Game Over

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Confronting without Confrontation

Posted: 07/31/2012

Thank you to everyone who visited this site to read the last post about the customer who tried to play a little game with one of the servers at our restaurant. There were 10,542 visits to the site within a day and a half after publishing the post.

Thank you also to Patrick Farrell from the Diner’s Journal section of the New York Times, Chris Morran from The Consumerist, Andrea Grimes from Eater National, The Gothamist, Pulse News, and everyone else who shared the post on Facebook and Twitter.

Lastly, thanks to most of the people who commented on the last post. The anonymous, “ihatetipping” person, and a few others, are just plain mean, ignorant, trolling assholes.

So here’s the rest of the story:

I returned to the restaurant, with our general manager, on Monday night to a nearly full restaurant, after distributing food at a neighborhood block party. The servers quickly told us what happened, then got back to work immediately. It was busy. After making a lap through the diningroom, and watering all of the tables, I saw the potential tip money on the table.

I actually had another server tell me a similar story a few years ago, but never saw the 3rd Rock or Cheers episodes that several commenters referenced. It was appalling to believe that someone actually had the nerve to try this charade in real life. As Andrea Grimes at Eater National said, this might be funny on a sitcom, but it “plays out like a serious dick move in real life.” 

My first reaction was; This violates what we stand for, and we need to end it now. Our restaurant actually has a page on our menu called, Law & Order, in which the following two items are included:

The customer is NOT always right. However, the respectful customer is always right, and the asshole customer is always wrong.

– … Just don’t be a douchebag.

The server who had the douchebag’s table was very busy, and really didn’t have time to think about the implications. Witnessing her anxiety and thinking about how demeaning the ruse was, made me and our GM, Suzie, incensed. Suzie went to the kitchen to check out the status of the couple’s meal, then came up with a brilliant plan: They’ve just finished their appetizers. Let’s take the high road. We’ll wrap up their entrées to-go, comp their entire meal and kick them out. I loved it. The dignity of our server was more important than the profit on the meal.

As it turns out, the couple had ordered a steak frites to split, so Suzie wrapped it up and handed it to me. I approached the table and said, Excuse me sir, may I speak with you outside? He immediately followed me out the door.

When we got outside, I introduced myself as one of the managers/partners of the restaurant, and shook his hand. I explained that I had just returned to the restaurant and learned about the little game he was trying to play with our server, and asked him, Do you realize how insulting, demeaning and disrespectful that is to another human being? He immediately began to appologize profusely, claiming that he was only trying to have a little fun, that he was smiling when he initiated the game, and that he had no malicious intent because he too, was in the restaurant business in New York. Not once did he push back at all, or suggest that I was overreacting. If he had, he would have been gone.

He was so convincing with his apology, that I told him I changed my mind about giving him his meal to go, and that I would allow him to finish his meal at his table. He returned to his table, promptly removed the cash from the table, then had to explain to his date what happened. They were both obviously humiliated. I took over the table so the server wouldn’t have to deal with such an awkward situation.

After taking a few bites of his steak, he stopped me on my way by and said, This is really good, and again, I am SO sorry. In front of his date I said, I hope you understand why I was boiling mad and how disrespectful that was? He said he did, and asked permission to apologize to the server. I asked him to make it brief. Moments later, he approached the server, gave her one of those two-handed handshakes where his left hand covered her right, and pleaded his case.  

I’ve never seen two people crush and entrée so quickly. When they were done eating, they stacked their plates (to help), and asked for the check. After fumbling with his cash and the check, I noticed he was attempting to write or scratch something on his check with one of his keys. Apparently he was too embarrassed to ask for a pen.

After shaking my hand for the umpteenth time, he apologizing one final time, then sheepishly left the restaurant.

I quickly examined the cash and check to make sure he didn’t stiff our server. He left $71 on a $50.83 bill, and the note etched onto the bill read, So Sorry.

Part of me still regrets not throwing him out.

29 Responses to “Game Over”

  1. Jeff Toister says:

    Thanks for sharing the rest of the story. It sounds like you handled it extremely well. And, I’m glad to hear you didn’t throw the guy out when he took responsibility for his mistake.

    The “tipping game” was a horrible move on the part of the patron, but I’m sure we’ve all done stupid things that we later regretted doing. It was refreshing to hear that he actually owned it when I’m sure most people would either leave quietly or make a big stink about the customer always being right.

  2. Gigi says:

    Why wouldn’t I have worked for you when I was in the business? I’ve had several versions of this “little game” played on/with me. One time I had the “I’m a big tipper…so you’d better take good care of me” routine. To which I responded, “I’m nice to everyone sir, but it’s been made glaringly obvious to me that people who usually SAY they’re big tippers usually aren’t. HERE’S YOUR CHANCE TO PROVE THEM WRONG!” With that, he gulped. He was on a date with a nice young lady (it was obvious just from her body language that there would not be a second) so he didn’t want to look like a huge dick so he kinda played along. I wasn’t that busy so I was able to give the table exemplary service. Everything went swimmingly. The tip? 8%.

  3. Gigi-Thanks for sharing. Ah, the old ‘verbal tip’. I always wonder what it’s like living or working with those assholes every day.

  4. Dee says:

    Patrick, thank you for sharing the rest of the story. It’s encouraging that the perp backed down when confronted, but of course he WAS confronted. Regarding his tip, I always leave at least 20% no matter what. I have never worked in food service, but a big part of my design practice is working for such clients, so I understand, at least in theory, the hard work involved. Besides which, it’s just the right thing to do. But I’m curious. He obviously left over 20% (unless my math is faulty) and also apologized. What makes a part of you regret not throwing him out? Should he have tipped more? Or is it based simply on principle? Or the sheer satisfaction, which we all would have enjoyed!

  5. Ronny The Whip says:

    BRAVO to you in your handling of this situation. Bravo on all counts.

  6. Dee-Thank you for joining the conversation. Only a small part of me regrets not throwing him out. In retrospect, it would have been for my own satisfaction. The important thing is that he owned it, apologized, and left a VERY generous tip for our server.

  7. Brett says:

    Absolutely great way to handle the situation. I’ve always been a believer in letting the customer (“guest”) either dig their way into or out of a hole. If they start off being rude or douchy then I’ll usually let them keep going. It’s not going to change my service because frankly, I can’t afford to. It’s the old football rule – never hit back, always hit first so you don’t get caught. Well, the customer is always the one hitting first so I cannot afford to “hit back” (verbally). I need this job and if that means taking crap from some jerk, then so be it. Having said that, it was GREAT to hear about you (mgmt) pointing out just how rude and disrespectful a customer was to their face and not letting them off the hook. I can see if they had handled it even a little differently then you would have given them the boot but why not use it to your benefit if possible? They leave with their tails between their legs, the server gets a great tip (albeit “blood money”) and the restaurant keeps it’s standards up. Well done but I completely understand the desire to show them the door by their shirt collars. If he ever comes back you should buy them their first round – “hey dude, we never forget”.

  8. Dee says:

    Thank you, Patrick. That’s what I figured. I guess the best ending of this story is the one you may never know: he’ll think twice before treating servers as servants. Good for you!

  9. nana909 says:

    Thanks for the AWESOME story, Patrick! I am really glad it had a positive ending, which it might not have had without your brilliant attitude!

  10. Jan Tessier says:

    Way to be, Patrick! Classy handling of the situation, and a good lesson for any potential dickheads out there who might read the blog. As always, a joy to read you. 🙂

  11. Dava says:

    “The dignity of our server was more important than the profit on the meal.”

    I wish that more service job managers had that philosophy; concerned about the people who work there day in and day out and represent the business, above siding with dickish behavior because someone might write a nasty comment on Yelp or complain to their (probably just as horrible) friends.

  12. Jezzie says:

    Wow. This whole story is just… wow. In the 15 years I spent in restaurants, I can count on my fingers the number of times management ever jumped to rescue me from an asshole customer, so epic kudos to you and your GM for stepping in and calling this guy on his bullshit. Also, it is very awesome indeed that you have a “Law & Order” section in your menu and that it is enforced. Maybe there’s hope out there after all. 🙂

  13. Well thank you for the rest of this story. I so wish more managers would do what you did. So many times the very thought of losing a customer or getting bad press because of the customer always being right trumps the dignity of the staff, server, customer service rep or sales assistant. Thank you for doing it right. Very sad that we have to even ponder such nonsense behavior.
    But at least in the end he did attempt to make things better.

  14. Michael says:

    Do waitstaff consider it helpful or rude for a customer to neatly stack his/her own dishes? I often do it to help (especially when the restaurant is busy) but reading this made me realize it may be taken as a sign that I’m rushing them or impatient.

  15. A says:

    Michael – I find it extremely helpful. At my restaurant, we are required to do our best to pre-bus our tables (i.e. ideally, by the time the people leave, the table should only have cups, napkins, maybe a few stray utensils, or something they were still nibbling on as they got up). If a table’s plates are easily accessible but the diners are deep in conversation, I like to use that process as a way to let them ask for the check or whatever else they might need without interrupting their discussion. Thus, there is nothing more frustrating than when a table has tons of dishes on it, they’re empty, or maybe they’re not but everybody seems to be done eating, people are talking and don’t seem to want to acknowledge your presence or give you an opportunity for a “polite interruption”, and you have to reach over everybody to try to get at the dishes. I so rarely get the neatly-stacked dish pile that when I do, I sometimes thank the customers for doing so. So… thank you!

  16. taxi says:

    he should have left 100, you should have tossed him after the app (literally). what a jackass. no mercy next time.

  17. Darren says:

    Handled like a pro Pat, well done. Hopefully after that experience he’ll have a little more empathy for servers in future.

  18. sam says:

    I do believe you reacted very well by thinking to throw that guy away, but you’ve been better by listening to his apologies after what you told him outside, and allowed him to finish his meal. I’ve been working in the bar industry for 3à years, and had to manage so many of these assholes, who never realised they were trully awful to others. when someone ask to accept his apologies, I think, as human beings, we must listen, just not to be worst than them.

  19. carpebliss says:

    WOW is right!

    Class and dignity all the way Patrick–I really LOVE all the choices you made relative to the entire situation: asking him politely to step outside (this level of intimacy and eye contact and one on one communique–really set the stage for clear boundaries—removing yourselves from the distractions of the restaurant and gave the customer the solid opportunity to respond without an audience– one way or another– excellent from the get go.)

    Thank God he did step up/clarify his ridiculous, innane, ludicrous, absurd, rude, obnoxious, immature and totally whacked behavior/”game” that he attempted to play!

    In retrospect, your choosing to “allow him to stay” feels like it played out perfectly—Instead of throwing him out — he had to be present—“thrown in” if you will– to the “bad karma” he created for himself,his date and everyone involved!

    So happy that your server received a respectful tip, a supportive, professional and dignified response from management and that the customer did not linger any longer over coffee and desert to prolonge the agony! Game-over is right!!! Not soon enough!

    Gold medal to you and your great team and all servers everywhere!

  20. Emily says:

    We need more managers like you in this industry, Patrick.

  21. Thank you for your kind words, Emily, but Suzie deserves the credit for the tact of taking thigh road. I loved her idea of giving him the meal for free and sending him packing. Sometimes things don’t always work out as planned. Thankfully, in this case, they worked out best for our server, and for our restaurant.

  22. Jessica says:

    Honestly, having him sit there and finish the meal was more punishment for him! Some nice self inflicted psychological torture 😉

  23. big paulie says:

    I’m astounded at several points:

    1. The boor who initiated the “game” is *in* the restaurant business.

    2. Knowing that, he decided to pull this stunt when the restaurant and his server were very busy and didn’t have time for *any* hijinks.

    Patrick, you’re a candidate for sainthood. I, personally, would’ve tossed the guy out on his ear — without any food.

  24. Patti DiVita says:

    Great story Patrick and thanks for sharing! I especially liked the fact that you put your server first.

    The industry needs more managers who act like that and not ones who don’t back up their servers, so good for you and Suzie!

    I spent 15 years at a restaurant where the owner and manager backed us up when customers were rude or displayed bad behaviour. They have a low turnover rate and are in a resort community so you can see how important that is! 😉

  25. totalfailure says:

    wow, handled extremely well!!!

  26. Mandy says:

    Love this story. Too few bosses are willing to put their neck out there for their service staff. My boss fortunately is like you- he has our back. In return, everyone has been there 5+ years. Makes a world of difference!

  27. Kate F says:

    Everytime I’ve visited your restaurant, I’ve had a superb customer service experience. I always walk out smiling, partly due to the great food but also because the staff treats me like a human being, and whaddyaknow, I treat them like human beings too.

    Such a simple idea, yet sadly so hard for some to grasp. Hopefully this guy learned his lesson.

  28. Steve says:

    Great response! Another option COULD have been to snatch up the $20 and stuff them in his pocket, give $20 dollars of my own (as manager) to the server – in full view of the customer – and proceed to wait on the table myself, explaining that none of the servers were willing to wait on him. In my previous incarnation as a manager, I have performed the “wait on customers in lieu of server” many times, each time explaining why I was doing it. Each time the customer returned and was at least LESS of a problem.

  29. AJ says:

    Way late on this, but I have often heard of this approach to tipping and it disgusts me.

    As someone who lives in a state that pays the full minimum wage to servers (thankfully, since it’s a very expensive state to live in!) not as much of my life depends on it… But since I only work 3 days a week and am not allowed to work another restaurant job due to conflict of interest, tips are definitely the one thing that could mean the difference between paying rent that month, or putting gas in my car which I need to get to work, or having something to eat that day. I am very thankful for the tips I receive but here’s the catch.

    My life and my job do not revolve around you tipping me. Yes it’s a benefit. But I get offended when customers bring it up as if that’s the only reason I’m nice to them. I wanted to stay in the restaurant industry when I moved here because I love serving — my entire job revolves around making people happy and satisfied! I don’t work retail anymore because I ended up in jobs where loss prevention came before customer service. Tips may make or break me, but even if I know you’re notorious for not tipping well, I’m still going to treat you the same as I would anyone else. That’s just the way I am. Someone will make up for what you didn’t give me, that’s how it works most of the time.

    That all being said, in that situation I would tell the man “I’m sorry sir, I don’t play games with my livelihood and the service you receive will not be augmented by manipulation and pressure. Now, do you know what you’re thirsty for?” with a big ol’ smile.

    Thanks for the post. It’s my first time on your site and I’m enjoying thus far.

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