With all the choices available here in Corvallis, it’s not difficult to find a reason to go out to eat. Once at the restaurant of your choice, there’s primarily one representative of the establishment you’ll be dealing with. Your waiter/waitress is the one line of communication between you and the folks cooking your food. It’s a position of trust. The customer trusts their order to reach them correctly, courteously, and quickly, and the waitstaff trusts the customer to be clear, reasonable, and respectful. But sometimes things don’t work out that way, and it can be unclear what the repercussions of these restaurant sins will be.
First thing’s first, if a customer is being a pain to deal with, does spit become an added ingredient in their meal? Every single server I spoke with offered a resounding “No.” It’s just not worth breaking health regulations to have a bit of revenge. If you’re self-aware enough to feel like you’re asking too much of the waitstaff, you’re probably also being polite enough about the situation that they will take it in stride. Overall, asking for 20 different condiments or having your burger recooked a couple times can be annoying, but if you recognize you’re being a pain it won’t be a big deal.
“It’s annoying when sometimes I’ll get to a table and somebody will ask for ranch or something, and I’ll say, ‘Can I get anybody else anything?’ and nobody will respond. But, when I come back with the ranch, somebody else wants something,” said a waitress who wishes to remain anonymous. “Just listen and pay attention to the person serving you.”
Similarly, “accidentally” forgetting your ID when you order beer came up as an annoying customer trait several times.
“We’ll talk. If your table is a problem we tell each other and we’ll remember you. If you’ve ever gone to your favorite restaurant and the waitress is immediately mean to you, you’ve probably been a dick there before,” said another waitress.
What’s more troubling than a picky customer are the ones who forgo the idea of being respectful.
“This one guy finished his order with, ‘Can you do that for me darlin’?’ and put his hand on my thigh. I was fairly new at that point so I didn’t know what my rights were,” said an anonymous Block 15 waitress. “I’ve had a guy try to lift up my apron to look at a tattoo I have. Now I know I can just tell them to get out and we’re not going to serve them anymore, and to pay for their food.”
“There’s this idea that the customer is always right,” said another waitress, “but that doesn’t extend to harassing me.”
And while these cases represent the minority of customers, almost every waiter or waitress I spoke to had at least one run-in with a customer that couldn’t contain creepy comments. “Some middle-aged women just will not stop flirting or touching my arm when I’m at their tables,” said a waiter who wished to remain anonymous.
It’s not just unwanted advances that waitstaff must fight through to get food to the tables, but also aspiring dog-trainers. “Oh yeah, I’ve been snapped at, yelled at, had people yank me over to their table by my arm,” said one waitress. “I hate when customers make me feel like some kind of weird sexual retrieval object.”
Just in case anything here has been surprising to you, there’s a few simple tricks to being a wonderful patron of any eating establishment. Speak to your server like they are a human. Use their name, look them in the eye, engage them in conversation. When they come to your table to ask how everybody’s doing, don’t forget to ask how they are doing, too. “My favorite customers are the ones I actually have real conversations with. Instead of just [feeling like] I’m a delivery service, I feel like a human being who is delivering things,” said the waitress from Block 15. “I don’t care if you’re interesting or not, just can you be nice to another human?”
Every waiter and waitress in Corvallis has war stories like these. The bar is set low to be an impressively good dinner guest. If we all start being as mindful of our waitstaff as we are of the menu, we’ll be doing our part.
By Kyle Bunnell