Monday, July 9, 2007

"That's Not Lasagna!"

Last night I had this really quiet, emotionless, business-like guy and his girlfriend come in. The guy had one of those super low voices, impossibly low. So low that when he's talking to you at normal volume you still can barely understand what's he saying. But it doesn't matter because the tonality is so cool. Anyway, him and his girlfriend order some drinks and some mussels to start. Everything is good. That is, until his meal comes. He ordered a "Tour of Italy" which has chicken parmesagna, fettucinni alfredo, and lasagna. I always tell people that you can't go wrong with the Tour.

I was wrong.

I put the meals in front of the couple and ask if there is anything else I can get them. The man just stares at his meal. Then he starts prodding his lasagna, poking it with his fork. I can tell he's having trouble forming his words. Finally, with great emotion in his voice he asks me "What . . . . is . . . this?" There is of course no good answer. Obviously it is lasagna, but this isn't what is coming to his mind. "Lasagna Classico?" I venture meekly. "THAT'S NOT LASAGNA!" he nearly screams. I (and clearly his girlfriend) are shocked by this display of passion. "This isn't lasagna, look at it, does this look like lasagna to you?" It certainly does, but again, this is not the answer he's looking for." "It does look a little flat," I say quietly. "This is Sh--!" he curses, "I can't eat this!" "Can I get a replacement for you, sir?" I say, "it will only take a few minutes." His response is "I'm not eating this, this isn't lasagna!" His rage is amazing, he can't even answer my questions coherently." "I will remove it from your sight," I say calmly. "That's not lasagna he says, I should talk to the manager." He says it like a threat, but it's not a threat to me, it's my salvation. "Absolutely, the manager will be by in a moment." I take the lasagna away on a small plate and go to find Steve.

Amazingly, throughout the whole exchange I did not feel upset at all. For whatever reason my guest kind of lost it over his slightly less then perfect lasagna and that is OK. We are all weak sometimes. I used to get freaked out by this but not anymore. As long as you don't react in a bad way, all is good. Eventually, Steve brought the man another piece of lasagna which looked only slightly better and the man asked me box it up. I got Steve to take his whole meal off the bill and the couple paid and left, with a wish for a good evening from me. Later on when I went by the table, he had left me a 30% tip (the standard by the way is 10-15%). Even more interesting was that his girlfriend had left me a couple of more dollars on the table as well (perhaps she was embarrassed by her man's conduct?). It just goes to show that people are emotional but that when handled correctly, you can actually profit from them being rude or obnoxious. Some servers hate the rude customer, but I find they usually tip better in the end. The trick is to not to resist their rudeness, but to go with it. They are daring you to fight them, instead join their team. It's kind of like offering them the other cheek "Go ahead and slap me again, here's the other cheek!). Suddenly they have no where to go - 9 times out 10 they will relent and feel sheepish. It usually doesn't even take very long. I don't think this lesson in handling angry people is just applicable to waitering either . . .

May Light increase!


Stacey said...

haha, sorry this story made me laugh. I am envisioning this man with the Barry White voice and his embarrassed girlfriend as she watches in horror over him losing his mind over slightly flat lasagna! However I am very impressed by the way you handle it and if I were that girlfriend I would have snuck in a few bucks for you as well! That's good advice that you gave, for us even not in the restaurant industry on how to handle people like this! A little politness to combat the rude wins almost every time! Way to go.

Thank you for your kind comment left on my last post on my blog. I wanted to comment on your "Deep Question" post but I may just post my answer on my blog instead for it has inspired me to write something that could end up being too long for a comment! I will keep you informed! Lately my work life has been taking over and I've been lax on my blog but thanks for your encouragement... it really helps!


Rayna said...

Good for you Mark - those kinds of customers always made me a little nervous - both in the restaurant and sales industries - but I usually found that calmness and dealing with it with courtesy helped. My stomach was always quaking a little afterwards, though! :)

Mark said...

Stacey: I look forward to your thoughts!
Rayna: Yes, I understand the "stomach quaking" thing. It is amazing though how projected calmness can soothe the savage customer.