Kids are great, when they are your own. When I told some of my co-workers I was writing a blog about the restaurant business, they flooded me with ideas about a variety of topics. Children and the horrible situations they create was topic number one. In all my time as a restaurant employee children have never failed to put me in complicated situations. To be fair, it’s not really the children that cause these difficult scenarios. It’s either the unsupervised child or the supervised child with a parent who clearly should have their breeding privileges revoked that creates the situation. In either case the common denominator is a bad parent. I know when I was young if I so much as spoke out of turn in public my parents would take me out of the restaurant. The first time my mom sat with me in the car while my brother and father finished their meal was the last time. Does that sound a bit strict? Sure. But a misbehaving child in a busy restaurant can ruin a meal for dozens of people and directly affect the income of all the servers around the domestic disturbance.
The Dead Animal Steakhouse was a business plan in paradox. The restaurant was loaded with interesting and occasionally terrifying things for children to look at. The walls have a ton of dead stuffed animals: some animals are puppets that talk, some animals actually sing. The corporation wants children in the restaurant. However, the cuisine at the Steakhouse was not pizza and other simple fried food that you might expect for a restaurant catering to children. The Steakhouse specialized, or so they would have like to believe, in steaks, seafood, and other high priced items. A Guest Visit Average is a fancy corporate way of saying, “how much each adult will spend when they walk through the door”. The Dead Animal Steakhouse’s Guest Visit Average for adults was over $15.00. Typically that meant that a family of two adults and two children wouldn’t get out of the Steakhouse for less than $40.00. If each adult has a moderately priced entrée of $13.00 and a $2.00 soda, that’s a $30.00 bill before the children order their $3 to $4 dollar meal and .99-cent drink. Add the tip and your pushing $50.00 for dinner. I know several restaurants that compete with the Dead Animals Steakhouse for the family crowd that can easily feed a family of 10 for $50.00. Pizza Hut comes to mind.
The point is that the corporate business plan of my restaurant put children looking for a good, loud time in the same place as people looking for a good, expensive steak. Our more expensive selections usually involved a filet and topped out at around $22 or $23 dollars. It was not uncommon for a couple to spend $50 dollar for dinner at the Steakhouse. You ever stop to think about how many children orientated restaurants there are? How many can you name in your area? I mean, places that really advertises as a “place for kids”. How many of those places would adults actually be able to order a great dinner while the kids eat their greasy fried delicacies? The answer is not very many. Most restaurant entrepreneurs realize that children and expensive food do not mix well. Children are usually segregated into places like Chuck-E- Cheese and other “where a kid can be a kid” type restaurants. They are simply tolerated in more formal settings. The Dead Animal Steakhouse wanted to break that mold. The thought process was something like this: Give the kids lots to look at and generally keep them occupied. While the children were occupied with a singing Buffalo or coloring book, the parents can enjoy at $22 steak and an $18 bottle of wine. That might sound like a great idea, but the sad reality is most children have an attention span about as long as one segment in a televised sitcom. After about ten minutes, the kids need a commercial break. You can only watch a Moose singing on a wall so many times. The average meal at the Dead Animal Steak House for dinner is about one hour. A lot can happen in an hour with young children and often times does.
Let me give you the classic example. Two tables came into my section at around the same time. One of the tables was a married couple in their mid-sixties. The man wore khakis and a pastel colored button down shirt with brown dress shoes. The woman wore gray slacks and a similarly colored button down shirt with canvas sneakers. Both of them were nicely tanned and decorated with expensive accessories. The woman had a beautiful diamond ring with an equally wonderful diamond encrusted wedding band on her left ring finger. She carried an expensive looking purse and a certain air about her that was pleasant but businesslike. The gentleman's shirt was unbuttoned to the golden cross hanging around his next. The gentleman, while probably retired, still retained a no nonsense attitude that undoubtedly served him well in whatever employment he enjoyed during his productive years. Sufficed to say, these people were in my section to eat, drink, and leave. They could care less about the talking dead animals on the walls around them, the theme music, or that the name on my name tag wasn’t really my name.
As this couple sat down, the host brought a second table into my section comprised of one man and two boys. The man was in his late thirties and was red in the face from too much sun. The man wore blue jeans and a simple brown tee-shirt. He was a touch overweight but I would call him average in size and build by today’s bloated standards. He wore boots that looked like they had seen their fair share of long days outside. If I had to guess I would say he was a construction worker or, at the least, someone who made their living outside. His face may have been red from sunburn but he also had that deep brown pigmentation around his neck and hands that you only get with years and years of outside activities. His boys were very normal in appearance and behavior. Honestly, they were some of the politest children I waited on that day. The boys looked to be about 7 and 9 in age. The also wore jeans and tee-shirts. The children were tan and visually excited. The youngest boy had a Spiderman t-shirt on. I found out later they were coming from a matinee showing of Spiderman 2 in the local movie theater. Spiderman 2 was a great movie. I can understand why a 7 and 9 year old, out with their father for a nice afternoon of movies and eating at their favorite restaurant, would be excited.
Trouble started as I was taking the boys order. The father ordered an adult hamburger with fries and a Coke. He then allowed his children to order for themselves. A lot of parents love to have their children order their own meals. I can understand why. It teaches children from an early age how to speak to strangers in public places and it also make them feel like “an adult”. I can’t tell you how happy some kids get by being allowed to order their own meal. However, the other side of the coin is rather ugly. Some kids just don’t want to talk to servers and get intimidated by a stranger pushing them to make decisions about something as important as their lunch. I remember how important food was when I was younger. I also hated talking to waiters when I was young. I always got the impression the waiter or waitress had better things to do. After waiting on thousands of children, I have confirmed my suspicions. Servers hate waiting on children. It’s pure hell. Despite their good intentions, parents usually make life a lot harder when they let their child order their own food. First of all, children typically have no idea what they want to eat. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a child change his mind three or four times in less then 30 seconds. “Mac and cheese… no… Chicken Fingers… no.. Hamburger…. No…. Grilled Cheese….” It wastes the server’s time and it frustrates the parents and kid. Secondly, even after the kid makes a selection there is absolutely no guarantee he or she is actually going to eat the food brought to them. To the adult palate, mac and cheese is mac and cheese. To the discerning child, Kraft had no equal. I have thrown away countless children meals because the parent reported to me that “it tasted funny”. Allow me to translate this statement. What they really mean to say is “our child runs our family and rather then hold them accountable for their actions we would rather blame the server, the restaurant, and the food for our child’s attitude problem.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying children shouldn’t ever order their food. When a child reaches double digits, he or she should be ordering their own food. However, what’s the point of allowing a four or five year old to order something they won’t eat? Most restaurants provide crayons and coloring books of some variety for their younger patrons to keep them occupied. They aren’t pay attention to the kids menu that they probably can’t read anyway.
Returning to the father and his children, as you might imagine, he allowed them to order their own food. And order they did. These kids hemmed and hawed over the kids menu for a few moments and proceeded to order an enormous amount of food. I’m talking more food than I could eat. Each child ordered a kid hamburger and a mac and cheese. I mentioned to the father that amount of food might be too much for the kids to no avail. He seemed happy his children ordered their own food and wasn’t about to mess with success. I told them I would right back with their drinks and some bread. I walked over to the soda fountain and poured the father and children their beverages and returned to the table. As I dropped the drinks off the older couple seated next to the children called me them. The “gentlemen” said to me “What is that noise”? I listened and heard the unmistakable sound of children being children. As it turns out, the 7 and 9 year olds in the booth adjacent to them were kicking the seats. Would this annoy me? Probably. Would I say something about it to the server? Absolutely not. I suppose on some level the server has a responsibility to make sure his or her section is clean, presentable, and comfortable to the guests of the restaurant. Does this also mean that a server is required to police his tables and ensure that all behavior conforms to social norms? To this man it did.
“Oh, I think the little ones behind you are kicking your booth” I replied. I’m sorry about…””
“Well, have them stop please” he cavalierly replied.
“Sir”, I began “I’m not positive I feel comfortable asking those children…..” He stopped me with about as dirty a look as possible and said with pure contempt in his eyes “What do you expect? Me to do it”? What did I expect? Well, I expect that people are going to treat each other with a little common decency and not demand slightly annoying behavior be crushed with Stalin like vigor. I can’t tell you how many things annoy me in this world. It annoys me when I get cut off by a gas guzzling SUV driven by a soccer mom with her ear glued to a cell phone. It annoys the hell out of me when a small child is allowed to wander the restaurant with impunity by unaware or uncaring parents despite the imminent danger posed to her by servers just trying to do their jobs in the restaurant. That does not mean I call the parents out about it. It annoys me that 44 or so million Americans are without health insurance. Unfortunately, we have a word for these annoyances: life. Some things suck and you have to deal with it.
As unacceptable as the behavior these children was, this man has just exhibited equally unacceptable behavior by not acting like an adult and tattling on this children to the nominated “authority” figure of the moment: me. What did I do? I weighed my options. I could have said, “Yes you arrogant bastard, you tell that 7 and 9 year old to stop being children and act like adults. While you’re at it, why not tell the father of those two children that he’s the worst parent on the planet and that he needs to take parenting classes”. Instead of saying what I was thinking, I did the only think I could do. I asked the father of the two boys to see if he could stop them from kicking the seats. The father was nice about it and told the boys to sit still. They did. Despite the fact that I did exactly as he asked, the older gentlemen was pissed at me and the boys for the remainder of the meal. Obviously the father of the two boys, while graceful about asking his children to settle down, was less than pleased with the entire situation. The result? I received a 3-dollar tip on a $30 dollar meal from the older couple and a similar tip from the father of the two boys. This is a classic example of misdirected anger. Was I the one kicking the booth? No. Was I the one who wanted the children to settle down? No. However, the father and the older man could not take their anger out on each other so they did the next logical thing. They took it out on me in the form a bad tip. There was absolutely nothing I could do to prevent this from happening.
This is only one small example of the terrible situations children often put servers in. Another one of my favorite examples occurred a few weeks later in the same part of the restaurant. A family of two adults and one small girl sat down in my section. The adults looked to be about 30 years old and were dressed very simply in blue jeans and patterned t-shirts. The little girl was about 6 years old and also wore jeans and a t-shirt. The longer you serve tables, the more you realize some parents raise their children, and some children control their parents. This child was the boss of this family and she let me know it as soon as I greeted the table. She was loud, rude, and could care less about what I had to say about tonight’s specials or featured appetizers. I took the families drink order and noticed that I was being sat another table directly behind this small family. This second table was consisted of two boys and their parents. This family looked even younger than the first and I would guess both parents were in their mid to late twenties. The brothers were about 2 and 4 years old respectively. The boys and their father were dressed in various sports paraphernalia. Sports jerseys, baseball caps, and Nike shorts all around. I was amazed they made Nike shorts that fit a four year old, let alone a two year old. The mother was dressed fashionably with a black slacks and a white blouse. This family obviously spared no expense on their wardrobe. I unfortunately learned as the meal progressed that if this family spent as much time thinking about their manners as they did their clothing a very nasty situation could have been avoided. The two boys of this fashionable family were absolute terrors. They were climbing under the table, screaming, yelling, throwing their silverware, and generally making asses out of their parents, or they would have been if their parents cared about their behavior. All the while the little girl in the booth next to this family screamed her head off as to not be out done by the two brothers. The stage was set for a truly interesting meal. I couldn’t help but notice that both mothers were growing impatient with each other’s children. After one particularly unbelievable bellow by the little girl, the fashionable mother turned around and really let the girl and her mother have it.
“Do you think you can control her?”, the fashionable mother asked.
“Sorry?” was the reply.
“Do you think you could keep your little girl quiet? She’s very loud and disturbing our meal” the fashionable mother continued.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” replied the second mother.
You would think that would be enough. However, the fashionable mother took it to the next level with her parting comment.
“I would think you would have noticed all that screaming.” the fashionable mother proclaimed. What amazed me about this whole conversation was that neither mother physically attacked the other and also the pure skill the fashionable mother displayed in ignoring her own terribly behaved children. As the fashionable mother was pointing out this little girls terrible behavior, and it was terrible, she completely ignored the shouting, screaming, and general anarchy her own two boys were causing. Needless to say, the rest of the meal was awkward for both families and I received absolutely horrible tips from both parties. Again, there is little I could have done to prevent this situation from occurring. I am not a babysitter. I am not an entertainer. But we, as waiters, are the first to take the heat for a perceived problem. Your kids misbehaving? Obviously it’s because their drink isn’t full enough or there weren’t crayons with their kid meal. Everyone has a story about how their dining experience was ruined because of a misbehaving child. I’ve waited on thousands of children. Which ones do I remember? I remember the children who made my life hell. Unfortunately, that’s the way it works. You never remember the nice, well-behaved children. It’s always the kids that piss all over the floor that invade your dreams and make getting up for work that much harder the next day. You think I’m kidding about the piss don’t you?
One rainy Saturday afternoon the restaurant was absolutely packed. I mean filled to the brim with angry people. It was early summer/late spring and people had cabin fever big time. All anyone wanted to do was enjoy the great outdoors with their family and children. Unfortunately, Mother Nature was not cooperating. This particular spring had been one of the wettest on record and it was starting to get to people. Believe it or not, I could always tell people’s moods after a day of serving. It was almost like an unofficial survey of the collective psyche in the small city surrounding my restaurant. When it was near the holidays (Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years) people usually were in great moods and tipped big. About a month after the holidays, when the credit card bills rolled in, people generally sucked and showed you how much they appreciated 22.2 percent finance charges in their tips. Valentine’s Day always brings out the best and worst in people, depending on their love life. Nothing altered moods more than weather. For the most part, when it rained on a weekend (especially in the summer) it was going to be busy in the restaurant. Rain usually meant that you had to torpedo any plans you may have made outside. No barbeques, no cookouts, no swimming, no camping. When faced with a rainy day, a lot of people choose to supplement their plans with a trip to their favorite restaurant. Unfortunately, these people are usually in terrible moods due to the literal “rain on their parade”. Obviously more business is good in the restaurant industry. Since I only make about three dollars an hour the more people that come to the restaurant, the more opportunities I have to prostitute myself for tips. In hindsight, I would rather wait on half the people on a sunny day, then twice the people on a rainy one. The people who visit a restaurant on a sunny day want to be there. The restaurant isn’t a stopgap for their weekend plans. People who are coming to the recurrent because they want too tip better than people who are just looking for something to kill some time while Mother Nature does her thing.
Anyway, this particular Saturday was rainy, cold, and miserable. Coincidentally, so were the people I waited on. About four hours into my ten-hour shift I was sat a family of six people. The ages ranged from about 75 (the grand mother) to about 4 (the youngest girl). In between were two angry parents, an older brother about 10 years old, and the oldest daughter of about 15. The family was clearly traveling somewhere. They were an attractive family that carried themselves well. Or so I thought. They were all dressed nicely in designer clothing. The youngest girl wore a pretty flower print dress with ribbons in her brown hair. The middle son wore jeans and a sweater with designer shoes. The oldest daughter wore a dress that matched her sisters. I thought that was a little over the top, but who am I to judge. The mother and grandmother were dressed smartly in brown and black slacks respectively and wool sweaters. The father was in khakis and a button down. I actually felt bad for the family at first. It was a nasty weekend to be traveling and they were undoubtedly forced to alter some of their plans due to the weather. I felt bad for these folks until they started talking to me. Actually, to be more accurate, I should say talking at me. I swear to God that some people would rather be waited on by a robot then a person. It would save the whole awkwardness of actually having to pretend like they care about anyone but themselves. Let me tell you, they didn’t do a great job of pretending either. As a waiter, it starts to get to you after a while. Everyone has been in awkward conversations before with people they don’t know or like. Imagine doing this dozens of times a day. You go up to the table, introduce yourself with your fake name, and then inform the guest what the company wants them to buy. I can count on two hands the number of times an entire table has cared enough about what I was saying to actually look me in the eye for the entire sixty second spiel. That’s over a period of seven years. Typically I’m happy if no one interrupts me, talks over me, or answers their cell phone.
Not only did this family talk over me and interrupt me, the father actually made a call on his cell phone while I was introducing myself. Talk about a perfect introduction. That’s the holy trinity of serving. While the family was ignoring me, it was clear they were also ignoring their youngest daughter who let her mommy know she needed to go to the to the bathroom. Her mother said something to the effect “You just went... hold it.” I would have had sympathy for the little witch had she not screamed as loud as humanly possible throughout my introduction because there were dead animals on the wall. I can’t say I blame the little girl honestly. My restaurant is a scary place. After my introduction, I offered to grab some drinks for them while they checked out the menu. After they ordered six Cokes, I walked away from the table and started thinking about the needs of the other tables in my section. As I left the table I again heard the little girl ask her mommy to take her to the bathroom. What happened next is something I will never forget for the rest of my life. It is, at the same time, hilarious, depressing, scary, and disgusting. I walked over to the soda fountain and began pouring six Cokes for the family. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the little girl stand up. Immediately after the little girl stood up, her mother jumped out of her chair and dragged her by the arm in the direction of the restroom. I didn’t think anything of it. I finished filling the sodas and walked back to the table. As I walked back to the table, I couldn’t help but notice several drops of liquid on the old hardwood floors of the restaurant. When I reached the table I also noticed a small puddle where the small girl had stood up moments before. I honestly thought the liquid was water from a melting ice cube. As I finished passing out the Cokes, the father told whomever he was speaking to on his cell phone to hold on a moment and, for the first time, addressed me.
“My daughter had a little accident. Could you grab some napkins?” he asked.
I looked at the puddle again.
“NO WAY” I thought. “That’s not what I think it…. JESUS CHRIST. That little girl just pissed on the floor.”
I was stunned. I was stunned because there was a puddle of urine sitting not six inches from my feet in a public restaurant. As I rushed to clean this disaster up, I was also stunned because father of the year was already back on his cell phone. That call must have been damn important. I know if my kid just pissed all over the floor in a restaurant, I would probably call whomever I was talking to back. The shock continued when I realized “could you grab some napkins” really meant, “clean my daughters urine please.” I believe it was at that point that I pretty much lost all faith in humanity. It’s a rare occurrence when someone can actually point to a moment in time and say, “that’s when I realized people really don’t care about anyone but themselves”. It is a funny story but it’s funny for all the wrong reasons. The mother and father do not deserve the beautiful children they had. How many good people in this world can’t have children for various biological reasons and yet these assholes were blessed with not one child, but three. Do you go directly to hell for allowing your children to piss themselves because you are either too lazy or too selfish to take them to the bathroom? I think you do. Sadly, I’m afraid of what they children are going to turn into later in life. With parents like those, you don’t need enemies.
Please, don't let your children pee on the floor. Someone has to clean that up and, in all likelihood, that person is serving you your food.
The Today Show - On Wednesday, March 22nd, I will be on The Today Show somewhere between 9:00 – 9:30 AM. We’ll be discussing how you can get good service in a restaurant,...