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Table Tales: Hector Garcia Reports Customers From Hell

Last night I received Hector Garcia’s weekly newsletter. In it was this little gem of a story. I thought I’d share.

“We are foodies!” These words scare most waiters, but not because they are afraid of foodies. People who ARE foodies, show themselves by what they order, what they drink, and how they act in a restaurant. Not by proclaiming it.

So when a table of four in the patio (one woman, three men) announced to James that “we are foodies!”, he soldiered on. As he walked away from the table he heard the lady say, “I thought we were coming to a Five Star restaurant.”

In the wait station, where talk is constant, James informed the other servers. Responses in general were: “Good luck with that!” “Oh, man, I’m sorry.” “No. I won’t trade you that table!” They all know what it means: They are not really foodies, you’re going to work very hard, several things will go wrong, and you’re going to get a base line tip.

Jump for the naughty bits.

James suggested and they ordered the Dark Horse Cabernet, a terrific well-priced wine by an award winning California winemaker. They “didn’t quite like it” but wanted to keep it.

James suggested and they ordered The Avocado (stuffed with lobster and Wisconsin cheese, lightly battered, flash fried, served with cilantro cream). They didn’t think the avocado was hot enough. (Note #1 to would-be foodies: an avocado basically falls apart in high heat due to its oil content. It will never be hot.) They ate all of it.

Then came the clincher: one of the three gentlemen ordered The Stack (grilled bread, hash browns, steak, fried egg on top, cayenne hollandaise over the entire thing. It is awesome!) but he wanted his steak “Pittsburgh with a hot center”. Any food professional can tell you what “Pittsburgh”, “Pittsburgh style”, or “Pitssburgh rare” means. (You can Google “Pittsburgh rare” for a quick answer.) So, when the order goes into the kitchen and James tells the chef, the expected response of “WHAAAT?’” and the grill cook’s Spanish version of “Gimme a Break!” came right back.

I saw trouble ahead and planned with James that I would check on the entrees after they were served, but before James checked on them. That way I would take the heat.

I walked up to the table in the patio about one minute after entrees were served and inquired of Steak Man. My 31 years in the business did not prepare me for what followed. Steak Man brushed the egg and Hollandaise sauce off the top of the steak with his bare hands and picked up the meat with his fingers. As he held it up at eye level and turned it around showing me, he said, “It’s not what I ordered. There should be flame marks all over it. It’s a great steak, but not what I ordered. I’m gonna eat it.” Then he plopped it back down in the plate.

I recovered quickly and, of course, wanted to remove it so the kitchen could recook his entree. He wouldn’t let me have it. (Note #2 to would-be foodies: If you complain about an item and don’t allow the restaurant to fix it, you forfeit complaining rights.) I told him I would not charge him, though he ate all of it.

James dropped off the bill at the end of the meal. Walking away he overheard the lady say, “We might have to wash dishes.”

From inside, we watched them negotiate the bill between the four of them. Papers came out, went back in, they talked back and forth. Finally, they pulled out a Groupon and laid down two credit cards. I walked out to pick it up. “Just split it between the two cards after the Groupon.”

They tipped 15% based on the reduced price after the Groupon and after the comped steak.

I stood by the front door to say good night. The lady came first, smiling, and thanked me, “Thank you. We had a great time”. The two other guys followed closely and thanked me while they shook my hand and smiled. And bringing up the rear was Steak Man.

I was suddenly panicked realizing what was about to happen. Sure enough, he smiles, sticks out his right hand, the hand that had brushed egg, Hollandaise, and picked up the steak, and he shook my hand.

I was somewhat paralyzed, slightly in shock, and watched him at the door as he turned, smiled, and waved with this left hand, the hand carrying an empty bottle of Dark Horse Cabernet.

As I washed my hands in the kitchen, I thought about the surreal experience. It’s definitely one for the book…someday.

And, by the way, there’s only one thing that scares waiters more: “We are GREAT tippers!” Now, that’s the kiss of death.

16 comments on “Table Tales: Hector Garcia Reports Customers From Hell

  1. I just hope that somehow this blog reaches these creeps and that they are made to realize what toads there were.

  2. I bet Leslie No Stars Brenner was in the group and will “review” Hector’s shortly.

  3. Nancy, would you consider writing a series of posts that would provide suggestions to diners? Maybe guidelines to diners to treat servers and restaurant workers with decency and why certain rules and protocol exists…

    For instance, please don’t think it’s okay to change your baby’s diaper in the dining area, EVER.

    Waiting for a table for 30 minutes on Valentines Day doesn’t entitle you to a to scream at the host repeatedly for a “free appetizer”?

    When your kids throws up in a restaurant, clean it up or at least help. Don’t just get up and walk out. It’s disrespectful to the other patrons, the business and to the team of people who have to clean it up.

    When you come into the restaurant during Happy Hour, don’t expect MORE discounts on top of the discounts you are already getting. Don’t refer to yourself as a “good customer” if you have never visited the restaurant/bar or paid full price, and especially if you have a GROUPON or a Coupon.

    Don’t throw change at servers.

    Don’t send back food claiming it isn’t fresh because you over-ordered and didn’t want to pay for it, especially after we remade it for you.

    Don’t backstab restaurants on Yelp. If you are disappointed with anything, ask to speak to the manager and give us a chance to fix it. Don’t say everything is “fine” and then write a snarky review.

    And why, why, why do people expect extras to be free? Just because it’s not listed on the menu doesn’t mean it doesn’t cost us real money and real labor to customize this sauce for you or extra side of arugula? Why are customers resentful if they are charged for something they consumed or customized?

    When did demanding a “free shot” become acceptable? If something bad happened, talk to the manager during the meal, but don’t ask for something after you tabbed out to avoid paying for it.

    Hector, I’ve heard one worse than “We’re good tippers”: “We’re Yelpers”

  4. Good points and one more for InTheIndustry:
    When using a coupon, gift cert or the like, always tip on the value of the bill BEFORE the deduction of the coupon.

  5. What are the expectations of the bartender regarding a tip after dining in the restaurant/bar? I always tip the bartender and the waiter/waitress. Usually about 20% for the server and 10% for the bartender. Do servers divide tips with bartenders?

  6. This is exactly why I would rather serve time in a Russian gulag than own a restaurant. Me thinks, much less abuse in the gulag.

  7. @ Steven Doyle – I think the ration of women to men would have been reversed had it been Party Charlie!
    “I’m a foodie”? Ewwwww. Poor Hector. Actually, poor me as I now have a bit of a craving for the avocado/lobster app.

  8. Servers and bartenders don’t split tips in most restaurants. The server has to tip the bar staff a percentage of their bar sales, usually between 2 and 3 percent. Bartenders do have to split tips with each other and their barback (like a busboy) so you should usually treat them the same way you would a waiter. If you have a $20 bar tab, $3 or $4 is good, $5 means you’ll get really quick service if you go back. Bartenders can do math too (usually better than servers!) and a ten percent tip is pretty much considered an insult across the board.

  9. Great story! Thanks for sharing, Hector. We feel your pain but love your sense of humor.

  10. After doing the math, I leave a pretty nice tip for the bartender after all. I have 2 drinks for a total of $14.00 and I usually leave $3 – $5 in the tip jar. Never have I ever seen anyone finish a meal and stop at the bar to leave a tip. The bartender brought me a free drink once and said “thank you, you’re the only one who ever leaves a tip everytime you’re here.”

  11. LOL @Van

    Aside: one day you’ll all realize that there can be a world without tipping. One day.

  12. JI,

    And on that day, you will stop having intelligent, well-heeled, educated, traveled, cultured waiters. Have fun with that.

  13. P.S. The other death sentence –

    The old handshake and “Thank you for your great service, you were wonderful,” etc. Always sub par tips.

    Oh, and another total gyp – applying cash toward the total, paying the difference with a credit card and only tipping on that part of it (i.e. 400 dollar tab, 200 paid cash, 200 credit, 40 tip). REALLY?

    Also quite popular is the old take-the-merchant’s-copy “by mistake” trick. Bill’s paid but gratuity vanishes and can’t be verified, so the server is effectively stiffed. I have a strong impression that certain businesses encourage their p-card holders to practice this.