10 July 2009

True customer tales (Part I)

Working as a bartender gives a person a unique view of the human condition. I get to see all kinds of people come through the Pork Palace, from hurried businessmen having a cocktail before a business dinner to families picking up food for a reunion and many more. Some of these customers I have already classified (see "Customers: A Scientific Breakdown"), but others... well, others require their own descriptions. This is one such story.

It was late one Wednesday night at the Pork Palace. It had been a busy night; I was tired and ready to get home. We had been closed for about half an hour, and my manager and I were watching part of a UAB basketball game on TV while I attended to my closing duties. We were engaged in some kind of chitchat when the front door opened and a customer walked in.

He was a heavyset man, bald, probably in his mid-fifties, wearing wire-rimmed glasses and business attire. I recognized him and stifled a groan. I couldn't remember his name, but he was a customer I couldn't forget.

Along with my regular customers and the people who I will never see again, there is a group of customers I like to call "Irregular regulars". These are the folks who come in very occasionally, but enough so that I remember their faces. What often jogs my memory for these customers is some unique quality particular to them: something unique about their job, they left me a huge tip, something like that.

This man, I silently recalled as he started towards the bar, was a pain in the ass. High maintenance, boorish, overbearing, crappy tipper. Iwas glad we were closed and I wouldn't have to deal with him for more than 30 seconds or so.

"Gimme a salad with catfish on it and blue cheese dressing," he demanded as he pulled out a barstool, making it creak as he plopped his girth onto it.

Of course, this is something we don't even have on the menu. I smiled my best tight-lipped server smile at him. This would be enjoyable.

"I am so very sorry, sir," I said politely, with a hint of satisfaction in my voice. "We closed half an hour ago."

"Hmph," he grunted unhappily. "So whatcha got left in the kitchen?"

I glanced through the expo window. Tyree and the rest of the kitchen staff were busy mopping and scrubbing, getting the restaurant ready for the next day's business. All the food had already been put away. I put on the smile again.

"It looks like they've already broken everything down," I said. "Sorry." I turned my attention back to my side work, expecting the man to accept his defeat and head back into the night, or at least to Waffle House.

I was wrong.

"Well, since you're closed, I guess there's no way I can get a drink, huh."

No way you're getting anything from me at this point, you ass, I thought to myself. I shook my head. "No, sorry. I've already closed out my cash drawer, so I can't ring anything up. We closed at nine, you know."

The man sat for a minute, pondering his options, and then looked at the flatscreen TV above the bar. UAB was still hanging in there. The man decided he would hang as well.

"Well, I'll just sit here and watch the rest of the game," he said, and settled back onto the stool, making it creak again.

I don't think there was any way I could mask my surprise -- or disdain -- at this point. I felt like Seth and Amy doing "Weekend Update" on SNL: Really?!?!? You mean to tell me -- after I've told you we are closed, after I tell you we're not serving any food, after I kindly let you know that I can't serve you any drinks -- you're going to sit and watch a basketball game?

I shake my head and get on with my work. Sweeping, mopping, wiping, with him staring stone-faced at the television. After about 15 minutes, I finish everything I can do behind the bar and move around to the front where I start putting the barstools up. I start at the far end of the bar, hoping he'll get the hint. He doesn't, not until I slam the next-to-last stool atop the bar next to him.

"Well, I guess I'll head out," he says nonchalantly. I don't reply. My polite server smile has been replaced with barely-masked hostility. He walks out the door and I shake my head, then put up the last stool. It's still warm from his fat ass.

My manager walks up to the bar. "What was up with that? I can't believe anybody would do that."

"It takes all kinds," I say. "There goes a man who is used to getting whatever he wants. And tonight, he didn't. Pissed him off, too."

I turn off the lights in the beer coolers, clock out, and walk out the door, still amazed at the chutzpah of the man. He may have no social skills or thoughts for others, but I have to admit he's got big brass balls. I'd never have the nerve to do what he did that night, and months later, I'm still amazed by his self-importance and sense of entitlement.

So this is for you, nameless customer whom I will never forget. Check the door when you come into a restaurant. Most of them have their hours posted there. If it's after closing -- or five minutes until -- go home, or go somewhere that's open later. You'll get better service, and you won't have smartass bartenders writing snarky blog posts about you months later.

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