Some writers at the Chicago Tribune created a list of phrases to ban from restaurant menus. Quite amusing.
“Matthew, sweetheart, tell the nice lady what you want,” the trophy-wife woman at Table 3 asked her overweight son.
The kid looked over the menu like it was the first piece of literature to ever fall into his hands. I stood there for about three minutes while this kid looked at the menu, which in table-time translates to three hours.
“Um… I think I’ll have the Pad Thai,” he finally whispered.
The mother shot him a look so intense that it probably gave him, his ‘roid-pumped father, gaunt sister, me and everyone else in the restaurant cancer.
“How large is that portion of Pad Thai?”,” she asked, emphasizing the word “large” while keeping her nuclear glare on her husky offspring.
I showed her using a rough sketch with both my thumbs and forefingers. I tried to cut the kid a break by underestimating it (The Pad Thai’s huge). She looked like she was going murder him.
“Nevermind,” the boy squeaks in defeat. I bet my parents, who live two hours away, could hear this kid’s stomach rumble and think it was the wake of a blitzkrieg. “I’ll have the tofu salad… Dressing on the side.”
“Anything to drink?” I asked.
“A Coke,” he mumbled.
“A Diet Coke,” the mother corrected the boy, giving him another small dose of her eyeball radiation. “I’ll have the same. Dressing on the side.”
The pressure to be thin in this country, particularly among the Yuppie set, is enormous. Then again, America’s obesity rate continues to climb or stabilize in each and every state. Australia thinks this is so funny, that they plastered it on their headline news.
Our country is the butt of a few fat jokes in the rest of the world’s national headlines. And this poor kid’s radioactive mother has absolutely no sense of humor.
It’s Thursday lunch and the only three Americans, Mary, Derek and I, are all working doubles. While we all get along with our imported coworkers very well, our interactions are different when it’s just us. Could it be the American Bubble? Nah, I chalk it up to good ol’ pop culture.
“Table 14 is horrendous,” said Derek, our busser. “They are the constipation to my mastication.”
I glanced over at the table of five and just about every preconceived notion of costive customers was confirmed–a group of older, seemingly rich housewives and their variations of Dooney & Bourke handbags. My feminist side wouldn’t allow improper assumptions of rich older women as housewives, so I checked the time. Two o’clock in the afternoon. They’d already been sitting there for almost an hour and so far:
-they had just finished appetizers
-each ordered a glass of chardonnay instead of requesting a bottle
-weren’t paying any attention to their server’s repeated shouting of whether or not they were ready to order entrées.
“Waiter! Waiter!” one woman yelled across the restaurant, waving her hands around like a mentally-handicapped child who just saw her teacher outside of school. “More wine!”
Yep, definitely housewives. Probably from the same cul-de-sac.
Derek grumbled to himself at the drink station, filling their individually-ordered glasses of wine.
“I’m not going to tell them that it’s a better deal to just order a bottle,” he said. “And when I walk by their table, maybe I’ll leave them a little gas.”
He sauntered away with his tray full of glasses. After passing out the wine, he leaned his butt towards them, giving me a coy look from over his shoulder. I don’t think he actually did it, but I picture the many times I’ve smelled strange odors in public. Could I have pissed someone off to the point of them farting on me?
“I’ve done it before,” said Mary, another coworker.
“I mean yeah, if a table pisses me off enough,” she said, “I’ll just whisk by their table and–fart!”
Mary’s worked there a little longer than me. She knows all the tricks of passive-aggressive revenge for our more unpleasant customers, like bringing out takeout containers instead of boxing up food for them, seating repeating offenders in the worst tables and simply placing the offending tables at the bottom priority. Nothing health-code violating, just subtle reparation. But nothing like farting on a table.
“Don’t they eventually figure out that it’s you?” I asked.
“I don’t care. It’s not like they’re really going to say anything,” she said. “What would they say to me, ‘Excuse me miss, but did you just fart on me?‘”
“I guess that would be stupid,” I said.
“Exactly. I deny it and make them look like the idiots they are,” she said.
I watched her walk towards her tables, checking for a slight grimace from the patrons at said tables. While I didn’t see or hear anything highlighting at particular disturbance, I can’t help but wonder whether my tip averages have gone down due to my asshole coworkers or if it was simply because of poor service.
If you are trying to hit on me, please at least get my ethnicity right. For example…
Suitor at Table 2: So how long have you worked here?
Almost a year.
Do you like it?
Um… yeah, it’s good. [What kind of question is that?]
So what part of Thailand are you from?
I’m not from Thailand. I was born in Korea and adopted when I was four months old.
Are you sure you’re not Thai? You look Thai.
Yup, pretty sure I’m not Thai.
I walked away shortly after telling this man that I was sure I wasn’t Thai. Getting me to second-guess my ethnicity is not going to get me in the sack. I can guarantee that for sure.
Well, sober anyway.
A young woman called and ordered some fried rice and spring rolls.
“Okay, that will be about 10 minutes,” I said.
“Can you add some duck sauce to that?” she asked.
“No, we don’t have any duck sauce,” I said.
“Can you add something similar to duck sauce?” she asked again.
“I’m sorry ma’am, we aren’t a Chinese restaurant,” I said. Shit. I let the short fuse loose. The girl is only trying to order take-out, I tell myself. It’s only take-out. “But there is a Chinese restaurant just up the street that has some,” I continued in an exaggerated happy voice.
“Thanks! I’ll be there in a few minutes,” she replied.
Almost everyone in the front and back of the house, especially Ting, gets offended when people say things like “I’d like some Lo Mein” or “Why don’t you have General Tso’s Chicken on the menu?” Being a confessed Twinkie, I used to shrug it off. I mean, who cares? It all goes to the same place.
But they have a point. After all, I wouldn’t go into an Italian restaurant and order bouillabaisse or try to look for chicken cacciatore on a menu with German fare. Too many of us Americans lump together Asia like it’s all the same, without realizing that they would never do the same for countries in Western Europe. We do the same with Africa.
Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, I was one of three Korean kids in my entire junior high school class (Come to think of it, one of three minorities total). Not just the kids, but teachers would refer to me as Chinese, Japanese or ask me questions like “Are you related to so-and-so at the Nail Salon by Walmart?” I’d correct them and tell them my real ethnicity, and they’d reply with “Whatever” or “Same thing, right?”
A few months ago, the owner and head chef were interviewed for a review in the Food Section of the local Sunday paper. The article said that they were both from a Thai family and that they were related. They’re actually from Malaysia and the chef is Chinese. This mix-up was amusing to the staff, but the owner and chef were both very hurt by the lack of sensitivity from the reporter.
Being politically courteous to everyone is impossible and I’ll admit that I am terrible at telling apart ethnicities of all colors. I once mistook a lighter-complected African American lady as Hispanic and started speaking Spanish to her because she looked like she was having trouble reading the menu. Shit happens to the best of us, but when politicians can’t tell the difference, that’s when we’re all duck sauce.
Chai House is a small, “hole-in-the-wall” restaurant on a side street of one of the dirtiest parts of town, close to two major universities and one of the country’s largest medical centers. We don’t have a specific budget-oriented niche like most restaurants because of the “exotic” menu items and wine selection. So our customers consist mostly of a hyphenated mix, like:
- hipster-yuppie college kids who feel cultured from their Semester at Sea and come to our establishment to try the Americanized-Southeast Asian cuisine.
- “post-modern” hipster (ex)-college kids who don’t shower, are covered in ironic tattoos, wear bike caps and don’t shower. But they tip amazingly well.
- redneck college kids from the surrounding rural towns who look so, so disappointed that we don’t have General Tso’s chicken on the menu.
- their professors and other assorted academia.
- doctors and their spoiled rich wives and mistresses.
- foreigners and ex-patriots mainly from countries where leaving a tip is unheard of.
- a slew of regulars.
Aside from our friendlier regulars, all of these people have one thing in common in that none of them have a clue about how the real world works. For example, parties of 18 of these bastards will come in and expect us to make separate checks. The college kids come in droves of six or more and only order two entrees with an appetizer or two.
As a side note, black people tip fine–it’s the doctors you have to look out for. They’re cheap, most don’t order drinks and they tip EXACTLY 15 percent, using whatever gadget of the week they’re carrying with them to calculate it down to the penny.
Those are our customers, dirty, rich and clueless. Now you all know why I started a blog.
I bussed with my good friend and coworker Frank for our usual Saturday lunch shift. We’re the only ones at the front of the house.
Fifteen minutes after I got there, we got a table of five–rich, intellectual, middle-aged white women. Any server will tell you that these are the worst kind. Frank gives me a look as they ignored the “Please Wait to Be Seated” sign and plopped their fat asses down at the first table they saw.
One of my responsibilities as a busser is to take people drinks.
“Can I start you off with any drinks besides water, soda or tea?” I asked.
The older, fatter one picked up our tea menu and asked me a laundry list of questions about whether we prepare the tea by pouring the water directly on the tea leaves, if it’s organic, why we don’t carry white teas, etc. I was patient and answered each question to the best of my ability.
“Eh, maybe next time.” she shrugged. I gave her my best “thank you for wasting my time” smile.
Frank made three trips to take their order because none of them thought to touch the menus when they first sat down. He had to shout over the cackling to get their attention. As he took their order, each one asked his opinion between two or three menu items. New tables kept coming an Frank was looking like a deer in headlights as kept changing their orders and asking for ridiculous requests, like “Make sure the vegetables are STEAMED” or “Sauce on the side.” The entire process took him almost twenty minutes.
In the time between taking the order and delivering the food, all five sows gulped down their waters faster than you could say “WASP” and shot both of us piercing glares over chubby pink cheeks as we whisked by their table taking care of other customers. Every table in the restaurant was filled by this point.
I winced as Frank delivered the food. Sure enough, like some kind of hag-magic, three of them found something wrong with their food:
“I said STEAMED vegetables” (They were steamed.)
“Where’s my paratha?” (It only comes with the dinner portion.)
“I didn’t think this would be this oily” (It’s fried fucking rice!)
They finished their lunch with few grumbles and the plates were cleared, but none of those bitches one moved for a half an hour. We had a line out the door and I remember staring longingly at the unpaid check lying in the middle of the table.
I could have philosophized and lamented on how historically disrespectful the upper-class can sometimes be towards us with the blue collars, but then I remembered some banter between two of our cooks, Larry (who is African-American) and Mr. Dingo (a sweet 75 year-old Filipino gentleman who makes our appetizers):
Larry: Ringo, white women!
Dingo: Yummy yummy!
…and I smile.