We eat out a couple times a week.
Usually we get breakfast in town at least once on the weekends.
And if we go into Anchorage we get lunch or dinner. Sometimes during the week we might get dinner in Palmer if I’m too damned tired to cook. And my wife and I meet for lunch in Anchorage when our mutual work schedules allow – usually about once a week.
So you could say we’re experienced at the whole dining out thing, we’re not novices to the restaurant scene (such as it is, here in Alaska). And as limited as the selection in the Anchorage area is, I still consider it an improvement over the last place we lived - which was Southern California.
Oh, sure SoCal has a huge variety of places to eat. Huge. Everything from Humpback Left Handed Midget Hoboken Hoagies out of a cart on the sidewalk to Snooty French Food That Is Made From Little Tiny Birds Covered In Sauce That Costs Way Too Much and everything in between. Problem is, there’s about five hundred billion people who’ve all decided to go stand in line at the very same restaurant you have your heart set on. You want Mexican? So does everybody else. Steak? Suddenly every carnivore south of the Golden Gate decides that’s the day they need the Fred Flintstone Ribs. Salad? And you’re fighting ravenous Vegans armed with tofu and celery sticks. You’ll settle for Chinese? Everybody in LA decides they just have to have Wonton. Hell, even the drive through at In-N-Out is twenty deep on a good day (well, OK, I can understand this). Always. Doesn’t matter where it is, doesn’t matter what time it is, you are going to stand in line – even if it’s a shitty chain joint. We walked into The Outback Steakhouse in Escondido once and it was like trying to get into a Brittany concert, the hostess looked me right in the eye and said with dead seriousness, “The wait is about two hours, name?” Name? My name is Kiss My Ass you daffy bitch. Seriously, who waits two hours for Outback? I could slaughter a cow, butcher it, and cook my own in less time. I’m hungry now, and your food isn’t anywhere near good enough that I’m going to wait two damned hours in a hundred and ten degree heat. Ten minutes is about all I’m good for when it comes to waiting for a table, after which I start to fidget and think about gnawing the limbs off of the other patrons. When I’m hungry I want to eat, I don’t want to sit around watching other people eat. But, standing in line for food is the national sport in California.
The choices out here in Alaska are pretty limited, but at least I don’t have to wait for them. Usually. And I don’t have to fix it, and I don’t have to clean up afterwards.
So we eat out.
Now, I used to work in the food service industry. Back when I was a teenager and in my early twenties before I joined the military and went off to enjoy exotic food in charming third world countries (you may read that as either a) dysentery and/or b) monkey on a stick). I know just how much it sucks to wait on tables and put up with jerk customers – believe me, I know. Getting shot at in the Middle East is a step up. There’s a website out there called Waiter Rant. The guy that writes it is far more of a philosopher and has far more adventures in the restaurant business than I ever did, but he’s fun to read and he’s got a point – a lot of customers are dicks. So I really try not to be that guy. I try to tip well, and I try to be understanding. I do. Really.
But there are things I see every day that just chap my ass about dinning out.
- Your tip is directly proportional to the level of tea in my glass: I.e low tea level, low tip. Look, I understand you’re busy leaning on the cash register talking Star Search with the other girl who is ignoring her tables, but if I have to ask you for a refill you’ll have to ask me for a tip. It’s like being a pilot, you don’t wait for the engine to explode before you decide to check the oil pressure, you keep an eye on the instruments. Also, I like ice tea. Tea. As in hot water with leaves steeped in it until it’s dark brown, then poured over ice. Waving a Lipton bag past a 55 gallon drum full of cold water doesn’t cut it.
- Your tip is inversely proportional to the number of times you tell me what your favorite menu item is, i.e. the more you squeal obsequiously “ohhhh that’s my favorite!” the less you’re getting. I don’t care what you like. Hell you probably eat tomatoes, I hate tomatoes. And you look like the kind of goofy bastard who puts coconut on chocolate cake and pineapple on pizza. You’ve got a ring through your lip and a stud in the middle of your tongue, frankly I don’t trust your sense of taste at all. Now, obviously if I ask, “say, how’s the fish today,” feel free to make up whatever bullshit you like, but otherwise just nod in a business like fashion and write down my order. Thanks.
- Speaking of which, your tip is directly proportional to the number of tongue piercings you have, i.e. the less I can understand the simian-like drooling coming out of your mouth, the less money you’re getting. Jesus Christ, I don’t know if you just said the Chef’s special tastes like boiled leather or if you offered to tickle my ass with a feather.
- Your tip is directly proportional to the temperature of my food, i.e. hot food, bigger tip. Long wait between order and arrival of cold food which shows up in a cloud of your ganja smoke and you shouldn’t get your hopes up – unless you really did offer to tickle my ass with a feather.
- Your tip is inversely proportional to your level of cleanliness, i.e. if you’re touching my plate with hands that look like you’ve been shoveling horse manure, then you damned well better have a grant or a scholarship or rich parents because you’re not paying for college with what you’ll be getting from me. Soap, Stable Boy, and lots of it. Just as a general rule, keep your thumb out of my soup and off the rim of my glass. I don’t know where your finger has been but I can probably guess. Also, if you commit murder and chop the body up for disposal in the kitchen garbage grinder – at least change your apron before you approach my table. Thanks.
- If you don’t write my order down, I will automatically deduct 10% right off the top. Here’s why – you’re going to fuck it up. Yes, you will. You always do. Write. It. Down. I came in to eat, not to see a magic trick, Dr. Memory. I’m more impressed with neat and legible penmanship easily read by the cook than I am with the fact that you almost, sort of, got my order correct. If you only sort of get my order right, I’m only sort of going to tip you. Write it down – especially that part where I said “no tomatoes.” In fact, underline that.
- If your cell phone rings while you’re waiting on me, it is highly likely that I’m going to be in a non-charitable mood. If you answer it while you’re waiting on me, your tip will be written on a cocktail napkin and signed “Scrooge McDuck.” On the other hand, when you get to the kitchen check your text messages, the one from me is a reminder about the fucking tomatoes.
Ah, hell, you know the truth is that unless you pour boiling soup in my lap, I’ll probably tip you the standard 15% minimum no matter what – just because I remember waiting tables and how much I hated customers who acted like assholes – and because I see a lot of customers still acting like assholes (but that’s another installment of Things That Chap My Ass).
Here’s the thing – when I led Sailors in the US Navy I used to tell them this: Always, no matter what, put 100% percent into what you do. If you swab out toilets for a living, then be the best Goddamned toilet swabber-outer anybody has ever seen, make people notice - and you won’t be swabbing toilets for long. Same with waiting tables. It’s an honorable job. It’s a necessary job. Take some fucking pride in it. Pay attention, go the extra mile, be professional – and you’ll find that I tip far above the industry standard. I notice professional service, because there is damned little of it nowadays, and I’m willing to reward you for it.
Now, about that refill…
Really, what chaps your ass about going out to eat?