There are some who argue that conscription — being forced to join the military once you’ve reached a certain age — should be a requirement of being a citizen.
I don’t agree with that. I actually know someone who was conscripted during peacetime: my dear Bulgarian friend Kal, who had to join the Bulgarian Army as a young man. Based on our conversations, the main lesson his service instilled in him is that he never wants anything to do with the military. On the other hand, I do enjoy occasionally thanking him for his service and hearing him call me creative expletives, so it wasn’t a complete waste.
While I don’t believe in compulsory military service, I do believe in a different form of service. If I were President, upon turning 18, every person in America would be required to serve three months in the most grueling, tortuous occupation known to man.
I’m referring, of course, to the restaurant industry.
Allow me to provide a case in point.
A very dear friend of mine recently started working a summer job as a server at an upscale restaurant. It’s definitely not her first server job; she’s a seasoned veteran. The stories she tells me never cease to amaze.
Just the other day, a table tipped her five bucks on a $62 bill. That’s an eight percent tip. She wouldn’t have said anything, of course — she’s a professional — but then one of the folks at the table explained to her that they just don’t believe in supplementing wages that should be paid by the restaurant.
“Well, thank you for holding me accountable for a system I didn’t create that you still chose to participate in,” she said, which is the kind of brilliant comeback that I wouldn’t have at the ready until the drive home that night.
Later that same day, she was taking an order at another table when a gentleman ordered a salad. She asked him if he would like to add chicken or shrimp to the salad, prompting him to condescendingly ask her if wasn’t OBVIOUS ENOUGH that he was vegetarian.
(By the way, good job helping shut down that stereotype about the sanctimonious vegetarian. Kudos.)
Later on, the same gentlemen asked my friend for a refill on his gin and tonic by holding the glass in her face and rattling the ice cubes around, which actually requires more effort than just being a decent human being and asking for another drink. I guess he was really committed to the bit.
Of course, I’ve had my own experiences with the hateful public. I spent about a year working in a coffee shop and endured all manner of abuse. While it’s far from the worst experience I had, the main one I remember is the time a very wealthy lady came in and asked for a sesame seed bagel. I apologized to her and told her that we had sold out of sesame seed bagels, but we had all of the other varieties. She looked me dead in the eyes while holding a purse worth more than my car and said, with complete sincerity, “I hope you’re happy. You’ve ruined my day.”
I wanted to reply, “Lady, I had worse than this happen to me before I was completely out of bed this morning.” But instead, I said nothing. That’s what you have to do in the restaurant industry; grin and bear it. You have to take the abuse with a smile. If you don’t, the person will assuredly complain to management, and then you might lose your job. Every day is a choice between maintaining your dignity and collecting a paycheck, and dignity doesn’t pay the rent.
The vast majority of my friends have worked in the restaurant industry, and when we go out to a restaurant, it’s easy to tell. We’re polite. When a server messes up, we tell them it’s no problem. If our order comes out wrong, we eat it anyway. And then, when we’re done, we leave at least a 20 percent tip.
If, during the course of my meal, my server set me on fire, I would still leave a 20 percent tip as long as I was pretty sure it was accidental. If it was intentional, 15 percent.
This country would be a much better place if everyone had to do their time in a restaurant. It might just help some folks feel empathy toward their fellow man, provide them with some compassion for the quiet struggles that we’re all going through.
So the next time you’re at a restaurant and your friend is being a jerk to a server, I have a small favor to ask. Take your friend aside. Tell them that isn’t an appropriate way to treat someone who’s just trying to make ends meet. Ask them how they would feel if they were in that server’s shoes.
And then, while they’re distracted, slap them.