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.