All right, let me preface this by saying most of our customers are pretty cool. They come out for a nice night and hopefully a decent meal. On the most part, this is the case. However, as always it is the stupid and sometimes hilarious occasional incident that will stick in your mind.
So without further ado, here they are, the 10 things that drive me and my restaurant colleagues up the wall.
- Changing your mind on a dish once it is in front of you. This would have to be the worst. It usually happens with a larger group, in which case there will be a reduced function menu. What the sly customer does is eye the dish next to them and think, "...mmm, that looks much better than what I got, I wonder if...". The waiter is called, usually carrying 3 or 4 plates for the same table and is casually informed that the wrong dish was brought. The poor waiter has to come back and tell me to cook another dish - and the result is me yelling and jumping around a bit as I am trying to plate up another 20 meals. One variant, a customer a few weeks back simply 'fessed up, "I changed my mind". Gotta appreciate honesty.
- No shows. Ask any restaurant owner or manager the best thing a customer can do to stuff up a night, and this is it. It is pretty easy to do this at home. Just ring a popular restaurant, book a table of eight for Friday night and simply don't turn up. Meanwhile, we turn away other tables if fully booked and order extra food in, expecting the 8 diners to show up.
- Obnoxious customers. Ok, this one does not affect me personally, as I get to hide in the kitchen, but every now and then a customer will come in after having a really bad day and decide to blow off some steam, letting the waiter have it. This leaves the waiter in a crappy mood and nothing moves through a restaurant team quicker than a bad mood, (with the possible exception of a bag of stimulants).
- Non-tippers. Aussies tend to be awkward about tipping, not quite sure what to do. They generally take the American lead and tip pretty much automatically, albeit at 10 %, but plenty don't tip at all. These once again are mainly large tables that demand much of the waiter's attention and usually seem to get the bill to the exact dollar. The result is much the same as in gripe number 3
- I'm in a rush. OK, not a problem, let us know as you order. Things start to fall apart when customers orders an entrée, followed by a well done steak and half an hour later declare that they have to be out in 10 minutes.
- What's good tonight, Chef? I love talking to customers when they stick their head in the kitchen to say hello. I always have time for them. What irks me is when a boisterous (read drunk) customer comes into the kitchen and asks for a recommendation. I will explain how we just got these great scallops in this afternoon and how we are preparing them, only to be cut off with "Nah, I don't like scallops" This happens more often than you would think. Please, don't waste both our time.
Delightfully crass as it is, this anecdote must be added. When a chef I know was recently asked "What's good tonight" by a drunk and unpleasant customer, he replied;
"We have some really nice shit sandwiches, but you look like the sort of person who doesn't like bread"
I wish, oh how I wish I could be as brazen.
- Ordering a medium steak and sending it back because it is pink in the middle. Lots of people are squeamish about blood in a steak. I can fully appreciate that, but please don't get cranky if you order it medium and it is not well done. Ask us, we will cook it well done the first time.
- Suspect vegans and vegetarians. Vegetarianism has leapt in popularity over the last few years. We are not a vegetarian restaurant, but are only too happy to accommodate their needs, especially if they tell us when they book. The problem starts when they are not sure what sort of vegetarian they are. My favourite incident happened only recently. A large table (again!) is seated. We are informed that one customer is vegan. We scramble to get together a couple of totally non-animal product dishes to offer her. She spies the menu; hand rolled fettuccine with salmon, capers and chervil and thinks it sounds nice. Ohhh, but fettuccine has eggs in it. No problem she says, "I'll just have the salmon with all the other stuff, just no pasta". ARRGGHH. I kid you not, this happened.
- I think it's time I started writing menus. A very popular pastime. The customer wants the chicken dish, but with the stuff that goes with the fish, oh wait, can you put some unpasteurized asiago on top of it as well. I have no problem if you can't eat a certain ingredient, allergies happen. Even if you don't feel like a certain ingredient I will try and leave it out, but please don't get wackily creative on us. We put more than just a little bit of thought into what ingredient matches another.
- It can't all be bad news. Alright, I have had my whinge, this last one is dedicated to the 99% of customers who have a great time, meaning we have a great time too. You know who are, you are pleasant, courteous, knowledgeable or willing to learn and are simply out for a good night. It's probably you.