Dignity and Respect-Jeremy Smith Guest Post (Pep Talk)

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 09/24/2012

Waiter and Blogger, Jeremy Smith, seems like the type of guy I’d love to have a few drinks with. Jeremy writes a restaurant blog called, You Just Got Sat. After reading his blog, he appears to be whimsical, funny, blunt, and ‘good people’. Jeremy works at Blue Fin Sushi & Grill in Rome, GA, and is someone whose writing and perspective, often resonate with me.

From Jeremy’s first blog post titled, I Love The Restaurant Business on January 9, 2011:

Over the years I have attained a set of skills that will ensure that I will be employable no matter where I go. I found a way to parlay my personality into profit and I don’t even have to take my clothes off…

There appears to be a negative stigma attached to working in the service industry, though. A lot of people seem to think that restaurant workers are greedy, stupid, mean-spirited people who lack drive, talent or worth. They treat us with disdain and contempt. Almost unanimously they will reply to any complaint made by a restaurant industry employee that they should just ‘Get a real job’. Then they’ll usually leave a crappy tip.

I firmly believe that working in a restaurant is a valid occupation and that those who do so are worthy of the dignity and respect accorded to those who work in other occupations. Maybe that is a silly idea, but what can I say? I’m a silly guy.

I love the restaurant business.

And I’m not ashamed to say it. 

Pep Rally May 25, 2012 JerBer:


The other day was not supposed to be a busy day. Customers, if they did come in, were supposed to trickle in slowly. Tumbleweeds were supposed to be rolling with lackadaisical abandon down the main alley as servers filled out crossword puzzles while leaning over a beer cooler, games were supposed to be played, jokes told, cigarette breaks taken.

Obviously none of that shit happened.

At about 5:30 we discovered that due to some strange sort of temporal anomaly, everybody in a twenty mile radius who had a birthday that day decided they wanted to eat at The Sushi Joint. And in the spirit of their shared birth anniversary camaraderie, they all rode the same bus to get there. Now before this starts sounding like a bitch session, trust me–it’s not. It’s great having business and these people were all pretty much super nice, but unfortunately for this one table a perfect storm brewed up and rained down a torrent of inconvenient shit on them.

That’s overstating it a bit. Really the only complaint they had was that the overall service took a good bit longer than they’re used to. It wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t the kitchen’s fault, it wasn’t the hostess’s fault, it wasn’t the table’s fault–it wasn’t anybody’s fault. It takes a little bit longer for everything when your restaurant fills up instantly with large parties, and all those extra seconds spent waiting on the POS terminal, waiting on the beverage station, waiting on longer ticket times, etc. add up. Adding to the mix, it started out as a six top but grew to an eight top (which was not that big of a problem at all), and when they got sat and I took their drink order, I was told that two of them had to leave soon and they needed their food in ten minutes (which was pretty fucking impossible at that time to be honest).

Let me be clear about this: I am NOT bitching about this table. It was a group of medical professionals that dine with us frequently and I am never unhappy to see them in my section. They just happened to be the victims of unfortunate timing–if they had sat down twenty minutes before or after they did then you wouldn’t be reading this. You’d probably be on facebook or watching porn. And I wouldn’t be all that surprised if you had another window open right now. I wouldn’t be jealous. You and I, we’re cool like that.

No one complained about things taking longer than they normally would have. Not the eleven top celebrating a birthday, not the couple having dinner, not the nice family of four sitting adjacent to the medipro table, not even the medical professional table, NO ONE complained about anything. Everybody that was there knew that the place just got flash mobbed and they assumed naturally that it would take a minute. Everybody was pretty nice and understanding except this one guy at the medipro table, and even HE was still pretty nice and (oddly enough) fairly understanding about it all.

But despite all this he kept me at the table for five minutes making valid complaints about the time of service and disputing the autograt. He acknowledged the situation wasn’t our fault and the fact that there was literally nothing that anyone could have done differently, and honestly he was never rude or hostile. He did, however, actually say words to the effect of ‘If we are going to have to pay a service charge we should have our own server that waits on just this one table’, a suggestion that even he seemed to recognize as wishful thinking almost as soon as he said it. I could tell confrontation didn’t come easily to him. He’s always been a nice guy and a good customer before, but his shaking voice and shaking hands told me how upset he was. I felt bad for the guy to tell the truth, so much so that I even asked him (once) if he wanted me to remove the grat from his bill. He eventually settled on vowing to never come back and my last words to him were Please Come Back. Sometimes there’s nothing else you can do.

While we were having our conversation, the father from the family of four at the next table was listening, and then he decided that he wanted to have a conversation with me also. But his conversation was a lot nicer. He also acknowledged the generally goatfucked nature of the situation and then he gave me all this really, really nice praise and encouragement. I wish I could remember what all he said but I was too busy at the time and quite frankly blown away by the sheer niceness of it all.

You see, Family of Four Dad was under the impression that I had just been cussed out for five minutes and he was giving me a pep talk. He told me how pleasant his meal had been and how well he thought I handled the situation and how well I held up under pressure–things he probably would have never thought to say if he hadn’t witnessed me getting a tongue-lashing from his table neighbor.

Every once in a while, having a table chew you out or act unreasonable can actually have a positive effect on your night if you handle it well. Customers can hear what their neighbors are saying to you, especially if they are making a spectacle of themselves. When you handle anger with compassion, insanity with reason, and rudeness with kindness, people respond to that. They really do, and it can be a beautiful thing.

The guy at the medipro table wasn’t mean or hostile or crazy but the Family of Four Dad apparently thought he was so he gave me a really nice pep talk.

I’ve been cussed out before–REALLY cussed out–and rarely have I gotten a pep talk from a neighboring table. It’s happened though. And it’s always cool when it happens. The best, most succinct and concise pep talk I’ve ever gotten was from a local insurance magnate regular who overheard this crazy ridiculous bitch just going off on me because she wanted avocados with something that didn’t normally come with avocados and she couldn’t figure out why she should have to pay for them (FYI it’s because we sell food for a living lady). This guy overheard the conversation and said simply: ‘Man, don’t let what that miserable bitch said get you down.’

Amen, brother.

So to all you pep talkers out there: Thank You! Words are powerful, much more so than most people realize. When you give heartfelt words of encouragement to others you can have a profound impact on their night. Healing words are ten times more powerful than hurting words, so the next time you see some poor bastard getting chewed out for something feel free to try to give them a pep talk. It won’t hurt anything and it can mean the difference between going home crying while giving everybody the finger and going home laughing. Not that I ever give everybody the finger. That’s not like me.

And as always, treat restaurant industry employees with . . .

Dignity and Respect

Me, The JerBear

Please leave your comments for Jeremy below. Thank you.

Jeremy, let’s have that drink sooner rather than later. Cheers, brother.


4 Responses to “Dignity and Respect-Jeremy Smith Guest Post (Pep Talk)”

  1. Amen indeed, brotha! This guy makes a really great point in the beginning about the public’s perception of restaurant employees. Well, it might not be that black and white. Food service business employs 8% of the workforce. That encompasses far more than the restaurant industry. I think that we, as restauranteurs, alienate ourselves. We pay measly wages and demand hard work. The tip isn’t a universal reward. Just because the service staff openly gets 2.63 (in MA) an hour, doesn’t justify the poor payment of most employed in this facet of the food service industry. It truly is blue collared work, a trade, and most people feel inferior having a trade vs a profession. It can be a profession, and that is where the grey area comes into play. Some of us treat this business as a profession, and are eager to learn, while others use this business to obtain a quick buck with a flexible schedule.

    What us professionals need to do is restructure the system from within. Alice Waters has been doing this in California for over 30 years. She employs savvy professionals, and pools the gratuities to offer benefits to her employees.

    I truly think that if we openly question our structure, work to improve its flaws, and attempt to create a healthy, sustainable workplace for employees, we can be viewed as a legitimate career choice.

    As of now, who’s to blame the general public? Most restaurants go out of their way to hire cheap labor (college kids, illegal immigrants). These are great workers, and our business truly thrives off of them. So, do not mis understand my point before I make it. The fault is on the operators, because they hire certain demographics knowing damn well that they can take advantage of these people. They know that they can get away with things like not providing health benefits, nor a structured schedule, and worse of all, encouraging substance abuse.

    Yeah, I said it. This business is fucked up. But, I truly believe that there are enough good people out there, like Patrick and Jeremy, that we can improve our culture. If we don’t attempt growth and change, it will never happen. Shit head companies like Darden and Brinker could care less about creating a truly positive workplace.

    Alright, I have to cut myself off before I piss off too many people. But please note, I did not edit this comment, nor was it premeditated. Patrick Maguire is a close friend of mine and I felt very comfortable addressing these topics on his blog because I know he truly cares about a stable work environment that is founded on mutual respect and not just sourcing humane livestock, but treating humans humanely as well.


  2. big paulie says:

    My favorite story along these lines occurred about fifteen years ago on a New Year’s Eve. Everyone was having a great time but for one table of four. Three ate and drank silently while the fourth, a lady in her sixties, did nothing but complain — loud and long. Mind you, the restaurant was packed and the bar was two to three patrons deep. I had to assist the server in that area of the restaurant merely because she was stopped by this woman *every single time the server passed her table.*

    The people seated nearby this woman were trying their best to have a great time but their patience was wearing thin. It was about half an hour before midnight and we were distributing champagne flutes when the woman got up and shook my waitress by both shoulders and yelled loudly “you know, you’re not doing a very good job here!” I dropped what I was doing and was making my way through the crowd to the table — but a (male) customer beat me to it. This guy is the guy I present as my example of the great customer.

    All in one moment, the man pulled aside the server, who was doing everything she could not to cry, and spoke to her briefly. This momentary contact reassured her and the server went off to continue her tasks.

    The nasty customer took her seat and started to lambaste the man for interfering with her. With one fluid motion, the man removed a pitcher of water (ordered by the lady because apparently we couldn’t fill their glasses fast enough) from the lady’s table and poured it in her lap. Now, while I don’t ever condone an assault by one person on another (and yes, pouring ice water in someone’s lap is still an assault even though fists aren’t involved) I started laughing. Two of the four tables surrounding the nasty customer stood up and applauded.

    My teary waitress laughed out loud even as she was getting clean towels and a tablecloth or two to dry off the now saturated woman who’d been complaining. Even one of the people in her party was laughing. The woman stormed out the door of the restaurant, husband in tow, swearing to call the police and to sue me for everything I have.

    The great customer who’d done this continued to re-assure my waitress until we’d toasted the new year. The waitress spoke about his kind, re-assuring words long after this evening was over.

    Later in the evening all the revelers had left, we were cleaning up after the party and a police officer entered the restaurant. I greeted him with “I know why you’re here…” and he started laughing. He wasn’t there to arrest anyone for assault with a deadly pitcher. Apparently the woman who’d had water poured in her lap makes calling the police a habit. Once, she’d called them because another restaurant had no paper towels in the washroom. Another time she called them from a parking lot after being thrown out of another restaurant (she claimed it was illegal of them to ask her to leave as it’s a ‘public restaurant’). And on and on…

    The officer asked something along the lines of “it was only a glass of water, wasn’t it?” The honesty in me combined with the fact that there were plenty of witnesses impelled me to tell the truth — that it was a pitcher of ice water. He took down some information from me and, as he left, said that we must’ve had a horrible time with this customer but to be certain not to let her behavior color my opinion of the rest of the town.

    Most of us go out to a restaurant to eat, have a drink, have a good time and go home. Sadly, there are those for whom dining out becomes a chance to complain and otherwise be miserable — and take out their unhappiness with the world on other human beings. Worse, there are customers whose evening wouldn’t be complete without getting some sort of comp from a restaurant which was garnered by a complaint lodged with a server or manager. Corporate policies which reward gratuitous complaints with free drinks, appetizers and even whole meals (in the name of “the customer is always right”) validates the boorish behavior of these people.

    No, the customer is not always right. But the ones with a kind word of encouragement more than make up for the ones who’re actually quite wrong.

  3. Big Paulie- Thank you, as always, for your bringing your wisdom, insight, and perspective to the conversation. Very much appreciated.

  4. Yangbo Du says:

    The most comparable experience of mine occurred this past March while dining at Five Points in lower Manhattan. While the staff at the bar chatted casually in my full view, another patron called one of them over to him and complained about slow service, plainly stating that he will leave a smaller tip than usual this time (He still left 20 percent tip — “would he have tipped 40 percent otherwise,” the bartender suggested?). I gave the bartender (very well-meaning, having spent ten years in independent theatre after finishing university in Chicago and planning a move to Los Angeles to become a producer) some reassurance and both of us laughed off the incident.

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