Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Christmas Wish

If you wish to enter the mindset of the guest, it is crucial that you understand that the guest does not see you as an actual human being. This is the Second Noble Truth of Service.  If you were to press the guest on the question of whether or not the person in front of them was a living, breathing individual - one with his own life and cares, tragedies and triumphs - they would of course concur but, truthfully, only after some consideration. The default attitude of the guest is simply to see you as a means of conveyance - a conduit of their food and drink from the ether to the table. Do not take this personally. It is simply the nature of things. Would you take it personally if a scorpion were to sting you? It is the nature of the scorpion to do so - just as it is the nature of the guest to have the self-centeredness and self-importance of a two-year-old.

It's Christmas Eve and, after a pretty busy night, things are starting to slow down. The guests are beginning to trickle out, off to read "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" in front of a roaring fire and drift off to visions of sugar plums and whatnot (I assume that's what goes on, as for myself I had already gotten my visit from Hanukkah Harry). The waiters are starting to finish up their tables, the remaining guests are starting to get desserts and after-dinner drinks, but there's still one table who hasn't even started their meal yet (keep in mind we're talking fine-dining, where a meal generally takes about three hours).

It was a two top, a young couple in their early to mid thirties, who were the last reservation for the night; a reservation for which they had already been a half-hour late. And they sat, and drank (from the looks of it, they had already had a few drinks before dinner as well), and snuggled on the same side of the booth, and were quite obviously in no hurry whatsoever with absolutely nowhere else to be. Finally, at around 9:30, they order. The courses begin to come out and, once again, they're obviously in no hurry. The first course sits in front of them, barely touched, for what seems like an eternity. The server checks to make sure that the everything is alright, and the guests respond everything is wonderful, thank you, and continue to pick. This goes on pretty much for every course up until the main, where one of the guests decides she's not very fond of what she ordered, and sends it back - much to the dismay not only of the server but to the kitchen as well, who had started to close things down themselves.

She gets her new entree, everything is fine, but they continue to snuggle and talk and drink, and occasionally take a bite, and talk and drink some more. The food sits untouched for awhile, the server goes over to see if she can clear - No, they're still eating. The food continues to sit, they pick occasionally, the clock ticks, the captain gingerly venture back over. No, they're still eating...

You can see where this is all going. They stretch out the meal, they stretch out the dessert courses, they stretch out the after-dinner drinks, etc etc, and all the while the poor server is getting more and more agitated.

"It's Christmas Eve!" goes the familiar refrain. "Don't these a--holes think that I might possibly have a family to get home to?"

The other remaining servers joined in the chorus. I kept my mouth shut. I was closing as well but, again, for me it was just another Saturday night. I always expect to stay late and know, from experience, that Christmas Eve is no exception. By the time all is said and done, it's 1:30 in the morning.

As much as we want the guest to understand and think of us as actual people, people who they are keeping from getting on with their lives and seeing their families and, yes, having a Christmas, they do not. They are customers and, for that time, we are their employees. They're paying good money to have a meal out, and it's our job to provide it. And to a point, I can see where they're coming from. Our meals are not cheap, and if our restaurant didn't want to be open on Christmas Eve, it didn't have to be. If I didn't want to work in a profession where I might have to be at my job late on Christmas Eve, maybe I should have worked harder at finding another vocation.

It all comes down to how we treat each other, and how we see each other. When you go out to eat, do you consider that your waitress might have three small children waiting for her to get home? Do you think that maybe the barista at the Starbucks might have had better things to do Christmas Day then get up at 5am to make sure you didn't have to, God forbid, go one day without your precious pumpkin spice latte? I'm not saying I'm not often guilty of the same thing - it's human nature, I think, to lump people into categories and boxes. It's how our brains evolved, we see, we process, categorize, and move on. To step back and treat everyone you meet as an actual person, someone who has  a whole life outside of your very brief interaction with them, well, it makes it difficult to continue with business as usual.

Would it affect how you treat the grocery store clerk, or the bus driver, or the homeless man, or maybe someone you were not just indifferent to, but in conflict with, if you could step back and see the whole scope of their lives? See that they, too, have wept with grief over the loss of a loved one, perhaps looked down at a newborn baby and experienced the miracle of life, felt the sting of guilt and remorse, the pain of regret and failure, and yet also laughed until their sides ached, and perhaps occaisonally even performed some small act of selflessness or even heroism?

Not to get too religious or preachy but, in the spirit of the season, I think this was one of the things Jesus understood and tried to convey. He didn't see a sinner, or a tax collector - he saw a person, a child of God, surely no less than the priest or even the saint. What would the world be like, I wonder, if we could look at other people through those eyes.


  1. I try, usually unsuccessfully, to remind myself that I am often on the flip-side of The Second Noble Truth. That, as a server, I often forget that the guest is an actual human being. That while I am looking at them as nothing more than a conduit of my rent money, they are actually living breathing human beings. And that they are not only paying good money for the services that I have agreed to render, but that they may have good reason for acting the way that they do. That they may be irritable because they've spent the last three months watching a loved one die of cancer at the hospital down the street. Or that maybe they're sitting in my section for six hours because this is the only break from the kids that they'll have 'til June. Whatever the case may be, I try to remember that it is possible to give them the benefit of the doubt.

    But I usually don't. Those two people were probably just a couple of overpaid parasites with a sense of entitlement born of a life of comfort and privilege. And it was Christmas Eve!

  2. Even overpaid parasites are people too - the only thing that's really separating me from them is circumstance. There was a horrible story about pirates (like, actual modern day pirates, not the fun kind) raping and murdering a young girl and the Dalai Lama was quoted (I'm paraphrasing here) as saying "We must have love and compassion not just for the girl and the girl's family, but for the pirates as well." Because what was going on in their hearts that had led them to that point? What was their background like, their childhood? At least, that's the discipline.