Tunnel Vision

Back when I lived in Prague I used to laugh about the crappy service in pubs and bars. They don’t work for tips over there, so pissing off the guests really doesn’t matter much.

Right now I’m sitting at a place called BJ’s, which is practically part of the Apple Campus. My service today has been worse than anything I saw in Eastern Europe. The problem: tunnel vision.

For example: I am sitting next to the main thoroughfare to the kitchen. Every waiter and waitress passes my table regularly. Yet, when I wanted something, they all strode directly past me, steadfastly ignoring my increasingly urgent gestures. Finally I got the attention of a hostess, who stopped a waiter and asked him if I was his table. He shook his head no, eyes fixed on the stone tiles ten feet ahead, and pressed on into the kitchen.

The hostess then asked me, “do you know who your waiter is?” and I found myself feeling apologetic for not knowing my AWOL guy’s name. Anger at myself fueled my current state of indignation. The right answer: “I don’t give a fuck who my server is, and neither should you.”

I suspect my guy was on a break and hadn’t handed me off properly. He’s been very attentive, and even cool, since then. But I’ll tell you this: if I was manager of this place there would be jobs on the line. “Not my table” is no reason to ignore a patron. That I was ignored by so many people indicates that the problem is institutional. If I was owner, the manager’s job would be on the line.

As I was writing that last paragraph, my server came over, told me he was taking his dinner break, and introduced me to his stand-in. Chris will look out for me, I’m sure. My needs are modest. But I still have the feeling that it’s just Chris. If he’s tied up, I’ll be out of luck.

Update: Unlike my previous cry in the wilderness, this one was answered. I got a message from the manager of the local BJ’s, taking my message very seriously. He even asked to meet me personally next time I come in, but I’m not sure I want that level of attention.

It is a sign of good management to take criticism as valuable feedback and use it constructively.

9 thoughts on “Tunnel Vision

  1. I sent a copy of this text (minus the “if I were owner…” part, which I added seconds later) to BJ’s HQ.

    I really hope I was clear that the criticism was not about my guy but about all the people around him that couldn’t be bothered to step up when he wasn’t around.

    At the table next to mine two women in BJ’s garb were taking a test based on the menu. At least, I think that’s what they were doing. I was tempted to interrupt their work to say, “While I admire the company’s desire to teach you the menu, let me impart a simple rule that will make you great waitresses: scan every table you walk past. Every table, every time. Make it a habit. If there’s an empty glass, an empty plate, or a menu to the side, try to make eye contact with the guest. No eye contact, move on. Otherwise, let the guest stop you and tell you what he needs. Listen, nod, and make it happen.”

    • Make that “Listen, repeat it back, and make it happen.” I swear that you could have a bunch of yahoos that didn’t even know the name of the restaurant working for you, and if they just did that, you would be known for legendary service.

    • Something I like about my favorite Albuquerque restaurant is that all of the servers share tips, which go into one jar and are divided up at the end of each shift. This does two things: It allows for an accurate counting of all tips to report the actual amount to the IRS instead of relying on the IRS default of assuming all customers tip 20 percent, and it makes sure the servers want to keep all diners happy and not just those at “their own” tables. Servers who slack probably catch enough grief from their coworkers that they either straighten out or quit. Not that I’ve ever seen anybody slacking at that restaurant — there’s a heck of a lot of cheerful camaraderie.

  2. I wonder if there is a cardinal rule to not dick with someone else’s table because tips are on the line. Of course, as far as HQ should be concerned, that is a reason not an excuse.

  3. The squirrel has resorted to sticking out his hind leg into the aisle to stop seemingly blind servers in their tracks. I tried using my prehensile tail but have stopped. The judge was very explicit in his directions as to tail stroking.

  4. I went back to BJ’s today and the service was almost aggressively good. It was a slow day, so the ‘not my table’ issue was untested. My Primary Care Servers were on the ball!

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