“Does D__ still own this place?” asks the man with a mouth full of food. “I know the owner,” he says to the women. “D__ is such a nice person. So warm and caring. Everyone I know who knows the owner says the same thing. I’ve had a few drinks with D__. What a nice person. Isn’t D__ great?” he asks me.
“Ah, yes, the owner is very nice,” I say.
The women do not look impressed.
Their entrees are cleared and the man orders coffee. When I bring it over I leave dessert menus on the table, explaining what our special is.
After about 10 minutes of the dessert menus not being touched, I go over to see if the man would like more coffee. He declines. I then ask about dessert. The women shake their heads and indicate that they don’t want anything more. I remove the dessert menus from the table and print the check.
As I’m dropping the bill in the middle of the table (and not squarely in front of the man since that is outdated and presumptuous and I do not want to offend the women if either they’re paying or they’re feminists or they’re both), I begin to say, “Thank you so much . . .” when the man interrupts me.
“Wow! That was fast!” he declares in a cheery voice. My hand pauses in mid-air.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to rush you. I just thought that since you didn’t want more coffee or dessert you might want the check. I didn’t want you to be sitting here tapping your feet and waiting for me to bring it to you.” I’m speaking very quickly and the words are tumbling together. My neck is hot and itchy and I can feel myself flushing with embarrassment.
I shove the offending check into my apron pocket. Making a table feel rushed is such a rookie move and I know better.
“Oh no! You’re fine! We were just talking about the difference between the service here and the service in Europe. You know in Europe? Everything is so much more relaxed there. You go to a restaurant and sit for a while then you order and after you’re finished you can stay for as long as you want. No one rushes you. That’s how it should be everywhere,” the man says.
I start to express regret that I didn’t give them more time, but the man reassures me, “This has nothing to do with your service. It’s like this everywhere. The restaurants just want us out of here so they can get the next table in. No one wants to take their time. Why do you think that is?”
It takes a couple seconds before I realize he’s not asking this rhetorically.
“Why do I think that is? I think it’s because people are demanding. It’s because, in America, people want what they want when they want it and if they aren’t instantly gratified they complain.”
“It’s because the cost of running a successful restaurant is higher than it’s ever been so the tables have to be turned with greater frequency to get in the black.”
“It’s because, as a society, we have come to expect a certain level of rapid service. People are no longer willing to wait for their waitress to run food to other tables and clear plates, and this is why bussers and runners are employed.”
“In Europe, a continent I have been to, by the way, the servers are paid a living minimum wage. They’re not working for tips. Things can wait. Here, in America, I have to do everything I can to make as much money as possible during my shift since I am only paid $2.31 an hour, and not even that after taxes. Have you ever gotten a zero paycheck for 40 hours of work? I’m sure we would all be better off if you could force your beliefs about how restaurant service should be performed onto the entire world.”
“And I’m not reassured when you say your conversation about the American-style of service has nothing to do with me. I’m your waitress. This is America. So congratulations! In addition to asking a question for which I can give you no satisfactory answer, you’ve now made it clear I’ve done my job in such a way as to cause you to negatively compare this experience to the hours you spent unhurried and at peace in some Parisian cafe. Great. Well, this has been fun for me.”
What I actually say is, “I don’t know.”
“Ah, well! It’s really such a shame the way things are done here,” says the man. “I’ll take the check.”
I make change for them and leave the bill on the table. “Thank you so much,” I say. “Enjoy the rest of your evening.”
“Tell the owner I say hello, will you? We’re overdue for a drink,” says the man as he shrugs on his coat.
“Of course I will,” I say, smiling. He’s forgotten to tell me his name. I’m not going to ask.