I love eating out. Absolutely love it. But what do you do when a restaurant you adore decides to peg you right between the eyes with bad service?
I adore La Madeleine. Absolutely love them. I worked across the street from their Bethesda location and discovered their heavenly quiche, French dips, and caesar salad. I got lunch from them at least once a week, and took my folks there when they came to visit me once. The service was always quick and friendly, even during the lunch rush.
And then...(dun dun DUN!)...shortly after I stopped working in Bethesda, it happened. I was in the neighborhood after depositing my last paycheck and decided to grab a last quiche lorraine from them. The place was dead, I paid for my food at the register (it's a cafeteria style setup, only the food is far better than anything you'll usually find in such a place) and the total came to just under nine bucks. So I paid with a $20 bill.
Cashier (one of a gaggle of waitresses and servers hanging out behind the counter) handed me a $1 and some change.
Me: (blinks) Uh, excuse me, I paid you with a $20.
She: (flat-voice) Ten.
Me: (staring, repeats) No, I'm quite sure I gave you a twenty.
She: (bored-voice) No, ten.
Me: (sigh, cannot believe this is happening here of all places, as politely as possible.) Can I talk to your manager please?
Gaggle exchanged glances, went to find him. I moved aside to let the next customer pay (too bad he hadn't seen me pay, but he'd been back ordering soup.)
Now, I know what you're thinking: maybe I was mistaken? Believe me, I pondered the possibility, but for one very important fact: I had JUST come from the bank and deposited my paycheck, complete with $80 cashback to get me through my week. And they were all $20s, brand-spanking-new colored twenties, back when those things were kinda cool, ya know? I had admired them at the teller before putting them in my wallet, and I had NO other cash. I was quite certain of what I'd given them.
Manager arrives and I explain the situation.
He: Well, go ahead and have your lunch, and I'll count her till and make sure there wasn't a mistake.
Me: (thinking: there ain't no mistake this time, but okay) That's fine.
She: (and the gaggle, shifting about eyeing each other) I'll just pay her the $10 myself, okay?
He: No, no, it's policy, we have to check.
She: (VERY nervous) Okay.
Me: Okay. (Goes to eat.)
He: (As I'm finishing my lunch) We counted her till, it's not off.
Me: (Siiigh, Oh boy, here goes.) Well, then, I"m very sorry to say this, sir, but someone pocketed it. I have no doubt that I paid her a $20 bill--I had no other bills. (I was in a mellow mood, having just been paid, so I was much calmer than I might have been on another day, and I didn't want to be rude, but I wasn't about to walk out of there after paying $19 on a $9 meal.)
He: May I take your phone number then and we will call you if the till is off at the end of the day?
Me: (If someone pocketed it, what good will that do?) I'm sorry, no. I know I paid $20, and I would like the $10 change, please.
He: Alright, I'll be right back.
I have little doubt he decided it was best just to throw the money at me and get me the hell out of the place, but he brought me $10. I thanked him and calmly left, feeling multiple eyes burning holes in the back of my head. A sad end to my many months of patronage of that restaurant (well, okay, last year I started going again), but I went on their corporate website that day and made a detailed complaint about a very dishonest employee. I have little doubt the cashier either did it herself or watched one of her girlymates do it. Either way, not cool.
Possibly the only restaurant I adore as much as La Madeleine is Legal Sea Foods. I frequent the one in Chinatown, Washington, DC, near my law school. I go in quite often for clam chowder with a book to study. Please note: for someone who orders small meals, I'm a DAMN good tipper. Most restaurants I frequent quickly realize that, and sometimes the waiters fight over me. [/preen].
Anyway, one day, it happened there too. Place wasn't busy, and I came in on a rather warm afternoon after buying some textbooks. I wanted clam chowder, but was so hot at the moment that I was really thirsty, first and foremost.
Waiter: Gets my order
Me: Clam chowder, lemonade, also a water. (It was August in Washington, DC, peoples, I'm talkin' HOT!)
Me: (Waits and parches)
Me: (About ten minutes later, to waiter who was not mine) Can I get a glass of water please? (Thinking: I'm DYING here!)
He: No problem. (Gets me water)
My waiter: (To Waiter 2) *Mumble mumble*
Waiter 2: *mumble*water*mumble*
My waiter: (To Waiter 2 and random busboy) *Mumble*wanted lemonade*mumble*HUFF! (Shuffles to bar and gets me VERY full lemonade, spills it on tablecloth)
Me: (Thinking: Whatever)
My waiter: (Brings chowder)
Me: (No longer parched) *Eat*happy*drink*no longer dying of thirst
My waiter: (To Waiters 3, 4, 5, and Busboy and cook--WELL within earshot) *mumble*lemonade girl*mumble*causin' trouble*mumble*water*yeah, stupid*
My waiter's posse: (Laughing, shooting furtive glances at me)
Me: Oh no, you are NOT talkin' smack about me where I can HEAR you.
Now, mind you, I've done retail and restauranting. I cannot claim it is unethical to make fun of customers, whether or not they deserve it, as I have done it. But I have the good sense to do it in BACK, nowhere that the customers (and certainly not the object of the amusement) can POSSIBLY hear me!
Me: (on the way out, to manager) By the way, your food is great, but you might want to mention to your servers that it's a bad idea to talk about customers where they can hear.
Manager: (mortified) Who did this?
Me: Well, I don't want to get anyone in trouble, just generally... (thinking: he'll have to fire half the staff!)
Manager: (polite but firm, props to him) Ma'am, I need to know the cause of the problem if I'm going to fix it.
Me: (Oh well, they deserve it.) Well, it was my waiter over in that section, the cook with the [description], the [description] busboys, the waiter in that other section, and the waitress with the [description].
Manager: Thank you very much, ma'am, I promise that won't happen again.
So, obviously, I haven't stopped patronising these particularly wonderful sources of delicious delectables, but there's nothing worse than a dining experience that makes you question whether you should keep going to a restaurant you love.