Friday, April 2, 2010

Campers, Death and Taxes

Occasionally, you will encounter guests that stay well past the length of their meal. It is natural to become angered – do they not know that they are taking up your section and preventing you from turning a table? The answer is: No, they do not. It would never occur to a guest that you make your money by turning tables, and that their presence is actually costing you money. All they see is that they have paid good money for their meal, and have thus earned the right to stay as long as they please. After all, are they not paying customers? (Never mind the fact that no, they are not paying customers - they ar
e customers who have paid and are now just taking advantage. A thousand suns could rise and set and still the guest would not see the distinction).

It does one no good be angered by this; again, what is the sense in being angered by something you cannot change? Do whatever it is you can to hasten their exit, of course (clearing away from the table every bit of plate and flatware aside from water glasses) but, beyond that, best to accept it. If you judge only by the immediacy of the moment (they are costing you money) you will be angered. This is only because you view it as something outside the norm, as if you always turned tables rapidly and always had a constant flow of guests. However, you should know from experience this is not the case. It is not now and never has been. If you accept from the outset that part of your job is entertaining the occasional camper, that it will and does happen from time to time, you will be at peace.


Once in awhile, I actually do practice what I preach. The other lunch I had camper, after camper, after camper, and it really didn’t faze me at all (okay, I did complain once – but that was it!). For those who aren’t familiar with restaurant lingo, a “camper” is a table who, after finishing their meal, just hangs out. And hangs out. And then usually hangs out a little more. They don’t want anything else to eat, they’re not drinking any more coffee, they’re probably not even touching their waters. They just want to talk (and for those of you who are not waiters, odds are you have been this table once or twice). Why is this an issue? Well, we make our money on tips – and we can’t get a tip without a check. And we can’t get a check without you leaving and someone else sitting down.

Usually this is something that, unless they have worked in the industry themselves, the guest would never think to consider. Only once or twice in eight years has a table apologized for taking up my section and then actually compensated me for it – leaving me an extra ten or twenty depending on how long they were there for. What usually happens, if the table is aware enough in the first place to recognize what they are doing, is they will say something along the lines of, “We’re sorry, we’re just going to hang out a little bit. Is that okay?” as if I actually had some sort of choice in the matter. Really, what can I say – “Actually I would really prefer it if you got up and went to the bar (or, better yet, the Starbucks across the street)”? Maybe in some restaurants you can get away with that, but in my establishment one guest complaint can mean my job, so it’s just not worth the risk.

Getting back to the other day – I had at least three tables (possibly more, I can’t remember) that were camped out for an hour-and-a-half to two hours each (at one point, two at the same time - and one of those table's bills was $15). So, figuring at lunch I average anywhere from four to twelve dollars a table I lost about $25-$30. But, and here’s the main point, it didn’t bother me. And the reason it didn’t bother me is because I have fully accepted that campers are part of the job, that they’re a hazard that can’t be avoided. It used to piss me off to no end, it used to make me absolutely furious. That’s because I was mistakenly viewing it as an exception to the job rather than as a part of the job. Like so many things, when you’re dealing with situations you can’t change the only thing you can really change is how you look at it. When you start to see the negative things as parts of the whole rather than as deviations of it – when you fully accept them as part of the total package, you can be at peace with them.

Extrapolating out, we do the same things with so many “tragedies” of life: illness, loss, death – we can’t abide by them because we view them as aberrations. When really, loss, misfortune and death are completely unavoidable – they’re some of the few things we can actually count on; things that, without a doubt, are going to happen. One of my favorite Buddhist meditations:

Knowing I will get old, I breathe in.

Knowing I can’t escape old age,

I breathe out.

Knowing I will get sick, I breathe in.

Knowing I can’t escape sickness,

I breathe out.

Knowing I will die, I breathe in.

Knowing I can’t escape death,

I breathe out.

Knowing that one day, I will have to abandon all that I cherish today, I breathe in.

Knowing I can’t escape having to abandon all that I cherish,

I breathe out.

Knowing that my actions are my only belongings, I breathe in.

Knowing that I can’t escape the consequences of my actions,

I breathe out.

Determined to live my days deeply in mindfulness, I breathe in.

Seeing the joy and the benefit of living mindfully,

I breathe out

(from The Blooming of the Lotus by Thich Nhat Hanh)

What might strike you initially as immensely morbid is, upon practice, immensely freeing.

Knowing that I will wait on campers, I breathe in.

Knowing that I can’t escape waiting on campers,

I breathe out.

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