In our continued journey down the path of my bitter roots, let's harken back even further than last time, in which I regaled you with a story from my days at California Pizza Kitchen.
Prior to that, during my stint in the Midwest, I was working at what remains my favorite restaurant experience, a delightful place in Oklahoma with a great staff, exceptional food, and mostly friendly customers.
The one bane of that restaurant was its strict the-customer-is-royalty mentality. During my four-week training (yes, four weeks, replete with 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. menu and etiquette classes), I was told that saying "No" to a customer was forbidden regardless of the circumstances.
I challenged this in training class:
ME: But what if a customer asks me to have sex with them for money? I can't say "no?"
MANAGER: That doesn't happen at our establishment.
ME: Indulge me. What if?
MANAGER: Well. Find a polite way to say that you're flattered and that you wish you could, but that you'll be too tired after work.
So. We were expected to bend over backwards to make our guests feel like kings and queens.
One night I waited on one of our few disliked regulars, as most other regulars were fairly polite people who never abused our "royalty" system.
But this asshole not only knew of our restaurant's "kings and queens" philosophy; he milked it to his advantage every time he dined with us.
We'd recently introduced a spicy black bean and sausage stew as one of our appetizers when I first had to wait on him.
Now, I know this will be difficult for you all to believe, but there was a time when I was terrified of approaching people as a server. I found myself making awkward jokes to join in on witty banter and sweating profusely as tables asked me tricky questions on the menu. I had none of the sassy gumption or witty retorts in my arsenal as I do now. Also, there's no possible way I would have gotten away with drinking on the clock at this restaurant, so I was without a paddle.
So. This cock puppet of a regular asked me about the black bean and sausage stew.
"Is it good?"
"I uhm, I haven't gotten to try it yet, but it just looks delicious," I replied.
"Oh that's helpful!" he said flippantly. "How spicy is it?"
"Again, sir, I, uhm, haven't tried it yet, sooo..."
"Yeah yeah, look," he said. "I don't like black beans. Tell them to make it without black beans."
"Unfortunately it's a pre-made stew, so they can't make it without black beans."
"Did you just tell me 'no?'" he asked with a raised eyebrow.
"No! No no no no," I said. "I'm sure we can do something."
"I know..." he said with a evil smile. "Why don't you pick the black beans out for me?"
"But..." I stammered. "The base of the stew is mashed black beans?"
"Then I'd suggest wearing gloves," he responded.
And thus, for 10 minutes, at the neglect of my other tables, I stood back in the kitchen, simultaneously holding back tears and singing Britney Spears to maintain composure, scared for my life that an errant black bean would result in a prompt firing.
I returned with the stew, the perfect product of my efforts, a rare offering from the days when I gave a shit about quality.
"Oh," he said after taking one look at it. "It's too big a portion; it will spoil my meal. I'd rather just send this back and have it taken off the bill."
And with that, alone in the dish pit, I threw the entire bowl in the trash can and made a quick stop outside to scream a litany of curse words with only the angry ducks from the neighboring lake as my audience.
And as I told those angry ducks, "Someday I will not take this from people. I will not..."