refills of coffee is considered odd. In Japan and other places the "second cup" is considered exotic and innovative - just don't ask for thirds. But in America it's considered standard. Partway through your meal the server will arrive with a pot of coffee and cheerfully offer refills, and then again towards the end of the meal. But that didn't happen today.

I finished my coffee first. The blackberries were cloyingly sweet, which is why I prefer the edgy tartness of cherries. It is not possible for me to finish the pancake-and-fruit breakfast platter without coffee, and I still had half the meal left. I tried to catch our server's eye, but she was nowhere to be seen. I tried to catch anybody's eye, but apparently I had accidentally invoked an invisibility field over our table. Besides, nobody had a pot of coffee.

After about ten minutes I finally found our server. We asked for refills. "Oh, didn't someone refill your coffee?" she replied. "I saw (someone) over here and thought she took care of you." She toodled off, the promise of fresh coffee billowing in her wake.

After another ten minutes the restaurant had filled up with a lunchtime crowd, and I was becoming more incensed. I was thinking of stepping out to a nearby Starbucks, buying their overpriced and overrated coffee, and bringing it back. Finally we were able to get the attention of another server. She took our request for more coffee, but it was quite clear that she was not happy about it.

Time ticked by. Still no coffee.

I was on the verge of a violent outburst when, what felt like ten minutes later, she finally showed up with coffee.

Five minutes after that our server came by with the bill. "Oh, did you get your coffee?" she asked.

Yes. Yes we had, thank you very much for asking.

Needless to say, the tip was only 15%.

(And that wasn't the worst service I've ever gotten. No, that was at the Hard Rock Café at Inner Harbor in Baltimore. I went in there a few years ago with someone who was starting to develop a diabetic emergency. I flagged down one of the yuppie snob GQ boys who were posing as servers, explained the situation to him, and asked him to please do everything he could to get food to my friend quickly. He eagerly assented, and then vanished. It took us over a half hour to get our food, while people who were seated after us were quickly waited on and served. Fortunately, my friend had an emergency nutrition bar in her purse, and was able to stave off a medical crisis with it. When the server finally showed up he was totally blasé about the slow service, particularly in light of my request. I believe his tip consisted of two pennies...for the eyes, of course.)

3 comments:

joy said...

You left a 15% tip for that lousy service? I only leave a 15% or 20% tip for GOOD service! I'm ridiculously generous for outstanding service - partly cuz I'm so lousy at math {is a $5 tip too much for a $7 tab with excellent service?). That no-refill waitress would've gotten NO tip from me.

Wouldn't that "cloak-of-invisibility" be a useful power to have if you could control when it worked? Happened to me once when I attempted to have lunch alone at a Black-Eyed Pea in Little Rock. I was craving one of their side-dishes, so decided to eat there on one of my afternoons off work. Someone seated me at a highly visible booth. I sat there for at least a 1/2 hour with no one ever coming to take my order or even offer me water. This was like 2PM and the restaurant wsa practically empty, so it's not like the place was so busy, they just didn't get to me. The dread "cloak-of-invisibility" had fallen around my shoulders. Needless to say, I sent a nasty letter to the manager of the restaurant when I got home. He sent me a letter filled with apologies and a free coupon, but before I was able to use it, the place had gone out of business. It was once extremely popular, and the food was great. But word of lousy service gets around. Beware, Cracker Barrel---I find myself avoiding that restaurant due to several poor-service episodes at various locations.

D.B. Echo said...

Joy, I've never worked in food service, but my understanding is that tips are pooled among the waitstaff and then divided up. So punishing one server for lousy service punishes all of them. Besides, it might not have been her fault - the fact that NOBODY was running around with a coffee pot suggested that maybe there was a problem with the coffee supply. If that was the case, though, she should have mentioned it. And as my mom pointed out, the caffee was very good, as was the food.

In the case of the Hard Rock Café incident, the contemptuous neglect was so egregious that I didn't give a rat's ass if everybody in the place went home without a paycheck that week.

My worst invisibility incident was at a McDonald's 15 years ago. I had stopped in after working night shift. It was my last day on shift, and I was treating myself. I made my way to the front of the line, and the clerk went away. When she returned she began waiting on people BEHIND me. It was the damnedest thing. After she did this twice, I stepped into her line of sight, looked her in the eyes, and said "Excuse me, I would like to ORDER!"

joy said...

I dunno, Harold. Would we hear these occasional stories about "Waitress receives $35,000 tip" if she had to share it with her co-workers? Needless to say, I'm one of those who thinks the whole "tipping system" should be banished and waitresses, etc, just paid a decent wage. It's too confusing to keep track of (do I tip the newspaper delivery person? my hairdresser? the UPS delivery guy? where does it end???), plus the tax implications are patently unfair since no one knows how much someone got paid in tips. If the purpose of Tips really is "To Insure Promptness" (which I believe is a myth), then it should reflect the quality of the service - not the quality of the coffee or food or even cleanliness of the surroundings.