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November 19, 2005

Comments

haddock

Just after I posted this I got the following email:

"Dear Chef,
The dinner we had at XXXX on Thursday evening was superb. We chose to have your special for mushroom lovers. That simple salad of arugula and trumpet mushrooms with truffle dressing was exceptional in its simplicity holding complex flavors in a great marriage. The rest of the meal was delicious as well. Thanks for the ONLY food experience in XXXXX during the Mushroom Festival 2005 that was worthy of favorable mention. Thank you too for the modest price. The meal was something we could afford that still made us feel that we were having a special outing. We also had our granddaughter with us (age 10). She is not exactly a 'shroom aficionado. The waiter chose bocatinni for her as something she could enjoy. She did. We appreciated his efforts. That hand-made pasta is great! We'll be back!"

Hmmmmm.....

jsp

Okay more to the story...

While Mr. F You was throwing his finger flipping tantrum two diners watched. After the family left the two diners, who are owners of another local restaurant, asked what happened. Their response was "No!". Yes it really did happen. The other restaurant owners put Mr. F You's face to memory in case he tries it at their restaurant.

Also, the health inspector and her assistant were in for dinner, I told the assistant about the incident after she started talking about a trend she has been seeing. She said she's noticed a trend of people feeling a sense of entitlement. So I gave her a fresh example. Her response was "get out!" She said being a customer is a cooperative experience.

One possible solution that I thought of after the initial shock and disbelief passed is: we charge corkage. We could have charged him the corkage fee for bringing in his own FOOD. Would he have agreed to paying for that? Most likely not. But it could have been another solution.

So when the daddy didn't get his way he threw a tantrum. Just like junior not getting his way and throwing a tantrum. The only thing anybody learned last night was the waitor. She was upset because she had brought them water, taken their order and lost a table. Then she had to clean up their mess and reset the table. All for no money. Do you think they left a tip on the table for her? NO. They are entitled and the world owes THEM. I talked the waitor through the moment, told her now her table was open for good customers who would be nice, order lots and tip well. Which is exactly what happened. The very next table was hers. They were awesome, regular customers who had a great time, tipped well and were full of compliments.

johng

This resonates with me on several levels:

1 - Boy am I glad I don't deal with customers anymore.

2- No restaurant customer behavior, no matter how aberrant is capable of surprising me. The closest thing I have heard to this is what happened to a friend at a top Napa Valley bistro during lunch one day, when a group of four were seated at table, ordered some sodas and asked for bread, then busted open a picnic basket and started eating pate and cheese

3- Boy am I glad I don't deal with customers anymore.

4 - I don't want to get too far into the old "you don't know what it's like unless you have kids" thing, but I will say that feeding the little suckers can make you a little crazy, like when you're in the only restaurant in a village thousands of miles from home, and your kid decides that the only "American" thing on the menu is not to his liking.

5- You did the right thing in not attempting to persuade the guy that you could do something for the kids. Your instinct guided you. I used to work in a place where there was no chicken on the menu and the only pasta came with tripe. When people freaked about, you developed a sense of who to talk into staying, and who to let go.

6 - If that's how he treats you imagine how he treats the kid.

7- You're lucky you met him there, rather than on the road. Sounds like the kind of dude who pulls out his handgun when somebody cuts him off.

8 - Boy am I glad I don't deal with customers anymore.

cedichou

I would not know how to handle the situation any better than you did. What age was the kid?

I don't see anything wrong in your handling the situation. They asked something that is unacceptable, and you stood your ground. That the guy did not shut up at this point, but proceeded to insult you is absolutely unbelievable.

You ask about our own experience:
I would sometime request to be at an isolated table, because our kid might get noisy, and disturb the other diners. Also, I would understand the request for a larger table, as sometimes a kid could grab stuff and break stuff, or whatnot, so it is better to have some real estate separating the parents' utensiles from the kid. I would only make such a request if obviously there was no crunch of space or large tables, but I could see myself making those.

We usually try to order food for us that we can share with our kid. We tend to over-order, but I can handle it. We often bring home-made food for him though. Less now that he eats pretty much everything, but we still do now and then.

I don't really understand the economics of it that you mention. We're typically a couple and a baby, so we occupy a four-top for two consuming people. So the restaurant would make more money serving 4 adults instead of us. But there's never a party of 4 adults being actually turned away because of us. If that hypothetical party does show up, it just waits. We have been in packed places lately (little star pizza, or bar tartine for instance) and they are always happy so see our business.

I don't think you should feel slapped in the face as a cook because one does not want you to cook pizza. They might think it's below you, or that you don't have the ingredients handy.

nathan

I know this will sound like the unpopular opinion in the group, and I'm sure this guy wasn't worth your time or business, but it's too bad that an opportunity was missed to make an outstanding impression. If I try to take a look at it from the jerk's point of view, maybe in his twisted logic he was trying to suggest something that would work for both of you. He might have initially thought that you wouldn't want to accomodate his son's dietary needs by cooking something special. He should have just said what they were and let you see what you could do. It just seems like instead of that initial 'no', there could have been an attempt to see what the issue was, maybe anticipating a dietary need. You could have offered to make a pita pizza perhaps or simply pointed out any 'kid-friendly' items you could combine. You could have been sharing with those other diners how you cooled the situation down and he ended up being really happy and then they could have said 'you shouldn't have done that, you're amazing!' rather than simply commiserating.

Obviously with the 'we sell food' and 'it costs money for your child to sit here' responses, there wasn't going to be a positive resolution. I think those responses were entirely out of line, by the way. Your economics shouldn't be of concern to the customer. It should have been enough to say that you were sorry and offer an alternative. The rest was inappropriate on your part.

As you alluded to, it's not just a matter of economics that people shouldn't bring food in from elsewhere; it's a matter of respect. In a way, people sit down at your restaurant to give you the opportunity to make their meal special. The jerk was intending to rob you of this opportunity. A possible justification for why he can't bring food in is that it would be disrespectful to your servers, bussers, cooks, dishwashers, and everyone else who puts in hard work to making his experience a pleasurable one. Would he take a mini TV into a movie, concert, etc.?

Anyway, sorry this jerk took your time with this silliness. In case it makes a difference, I'm not a parent and generally think kids are annoying little buggers.

haddock

Nathan:

Just for the record, I didn't tell the guy, "we sell food". I DID write it in my "open letter" to him. I disagree that comments about the economics are out of line. Customers make comments about prices, both that things are cheap or that things are expensive. Knowing the economics of a situation sometimes sheds light on it.

Believe me, we typically waste no opportunities to turn situations around and make outstanding impressions. And when we DID say I'm sorry and DID try to offer alternatives, and he pressed on, only THEN did we let him know our economic reasoning.

ced: I can see you making that request, and I can also see you being aware of how your and your child's behavior is affecting those around you. Unfortunately in our experience a party with children asking for a large, isolated table typically equals parents who have little interest in monitoring their children and they end up being more disruptive than if we sat them next to a couple. Sound does carry.

As to the food, believe me it wasn't out of kindness to me that the guy was asking to buy the pizza. He wasn't giving us the opportunity to do anything other than what he thought should happen.

Also ced, in SF a four top will wait. We're spoiled up here and a lot of times, people won't. Three people in line at the DMV produces a frustrated, "Oh forget it" response from a person coming in the door. Also, in this particular scenario they were proposing taking up one of our two tables which can handle larger parties and we already had one of them booked.

johng: You still do deal with customers, just not retail. Thanks for the advice and it's true, you don't know what it's like until you have kids. It's sure a lot easier to tell someone what to do than do it yourself.

I don't expect parents to "control" their children. People can't control each other, though some try. I do expect people will make an effort to teach their children manners, how to behave in public and how to conduct them selves in situations where things aren't going their way.

Dr. Biggles

Holy fnorking schniz batman.

That was one heck of long post and one hell of a confrontation.

As far as handling customers (I do glue phone support all day long and more), those types of people will cause you grief, der. The pizza wasn't the center point, it was only the beginning. If you'd served them that pizza, there would have been something else that customer would have blown up about. He wanted a fight and got it. I'm suprised you didn't say more, I would have and I do.
As far as being a parent of two smallish boys that began life even smaller. My wife and I make a point of not dining in decent places with them. It isn't personal, but they don't appreciate the food yet (they get great stuff at home, eh) and my wife and I need time together. I would never and have never asked outside food be served to me. Sure I've brought crackers or a cookie to keep them quiet, you bet. The few times we have gone out with them I require that they behave and if not, we go out and walk the neighborhood until my wife finishes, or vice versa. Then we leave quietly with the leftovers in tow. I love leaving tips cause at the end of the day, it's all about the money and not causing others grief.
I would have pointed to the door and said, "There's the door, use it."

Biggles

jsp

The basic part of this story is the child, about 2-years-old, would ONLY eat pizza. Otherwise he was going to throw a fit. The dad would ONLY feed him pizza. When he couldn't HE threw a fit.

Had we been given the opportunity we would have been completely happy to make "pizza". We could have put marinara and mozzarella on a slice of bread. We could have served an unlimited amount of requests. We were not given the option. They had already ordered the pizza. He wanted to bring it in with the box. His only suggestions was we leave the box up front and serve him his pizza on a plate. Had they descretly brought in a piece wrapped in foil or something that would have been different. But how would it look to the rest of my customers and staff if they strolled in with a pizza box? How about a McDonalds bag? If the child could only eat pizza feed him before coming in. The sad part is a 2-year-old was controlling four adults. Maybe our economics are not his problem. But then his lack of parenting skills and inability to feed his child is not ours. But see that is a bad way at looking at things. We are all in this little dance together. My role is to feed him. His role is to buy the food we make. My role is not providing a comfy place for him to sit for free.

When people request a table "far away" they are, usually, not considering that the host or hostess is considering the best spot for them, in many respects.

MOST parents who want a table "far away" have little intention of trying to keep their children under cotrol. They usually sit a the table and forget they have kids for an hour. They let them leave the table, wander around the restaurant and say "how cute" when the little one plays by other diners. Some other diners don't find it cute. Some other diners got a babysitter so they didn't have to deal with children for a while and resent "cute" junior disturbing them.

My responses to this topic have been long. I appologize. But it is an important subject. Ignorant, lazy parenting is a big problem in our society. Daily I see caring, observant parenting or selfish, inconsiderant parenting. And the results in the children's behavior is predictable in both circumstances.

cedichou

I don't want to take the defense of your awful customer, whose behavior is just plain wrong.

But I need to point that, if the kid is 2yo, there is little you can do to negotiate with the kid. The age between 2 and 3 is called the 'terrible twos' because the kid just learns to say NO, and no really means no. Kids are not half-hearted, they mean no very very passionately. It means that the diet of the kid at age 2 is all out of whack, as they say NO to food a lot. We cannot show bread around dinner time, as if our kid sees it, then that's what he wants, not the meat and veggies we prepared. And when a 2yo makes a scene, it is quite a scene too. You just cannot control a 2yo, they just haven't learned yet how to control themselves. There is no bad or good parenting in handling a 2yo, you just cross your fingers and hope everything will be alright.

Biggles suggestion to leave the kid at home is best in this case; we don't like planning when we go out, so we go with the kid, but we go: early, when restaurants are not too crowded and the kid is not too hungry and fussy; we are ready to live with take-out and a large tip behind if it gets out of hands; we usually have some back-up food (cereal, fruit juice) that we know will keep him happy and some crayons and paper;

I just discovered that a 2yo just loves pizza, btw, especially little star.

haddock

I hear you ced. As I hope I made clear, what upset me was the dad not seeing that we had valid reasons for not wanting a pizza delivery in our dining room.

Believe me, I realize no one wins a negotiation with a 2 yo.

haddock

Plus I think the kid was older than that anyway.

Kudzu

Wow. This seems to be a dramatic test for chefs, restarauteurs and diners.

I have dined out with children and grands, taking my son to lunch after his six-week well baby check-up to Pete's Tavern in Manhattan. He also went with us in his stroller to outdoor cafes in the Village. But when we wanted to have a grown-up meal we left him with a nice lady babysitter.

There is no excuse for your having to provide dinner for a little person who will eat nothing but pizza. I have dealt with kids whose food has to be all white, or who exist on Cheerios. This is the parents' problem and should not be an accepted expectation at a restaurant.

None of this has anything to do with the attitude of the Big Daddy whose behavior was out of bounds.
It was his performance that was the tossed grenade.

One more example of entitlement, and I am getting ever more weary of observing, dealing with and trying to write off that element of behavior in all aspects of consumerism, not just the restaurant business.

Corragio!

Patrick

Wow what an interesting post and I think you deserve some kudos for putting up a well written and reflective (albeit long) post. Personally I think you handled it fairly well given the circumstances.

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