Monday, February 16, 2009

Valentine's Day Misadventures

I intended to spent Valentine's day resolutely ignoring its Hallmark bedecked happiness, and I made it mostly through the day successful in this. However, just as I was heading off to work, I got a text from a new friend of mine asking me if I wanted to join her and a few of her friends for dinner. I thought, why not?

So I went out into the heart of coupledom. I got to the restaurant first and kind of wandered around the waiting area, looking at the delicious menu and being torn between roasted vegetables or crab ravioli, looking at the lights draped over the potted plants and listening to the water trickling in a little fountain.

Then I wandered over to one side of the main door and found a huge, gold plaque dedicated to all those military men stationed at the post who have lost their lives in the war on terror. Not expecting that at all and feeling unsettled, I wandered over to the bench and sat myself down, determined to do no more exploring.

Fortunately, the girls arrived soon after and we all settled in to enjoy ourselves. There were four of us and all of our husbands are deployed. Two of them are expecting their men back very soon for R&R and a lot of the conversation was about plans for their arrivals.

Our waitress finally arrived at our table and the night went down hill from there. We were told that we would get water if there were glasses available. This statement caused some puzzlement but glasses duly arrived some time later, as did our appetizers, but not our utensils. Eventually we got those as well.

The salad came with cheese, though it had been ordered without, because the girl in question is lactose intolerant, and then the rest of our meal arrived. It was not good. My crab ravioli was stiff and rubbery and sat upright and leaning against one another in a small sea of Alfredo sauce. The pasta was striped with wide, red bands of food coloring. There was nothing else.

Another girl's chicken had a large piece of already congealing cheese on top of it and someone else's lemon chicken was almost inedible due to the incredible amounts of garlic it was seasoned with.

Meanwhile, an unknown couple the table next to us were engaging in displays of physical affection normally reserved for (I'm imagining) bars just before closing time when everyone is well and truly sloshed and looking for someone to go home with. The sounds, let alone the sights, of their physical delight in one another were hard to ignore.

My friends decided they would speak to the manager about the quality of the food, and I myself thought this a good idea, despite the fact that I had never done that before, due to my confrontation aversion. Besides, never before had I felt the need to either send something back or to complain.

We asked for the manager; the waitress asked us what about, we didn't wish to discuss it with her; she had begun the evening being irritable and off hand and hearing our wish for the manager did nothing to improve our relationship with her. Eventually a nice lady wearing glasses and a sweater came and leaned over our table, to ask us what she could do for us.

We were all tongue tied, so I leaped into the gap, telling her that I felt very sorry and that I never did this, but that my pasta had been...etc, etc and then we all got our turn and her face turned stiffer and stiffer and then she said stiffly, "I'll see what I can do for you," and then she never came back.

We all felt bad, but also determined to be heard. Eventually the waitress came back, her body tense with anger.

"I'm sorry you had such a bad experience," she began and we all poised ourselves to make conciliatory comments and wrap up the evening on a positive note, when she continued, angry and upset, "I've been in this business for twenty years and never had a complaint," and literally threw our check onto the table and walked away.

"Well, you just got one now," I shot back, though she was out of earshot. My god, I was angry!

I've been a waitress, we all at the table had been. We've had our fair share of pig headed customers and awful nights and dealt with it.

I've sat at the other side of my desk and listened while the integrity of my care managers, my ability to manage them, the quality of the food and the general service were all ripped to shreds by a family member and then apologized, took out a notepad and said one of the following, "This is what I will do for you, this is what I will put in place, how can I make this better?"

I did not make excuses and I certainly did not get angry and vent at them, ask them if they knew how hard it was go get their crotchety mom into the shower and dressed each morning and would she like to work an over night shift and try keeping all the laundry straight at three am in the morning and by the way, would she like to try ordering the food on the budget the kitchen manager was allowed?

We got thirty dollars taken off the check, which we split four ways. One of us almost asked for the manager back again, and we all groaned in chorus. But it was too late, one of the waitresses must have overheard her declare her desire for the manager again, because she came back! We were mortified and apologetically sent her away again.

By this time all we wished for was escape and to never, never come back to that restaurant again. However, another waitress came up to the table as we were configuring our checks.

"I'm sorry about your service this evening," she began and we all began to relax. "Your waitress has been working with us..."

Now, we all discussed the following statements among ourselves later and each of us was convinced beyond doubt that she was going to finish up with "....not very long and we've gotten a lot of complaints about her, I don't think she'll be with us much longer..."

This is not, however, what we heard. "....for twenty years. It's been a really hard night and we've all been running out of silverware and glasses. She's fifty years old and a single mother..." etc, etc.

I don't know about the others, but I felt like a Bad Person, a Difficult Customer. Who was I to harass an older, single mom with flagging energy and scarce dining resources? But on the heels of this, I felt a sweep of resentment.

We all could have played that game too, we could have said, "Our husbands are right now in Iraq, risking their lives for her freedom and security, and Mrs. Lactose Intolerant here has been a single mother to their three children for a over half a year and will be for a half a year more, and all we wanted was to get out and try not to be depressed on Valentine's Day, with glasses for our water and silverware for our food and to have a waitress that did not yell at us."

A couple of the girls did engage the waitress in a discussions of their experiences of being a waitress and expectations of professional behavior, but all that happened was that everyone got emotional. As soon as I signed my name on the slip of paper, I shot out of my seat and we all escaped as one.

As we did so, a lone man at the bar was heard to say in a slow, amazed voice, "One...Two...Three...Four!....single ladies...!" We were too quick moving for him to act on his dawning realization; we were out the door and laughing on the sidewalk in under a minute.

We were all amazed and feeling somewhat shell shocked. I still have mixed feelings about what happened. I felt badly that we were so obviously causing a raucous in the restaurant; I felt badly that we hurt the waitress's feelings and I felt bad that she was having such a bad night. I still feel guilty about that.

On the other hand, I keep thinking back to the hundreds of other restaurants I have been to over the course of my adult life, on all kinds of nights when the staff was obviously strained and the place hopping. And how never have I ever had such bad service or such poor food. I have never complained before, but the people I've been with have at times, and in those cases immediately it was made right, in a professional manner.

I'm still processing what happened. In the meantime, Keith's gift to me is sitting in its pretty lavender box on the dresser table; he got me a pajamagram. I'm going to keep it there until he gets back, as it's not, shall we shall, for practical, every day kind of wear...

He has recently discovered sound effects on his computer and so our conversations lately have been peppered with a backdrop of audible highlights. Some of my statements this morning were met with the sound of applause, others with the unmistable sound of a bomb dropping. When I told him it was that time of the month, I heard a long, piercing scream of terror.

"Alright, honey, I'm done playin'," he said meekly, after that. I didn't even have to say a word, he just knew. "You love me!"

Yes, I do. And next Valentine's Day we'll eat at home.


T said...

Yeah, there was no excuse for (non)service like that. Don't feel guilty at all. We all have bad days... we don't have to take it out on someone else!


Rebecca said...

I'm sorry you had such a bad experience. I complained once to a manager and she sent the waiter to apologize to me. She didn't give us free drinks or appetizers or even apologize herself, just sent the waiter back to us. That was awkward!

Ha! I just have to laugh about the sound effects.

Abbie said...

Oh what a nightmare of a dinner! Bad night or not, that's inexcuseable! I'm sorry you had such a rotten Valentine's Day, hopefully next year will be much better:)

New Girl on Post said...

Wow! What a crummy experience! I'm so sorry that you had to deal with her. I don't think she handled criticism well at all.

What happened to the customer is always right?