There is an insidious force in our country today. It threatens to destroy the very fiber of our forefathers’ vision of equality and fairness. We must fight to bring down this destructive ideology before it is too late. This evil philosophy, my friends, is “the customer is always right.” This is not a new paradigm, but an all-American false truth that has grown into a monstrous policy of support for unbridled asshole-ism.
The following heinous restaurant story is absolutely true. The names have not been changed because there are no innocent to protect.
Mr. Rhodes had a reservation for seven people at 8:45 one Friday night. At 9:30, management had still not allowed me to break up the table being held for the no-shows (God forbid they should show up and have to wait!), and I was watching my night’s income dwindle thanks to my one-third-empty station during the best part of the night. By 9:40, shortly after I was granted permission to reset the tables for waiting guests, in came the Rhodes party of not seven but nine. An extra table was carried in over the heads of the noisy crowd, and by 9:45 the Rhodes party was seated. I was relieved to have warm bodies at my tables as I approached with a friendly greeting, took their cocktail orders, and got the ball rolling. Things progressed in a virtually perfect manner, with drinks, appetizers, salads, and more drinks brought, cleared, and refilled at precisely the right moments. I had that great, high feeling waiters get on busy nights when all is cruising along at a fast, smooth clip.
As I helped clear the last of the salad plates, Mr. Rhodes motioned me over and said matter-of-factly, “You’d better get our food out here right now or I’m going to write a letter.” I paused for only a split second, blinked, and said, “No problem, sir! I’ll bring it right out for you.” I turned and went straight back to the kitchen to personally expedite the main course, which was already coming up on the line as I came through the door. One minute later, picking up a tray stocked full by the backwaiters, who were poised to follow with two more trays full of food, I went out the kitchen door, where I ran into none other than Mr. Rhodes himself. He had followed me to the kitchen and waited outside the door for me. His tone was glib and his words were well practiced: “You’d better comp something or I’m gonna write a letter.” He turned smugly, preceding me back to the table. I said nothing until the hot food had been placed before the nine guests, at which point I approached the vexing and perplexing Mr. Rhodes for clarification.
“I don’t understand,’ I said. “Is something wrong?”
“We waited for over half an hour for our dinner,” the clearly deranged Mr. Rhodes said in that infuriatingly frank voice. “That is completely unacceptable. Do you know who I am?”
“I'm afraid I don’t, sir.”
“Well, I know Sally at corporate. I know Susie, too. I know all of them and they know me so you’d better comp something or I’m writing a letter.”
Nothing at all was wrong with the service. It had been perfect. I was proud of my work. But apparently Mr. Rhodes perceived the situation differently, or was happy to lie his fat ass off just to get free food and have his way. I went to the manager and explained that nothing whatsoever had gone wrong and that I thought the guy was nuts (but then again, he did know Sally and Susie). The manager ended up comping the meal for the entire table, drinks and all. For my part, I received a twenty from Mr. Rhodes (his total outlay for the night and a third of what I would have made on the check) and the reassurance, “I know it wasn’t your fault. It was the kitchen. You did a great job.” I should win an Academy Award for the effectiveness with which I concealed my pure loathing of this bastard. I simply said, “Thank you,” and went off to smash empty wine bottles in the Dumpster.
Later, I learned that Sally and Susie were indeed familiar with Mr. Rhodes. He wrote a letter every month about a different restaurant. They continued to send him gift certificates and assure him that everything would be fine next time. Apparently, Mr. Rhodes discovered that it was more expeditious to simply threaten to write letters. Why wait for a gift certificate in the mail when you can get free food on the spot?
Now think a moment. This is a potentially valuable resource for the thousands of poor and homeless people. The poor need only have the willingness to be utter assholes to eat all they wish of the finest food and drink and pay nothing. Why should the rich be the only ones to take advantage of this insane policy? Let the word go forth! Let all wheels be squeaky! Squeak! Squeak! Squeak! shall be our clarion call. All power to the kvetchers! Take no guest checks! Viva la asshole!
Seriously, friends, just because someone is a customer doesn’t make him right, any more than being white or male or rich does. We, the waitrons of the world, know that this complain-mania must eventually cease or the restaurant business as we know it will be brought down.
Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Maybe we should all spend more time preparing meals for each other in our own homes, doing our own dishes, and thanking each other for the care and effort devoted to the task. Maybe we can abandon our illusions of power over each other. Maybe not . . . that would be un-American.
Reprinted from Lumpen magazine, volume 4.