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Assertiveness OR How to Refuse to Be Treated Badly Twice

So, one night the family decides to go grab a bite out instead of having one of the fabulous, nutritious meals I make at home for some reason or another…and my kid’s usual choice is a local restaurant.

We really like this restaurant, for a bunch of reasons. My husband likes their salads. My kid likes their smiley-face fries.

Okay, be honest, who doesn’t like fries? And then fries that smile at you? Please!

I like that I can get breakfast for dinner, if that’s what I’m in the mood for. Not to mention that the décor reminds me of every little Mom and Pop diner I ever ate at in Nebraska (not a bad thing, in case you’re wondering).

So, it’s a place where we can all be happy…and we usually have a great experience.

We’re Huge Tippers….Honest

That is, until this one particular evening. It started out just fine. We were seated in a booth (our favorite), the hostess was nice, and then our server came.

Now, before I get going here, you need to know that my husband and I are some of the most tolerant people I know. We’re therapists!

We get that servers would probably not be doing what they’re doing for a living if they could be doing something else.

We know they rarely choose this occupation for it’s incredible occupational benefits.  We know they are stressed and overworked beyond belief.

And we don’t make their lives harder than it needs to be. We just want someone to take our order, bring us our food, and be relatively nice while doing it.

And by relatively, I mean that you can skip being nice if you take our order and bring us our food.

That’s it. Nothing special. And we’re huge tippers…because again, we figure servers are not waiting tables because it’s emotionally fulfilling.

Want Some Attitude With Those Smiley Fries?

So, anyway, here comes our server, who looks a bit…angry.  She never makes eye contact.

That’s cool…she’s busy, it’s been a bad day, maybe we’re all looking a little rougher than I thought…whatever.

She takes the order with an attitude that’s all “speed this up, you’re wasting my time and pissing me off to boot.” Wow.

Okay, well, like I said maybe she’s just having a really bad day.

Maybe she just got really bad news, or she’s covering a second shift for someone and is exhausted, or is coming down with the flu.

I can roll with that. We all have bad days.  We’re not going to make trouble.

So we’re waiting. And we’re waiting. And we’re waiting.

And one of the not-so-good things about this restaurant is that they put the food ready to be served on the counter between the kitchen and the seating area, so you can tell when your order is up.

You can watch your food getting cold before your very eyes. So, that’s what we do. We watch our food getting colder and colder.

And our server is MIA. Well, that’s not entirely true.

Actually, she’s in the area, but she’s just ignoring the plates and walking past them, over and over and over.

This is a bit frustrating. Other servers are trying to figure out why the food isn’t coming out to us.  This is not her concern, evidently.

Just as we begin contemplating if we should just walk over and get our food ourselves, she brings it over.

About half an hour after the food should have hit the table.

No “Hey, I’m sorry this took so long.”  No “Is there anything else I can get you?”

Just sort of slams the plates down and takes off. You know the story isn’t going to get any better from here. You know this, right?

Is It Just Me, Or Is This Just Wrong?

Now, if this were a corrections facility and I was a convicted felon, then this treatment in the dining hall would probably be par for the course.

And hey, no one was threatening me with a homemade shiv.

But this wasn’t a prison. I had come here of my own free will to try to enjoy a salad and a grilled cheese sandwich.

Was I asking too much?

My husband was good with his salad and my kid was happy with her food. I was the only one with the food “issue.”

My salad was warm…sitting under the warming lights took the crisp right out of it. And my grilled cheese sandwich was cold.

That’ll happen to a grilled cheese 30 minutes after it comes off the grill.

This is pretty much the opposite of how I had wanted my food to come out.

So, being the respectful, yet assertive person I like to think I am, I asked the server to please send the sandwich back because it was cold.

I thought I was being pretty decent only asking her to send that back.I was going to make do with the slightly warm salad as was.

Trying to be reasonable.  So then she  puts her hand on my sandwich and says “that’s not cold.”


Okay, now I’ve got a decision to make.

I’m going to have to “take this up a notch” as Emeril would say, or I’m going to back down and agree with this woman who just touched my food and is going to argue with me about the temperature of a grilled cheese.

I did a quick “gut check,” meaning I figured out from within myself whether I was okay with what was happening (what I teach my clients to do in situations just like this one).

Not surprisingly, the answer was a pretty solid, “Um….no.”

So, I calmly told her, “It’s cold. Please take it back.”

I’m now getting an eye roll from a woman a good 15-20 years older than me. Well, there’s a first time for everything!

She takes the sandwich back to the food counter, and says loud enough for everyone to hear, “She says this sandwich is cold. I know! But that’s what she says.”

I haven’t really had to deal with that kind of nastiness since I was a kid when I had a teacher who loved to humiliate students, I guess because she could.

Back then the teacher had the power and we students didn’t and that was that.

But this woman is actually waiting on people, expecting tips. I was told that tips stood for “to insure proper service.”

Somehow I don’t think we were getting that.

And one thing I knew for sure…I wasn’t going to be eating whatever came out of that kitchen…not after what she had just told the cook.

And the warm, wilted salad had kind of lost any appeal it had to begin with, which wasn’t much.

So, I was doing without dinner in the middle of a restaurant.

Kind of like dying of dehydration on an island in the middle of the ocean. Food, food everywhere, and not a bite to eat!

My husband was ready to confront or escalate the situation…whatever I wanted.  But I wasn’t ready right then to make it a bigger deal than it already was.

I told them to continue with their meals; I’d get something later.

Long story, long, we left the restaurant, did not tip our “server,” and when we were asked how everything was by the cashier we said “don’t ever put us with that server again.”

And somehow the cashier took that comment in stride, as if it may not have been the first time he’d heard it!

I went home, kinda baffled, trying to decide if I should call and talk with the manager, go to the restaurant’s website and lodge a complaint…I thought very long and hard about this. I slept on it…waited to act for over a week to be sure I would make a decision that was right for me.

Ultimately, I decided that everyone is entitled to a really bad day.

What if she had just lost her best friend? Just found out her kid has cancer? Just wrecked her car?

I tried to provide some explanation for her behavior that would make sense. And then I let it go. And I felt better about it.

But we didn’t go back there. Not for a very long time.

But one night a couple of months later, that was where the kid wanted to go, and we decided to give it another chance.

So, we walk in. I scan the place, can see that our former server is there, but figure what’s the chance we’ll get her?  Yep. We get her.

She comes to our booth…don’t think she recognizes us…how could she when she’s not into making eye contact?

So, I’m all prepared to let bygones be bygones and start fresh.

The first thing she does is reach in front of us, inches from our faces, and sling the little dessert flip-chart thingie across the table.

We’re getting an aggressive attitude and no one’s even said a word.

Not a smile, not a word, no eye contact.  Yep, this is our gal.

That’s when I just looked up at her and calmly said “We need another server.”

She’s stunned. Can’t figure out what’s going on. After a very awkward silence, she for the first time makes eye contact with me and asks “Why?”

So I explain, nicely, that we had her the last time and it was a horrible experience and we’re not going to go through that again.

We need another server.

And she leaves.

And we get a wonderful server.

And eat wonderful food.

And have a wonderful time.

In my book, everyone’s entitled to a bad day.

A really, really bad day.

I’ll even give you a pass for that.

But you’re not allowed to treat me badly twice.

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