Hey, Harry, it’s me, Cindy.
We know each other, though probably not well.
You’ve been coming around to the island for at least ten years, maybe more.
We’ve run into each other in several island businesses.
You were always the customer; I was the service person.
I’ve helped you find what you needed at the hardware store; I’ve waited on you many times at the Lodge; I believe I’ve checked out your purchases at the grocery store; I think I served you at the deli, perhaps at the Old Rectory Restaurant, and maybe even at the Shamrock, when I was serving breakfast there.
My point is that we have a bit of history.
From that history, you could gather enough information to know that I work hard at doing a good job, no matter what job I’m doing, and that I always try to keep my customers happy. I’m actually kind of famous for it, on this little island.
Beyond that, you don’t really know me, anymore than I know you.
We know each others names and faces, and say “hello” if we meet on the street.
We’re, I guess, more like long acquaintances, rather than friends.
You probably don’t know, for instance, that I am college-educated, qualified to teach at university level. You may not know that I successfully wrote and then administered a good sized grant for our school here on Beaver Island. Or that I teach art classes at the school.
You may not be aware that I’m an artist but, yes, I am, university-trained in painting, printmaking and ceramics. I have work in a half-dozen permanent collections, and about the same number of galleries.
That’s okay. All of our encounters have been with me serving you. You know what you see.
You may or may not be aware that I am a self-supporting woman, without a partner to help with expenses. Don’t worry; I am proud of my ability to take care of myself.
You probably don’t know that in the last two and a half years, I lost two siblings and a parent and that in many ways I’m still reeling with the sadness. That should not concern you; I manage my grief, continue on through the sorrow, and it doesn’t affect my performance at work.
You are no doubt unaware that in just this last week, my grandson was hospitalized for a serious (thankfully treatable) condition, one island friend died and another was given a dire diagnosis, my aunt continues to fight a lung infection and I got into an argument with a dear friend. These things all weigh on my mind, but they should not bother you.
You probably know I am no longer working at the hardware store, but I doubt you know the details.
I turned sixty a month ago. You may be able to imagine how difficult it is to put one’s self out there in new and unfamiliar jobs…especially at this age. That is my problem, not yours.
One thing you should know – not that it should make a bit of difference to you – is that a server in a restaurant makes $2.75 an hour, plus tips. That’s not a wage we can take home, you understand. Because tips are also income, subject to all the same taxes and with-holdings as the wage, our pay envelopes generally just hold an accounting of which government agencies our money has gone to, but no check.
I know there is debate about tipping in general. Some people insist that the servers should be paid solely by their employers, and not depend on the generosity of their customers. The other side of that debate suggests that if that were the case, food would be so expensive, no one could afford to eat out. I don’t know the answer, but I depend, for my survival, on the system as it is.
“TIP”, I have heard, is an acronym for “To Insure Promptness”. Whether that is true or not, we all understand that good service warrants a good tip, and that sub-standard service can be penalized by withholding part or all of it. As there is also debate about what the correct percentage of the bill a good tip should be, it’s all understandably unpredictable.
Even at that, you surprised me last Saturday night, Harry.
We both know how it went down. At table #7, you and your wife were in an ideal location to see all the activity going on in the restaurant. We had quite a few “walk-ins” in addition to the several reserved tables, and two large groups of eight or more diners. There were two servers, BethAnne and myself; we were both obviously busy. Simon was alone in the kitchen, manning the salad station, the saute pans, the grill and – when time allowed – acting as dishwasher. Ray was the host, over-seeing the dining room, but he was also the bartender. He was navigating from one area to the next, assisting and trouble-shooting wherever he could be of the most help and – when time allowed – acting as dishwasher.
I greeted you both, told you about the specials, and took your drink order. I entered it into the computer; Ray prepared the drinks. When he saw that I was tied up with my large table in the back dining room, he delivered the drinks to you, bless his heart. None of us want to watch ice melting while drinks wait at the bar. I went back to your table, acknowledged that you had your drinks, and took your food order. I entered the salads into the computer.
There may appear to be pauses, or lapses in movement,as I relate the story… but you know that’s not the case. I had other diners in various stages of their dinner at tables right in your line of vision. I had a large group in the dining room directly behind you. No-one was pausing for any reason. This time of year, with less staff, we do our own table-clearing; and re-set the tables with linens and silver. With drink in hand, you could easily watch all the activity from your corner table.
I was delivering salads to my large group when your salads came up. Ray delivered them, so that you’d have them in front of you with time to enjoy them before your main dishes arrived. Again, I went to let you know your food order had been placed and that I was glad to see you had your salads. “I certainly hope to see more of you this evening,” you said, “so far we haven’t seen much of you.” I apologized, explained how busy we all were, then teased – as I thought you were teasing – “You’ll have to give Ray the entire tip, if this keeps up!”
Well, I was distributing meals to nine people in the back when your entrees were put up in the window, and out of the goodness of his heart, not wanting your good food to languish under the light for even a couple minutes, Ray delivered them to you.
You were clearly angry then, not wanting to talk to me about whether your meals were done to your liking, not wanting to talk to me at all. You turned away, scowling. Again, I apologized, explaining that our goal was always to get the food out to you as quickly as possible, hot and freshly prepared. You continued to look away, your face set in a frown. I didn’t have time to do more grovelling; I had other customers.
Now, the bottom line is, you were served good food in a timely fashion. Your drinks were cold, salads fresh and entrees hot and good. That is our goal, and what all of us work together to achieve. We were successful, though it perhaps didn’t happen in exactly the way you thought it should.
When I approached you later about dessert, you refused, and curtly demanded the bill, which I provided. You gave me your credit card; I ran it through, and returned with your receipts. You signed, then you and your wife went in and sat at the bar. From that stool, you watched and scowled after me for the next hour.
I cleared your table, and went to the computer to apply the credit card charges. In black lettering under your signature, you had written, “NO SERVICE – NO TIP!!!” Underlined three times. In the line where the tip belonged, you had put -$5.00…and in your total, you had deducted that five dollars from the cost of your dinner!
I have been waiting tables for over thirty years. I have been over-tipped and under-tipped. I have been “stiffed” on the tip. Never have I been “docked” from my own money until now! This is a new one on me, Harry.
Now I am still learning, every day, new things about myself…but some things I know. In whatever job I am doing, I always strive to do the best job possible. I don’t always succeed, but it is never from lack of effort. If I disappoint anyone, it is an even greater disappointment to me. I truly want to please. Everyone. Always.
When I tell you about my personal difficulties, it is not to gain your sympathy and it is certainly not to provide an excuse for not doing my job well. I still insist that you were given good service! It is only so that perhaps, the next time you choose deliberate and unnecessary meanness, you might stop and think that life itself might already have given that person a beating, and you could save yourself the trouble.
One thing has become very clear in my mind, having experienced so much death in the last couple years: Life is Short.
We all have a very short time on this earth to provide the information that we will be judged by and remembered by forever after.
I hope that you gained enough satisfaction from your treatment of me, Harry, to justify how I will now think of you.
Personally, I want to be known as someone who is thoughtful, generous in spirit and kind-hearted. I try to make sure that my words and actions stay in line with those goals.
I am making an exception to that, Harry, in writing this, because I so badly want you to know that, though we don’t know each other well and have never been friends, I never thought unkindly of you. After your actions of the other night, I will now and forevermore think of you as a big asshole.
I hope it was worth it.