Friday, December 11, 2009

"I'm not here to make friends!"

#8 on Bruce Buscel's excellent 100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do (Part 1):
Do not interrupt a conversation. For any reason. Especially not to recite specials. Wait for the right moment.

When it comes to working, shopping, commuting... virtually every other public social interaction... I have to deal with strangers and other people I don't necessarily like or want to spend time with. But when I choose to sit down in a restaurant with others, it's almost always a celebration of a friendship. (As lame as that sounds, it's true.) One of the greatest pleasures of a restaurant dining experience is the social cocoon the guests should be allowed to create for themselves during the meal.

The waiter's job is to guarantee a positive experience while remaining as unobtrusive as possible. Please allow the customer to build and maintain intimacy at the table.

A few specifics:
  1. I'm sorry (not really), but I don't want to know your name. I want you to be friendly, civil and efficient, and I'll do my best to be the same.
  2. Please don't interrupt our conversation, unless it is to announce that the restaurant is on fire. If you want to tell us the specials, or ask for our drink orders, just wait a moment and try to make eye contact. If we're talking and we don't look up at you, it's not a good time. Come back in a moment.
  3. Do NOT hunch down at the edge of our table, and certainly don't sit at an empty chair at our table, when taking our order. Cops do that when they're putting the squeeze on a mobster. You don't do that. (Obviously, this rule doesn't apply if you're a cop and the customer is a mobster ripe for squeezing.
  4. No personal greetings on the check. No smiley faces. It feels desperate, a little like begging. Good service begets good tips, not sudden homey warmth at the end of the meal.

My favorite waiters are the ones who do not try to ingratiate themselves over-much. I like those who do their jobs quietly, efficiently, and with class. Those people can be my friends.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Wal-Mart crushes my soul

Here's a brief summary of a recent shopping trip in Glendora, CA.

I needed a scanner to scan some cherished family photographs. Since time was of the essence, I started by driving over to Wal-mart to see if they had any flat-bed scanners in stock. (Spoiler alert: They don't.)

Wal-mart is organized in such a way that you wander the aisles like a child lost in a hedgerow maze, and eventually you forget what you're looking for and instead you find yourself debating whether to buy a miracle remote control that controls absolutely everything in your house. That, and a 2-gallon superjug of hormone-enhanced 2% milk.

Finally, after 30 minutes, you decide you don't need the remote and you don't want to carry the superjug of supermilk. And then suddenly you feel like crying.

So you stand there in the "food" section of Wal-mart, trying not to cry. Why do they have food in Wal-mart anyway? It's depressing. People should only come to Wal-mart for flammable pyjamas and disposable CD-players. Not food!!!

So then your sadness is overtaken by a white-hot, all-consuming consumer-advocate rage that snaps you out of your uber-depression and makes you realize, "I'M IN FUCKING WAL-MART!!!" and you put down the $5.99 DVD of Speed II (because you have standards, after all, and at very least, you must have wide-screen format, even for a Sandra Bullock shit-fest) and walk straight for the door.

On the way out you put your hands in your front pockets in a conspicuous way, hoping the under-paid greeter will suspect you of shop-lifting and stop you, thereby justifying his shitty job for a few more days during this difficult time, poor bastard.

Once outside, you turn your face up into the sunlight and breathe in the fresh air before driving over to Staples to buy yourself a nice HP flat-bed scanner.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Not all customers look like stock-brokers

Opening up the "Where are they now?" files for this one...

Waaaaaaay back in 1992, I was looking to buy a car. Specifically, I wanted to buy a used Mazda Miata. (Stop! You don't know me that well.) My friend Andy decided to accompany me to the local Mazda dealership in Laguna Hills, where there were plenty of pre-owned Miatas waiting for new owners.

Now, Andy and I had both just graduated from college, and we probably looked a little rough around the edges. (What can I say? The ladies were digging the scruffy look.)

So I can understand a bit of skepticism when we strolled onto the lot.

But the salesman who greeted us -- and I use the term loosely, because it was more of an interdiction -- literally asked us, "What do you boys want?" (Not "How can I help you?". Just "What do you boys want?".)

His name was Big Wayne Lemon. I'm not being cute; his business card actually read "Big Wayne Lemon, Sales." Now, I think it takes big brassy ones to go into used car sales with a name like that, so I was inclined to like the guy. I told him I was interested in a Miata.

Big Wayne gave me a slightly closer look and then said, "Have a look around the lot. I'll be inside."

Hm. Kind of a brush-off. But OK, we'll look around and then talk.

The thing is -- and Big Wayne didn't know this yet, and would never know it -- I was ready to buy. I was, how you say, a hot prospect. So after confirming the presence of at least one test-drive-worthy vehicle, I approached Big Wayne inside the dealership.  He was not with another customer; he was talking idly to another sales person. It was a slow day on the lot. I told him I wanted to test-drive one of his cars.

Big Wayne refused me. He said something to the effect that only serious buyers can test-drive the Miatas. I told him I was very serious, that I'm going to buy a Miata. He said no.

I was... amazed. Stunned. Defeated. We left the lot, embarrassed and angry.

Here's the punch-line: A week later I bought a Miata, a sweet candy-apple red number, from a dealership in Woodland Hills. And then about two weeks after that, Andy bought a Miata. A new one! (Yes, I know how it sounds. Stop.)

Andy and I always talked about how much fun it would be to drive our two Miatas onto Big Wayne's lot, horns honking, scruffy hair flying in the breeze. "How you like me now, BIG WAYNE!?"

Alas, we never did it.  :-/