by Kris Mason
There was an audible exhale. It was a cross between disappointment and exasperation. Our waiter had asked us what we wanted to drink and I said coffee; and then my wife (the troublemaker) said, “I’ll have tea.”
“Iced tea?” The waiter strained.
“No. Hot tea.”
That’s when we heard the sound, a cross between a heavy sigh and a whimper. The knew the ugly truth because I waited tables; but I had never shared this darkness with my wife. For reasons that I can’t fully understand, waiters hate hot tea drinkers. Historically speaking, the country was founded by a nation of tea drinkers. They don’t teach us about the Boston Coffee Party; but somewhere between dumping tea into the harbor and the opening of the first Starbucks, coffee took over as our drink of preference.
In restaurants, diners, cafes and truck stops, coffee was a beverage that flowed freely as we forged West. It became the restaurant’s first real symbol of hospitality. One small price followed by endless consumption. Today, servers so aggressively push coffee you would think that they were being paid by the cup.
“Can I get you some coffee?”
“It’s freshly brewed!”
“I can make more coffee?”
“I’ll brew some more right now.”
“Let me get you a fresh cup.”
“Take some coffee with you?”
“Let me get you a to-go cup.”
"You would think that somebody had ordered hand mangled baby ducks."
Restaurants will go out of their way to try to satiate their coffee fanatics. After multiple roasting possibilities and half a dozen brewing options, there is sugar in white and raw sugar in brown. There are artificial sweeteners in pink, blue, yellow and now green. You can stir in half & half, whole milk, 2% or skim. For the dairy intolerant, soy and almond milks are available. Oh, I forgot flavored creamers… French Vanilla, Irish Cream, Mocha. There is nothing a restaurant or waiter won’t do to make each cup of coffee special.
Then, it just keeps flowing, “More coffee?”
“Can I refill that coffee?”
“Can I top it off for you?”
“Too much coffee? Can I get you some decaf?”
Unfortunately, that hospitality comes to a screeching halt when a customer has the audacity, the unmitigated nerve, to order a cup of tea. You would think that somebody had ordered hand mangled baby ducks. The hot tea drinker is the scourge of the restaurant industry. Their demands are outrageous. You should hear them order; they’re so smug, “What kind of tea do you have?”
Can you believe these people?! Always trying to remain hospitable, the waiter will usually show his or her concern by compassionately replying, “I don’t know… tea? Black? I don’t know.”
If that doesn’t deter the guest from ordering, then the task is under way. The preparation is grueling. Find a cup. Locate that box with the little envelopes in it (truly the end of the world if you have to open a new box by removing the cellophane wrapper). Take out 1 bag and put it near the cup. Walk to the coffee machine (ya know, the place where the magical elixir is made) and pull a small lever to release really hot water. It can get super tricky here depending on whether or not the water goes directly in the cup or in yet another container (similar to a coffee pot).
There is nothing worse than going through all that, only to have the ungrateful recipient throw in, “Can I have a lemon?” They are so rude and so greedy. They will suck down their cup and then turn around and actually ask for… wait for it… yea… more tea! Oh my God!! That is the last straw with these people. Thank God there is no repeating of all those other steps; because when somebody asks for more tea, you can just shoot ‘em a look and snap back with, “I’ll get you more hot water.” That usually keeps them from ordering another one.
Can you imagine treating a coffee drinker that way? “Can I get more coffee?”
“No, but I’ll pour more water on the old grounds in the coffee filter. That will be enough for you.”
This is the greatest example of negative training. It is useless to teach somebody to dislike and treat poorly any customer simply for their beverage selection; and in this case, teach a complete fallacy. Coffee drinkers have the most absurd and lengthy list of what it takes to make them happy and we jump through every hoop without question. One out of every forty or so people asks for hot tea, with maybe a lemon wedge and we absolutely lose our minds, and then go on to treat them like a second class citizen.
Hospitality is slowing escaping the hospitality industry. Restaurants are seriously considering doing away with waiters as we know them. There are a million little customer quirks and requests and if we pick and choose which ones we will or will not do, we stroll willingly into dangerous territory.
I’m asking all waiters to take a long hard look at the things that you do begrudgingly and simply turn it around. Your tip is dependent on the satisfaction of your guest. Why would you visibly demonstrate your dissatisfaction with their request? Why would you let out a sound that makes my wife think that she has wounded you somehow? At the end of the day, we have the easiest job which brings in the most amount of money in the shortest amount of time that fits around any schedule. Don’t let a little cup of tea grind you down.
I do Waiter Boot Camps at your restaurant. Contact me to schedule a meeting. 480-600-6973