Served: A Few Ways to be a Bad Restaurant Customer


Hannah Howard has worked in several restaurants, but she's made the switch to the grocery side of the industry. She's now a cheesemonger for a small market chain, and will share her experience here.

20080616-servedbug.jpgIt surprises me constantly how wonderful our guests can be. To serve people great food and create a memorable night: that is what my job is all about. When in turn people are warm, appreciative, and perhaps even fascinating, that makes my night a good one.

I will always remember the jewelry designer German lady who stayed at our hotel a few times a year and dined extravagantly with her colleagues, and other times alone. Without company, she gives me life advice that seems really wise and lovely, not trite. Maybe it's the accent.

But terrible customers have a terrible power to turn these great nights into difficult ones. I hope that someday soon, I'll develop a thicker skin.

Serious Eaters: I'm sure we are a community of well-behaved diners. So just for kicks, here are a few nasty run-ins that I won't forget any time soon.

A Bad Customer Changes their Story

Food allergies are serious things, so we take them seriously. If nuts will make you swell into a balloon, and you tell us this, there will be nothing nutty anywhere near that cutting board where your duck breast is sliced. Rest assured.

We are also sensitive to non-medical dietary restrictions. I've heard tales of restaurants passing off spinach cooked in chicken stock as veggie-friendly. We would never go there. If you are a vegan, we will cook for you some earthy wheatberries, turn them emerald with wheatgrass, and fill the bowl with huge and mini zucchinis.

We've had guests who can't (or chose not to) eat butter, seasoning, gluten, carbs, dairy, nightshades, and the list goes on. In fact, sometimes people with complicated dietary needs bring us a list of what they can and cannot eat. I feel lucky for my strong, healthy stomach when these lists span multiple columns or pages.

We're happy to oblige, because we know dining out can be challenging for these folks. Our beautiful veggies, grains, and seeds usually mean we are well-equipped to make something quality. During busy times, this can be really difficult—but we will do it anyway.

Which is why I went to talk to a guest who requested our wild sea bass—absolutely no seasoning, no butter, no oil—served over plain pasta. I wanted to make sure we got everything right.

"I can't have any salt, or pepper, or seasoning," she explained, "not a drop," and then went on to deliver a little TMI about her colon troubles.

"Let me speak with the chef," I told her, "and make sure we can do that for you." It is always a good plan to speak with Micky.

He told me our sea bass had been brined in salt, pepper, and more good stuff earlier that day. But we could do the salmon for her sans seasoning: no problem.

I went back to deliver the information. "I don't like salmon." We are a small restaurant, and those were the two fish we had to sell that night. "We can prepare the pasta without fish," I offered.

But she wanted fish, she wanted the bass. "I'll take the sea bass."

"It's already been seasoned," I reminded her.

"No problem."

"But it's full of salt, and pepper, and citrus, and spices," I repeated. I didn't want to hurt the lady or her colon.

"It's OK," she said, "I understand, I'll take it anyway."

And so we served her the sea bass, but not over pasta since we only had parsley cavatelli and little pasta envelopes filled with smoked eggplant cream. Those things were not on her diet. As for my smirking, I did it in private.

A Bad Customer Doesn't Respect the Restaurant

I know we close early. We take our last reservations at 9, and start packing up the kitchen at about 9:30, or a bit later on the weekends if we're jamming.

This is because we are part of a boutique hotel. When we take out the bottles and clink them into the recycling dumpsters, when we clean up at the end of the night, we are loud. And guests complain. It's also because we are more about dinner and less about a bar scene, and because Philadelphia is an early-closing town.

Please, people, don't overstay your welcome. I know you are having a great time in our stunning garden, and you haven't seen your friends in a long time, and the night seems young. Kindly pay your bill and catch up elsewhere. We're tired, and have more work left to do, and want to go home.

Last week, a lady came in as we were shutting the light off in our garden. There was not a customer remaining.

"One for dinner," she said by way of introduction.

"I'm sorry," I told her, "We're closing down."

She huffed and puffed and crossed her arms. "I'm really hungry."

We're in Center City. Dining options abound. I told her about the restaurant next door, the bar down the street, the wine bar around the corner.

"Can't I just get a small bite here?" she said, "Something small?"

I went to double check that the kitchen was closed. The cooks had cleared out their stations and were bleaching down all surfaces.

"Yes, they're all broken down for the night," I reported. She let out another angry sigh when I delivered the news.

Why would she want to be the only customer in a closing restaurant? Goodnight angry lady. Some other business will be happy to feed you. We have glasses to polish, floors to sweep, and delicious beds awaiting our arrival.