Maybe This Was the Wrong Customer to Yell At

scream!It is 6:15 on New Year’s Eve and I am at work, regretting my schedule and angry that I am not already drinking champagne. The Sauvignon Blanc in the coffee cup is not quite hitting the spot. A man comes in to sit at the bar an immediately orders a Heineken and a side of mashed potatoes. Neither I or the bartender recognize the man who begins chatting us up, asking our names and where we live and other general small talk that happens between a bar customer and a server. Within minutes he orders a second Heineken and the mashed potatoes make it out of the kitchen.

“He drank that beer awful quick,” says Clare. “I can’t tell if he’s just weird or if he’s already a little bit drunk.”

“If he’s drunk already, I’m jealous,” I reply.

Clare gives him a second beer as he continues being overly friendly and eating the potatoes like they are going to evaporate before he has a chance to push them down into his gut. Clare and I stand at one end of the bar trying to figure out what this man’s deal is. We come to the mutual decision that he is exactly like the character Barney from The Simpsons. His voice and inflection is nearly identical as is the shape of his belly. When he burps loud enough for Booth 9 to hear it, the comparison is solidified.

Barney_Gumble

“Clare, can I get another Heineken?” he asks in between burps and potatoes.

She opens another beer and sets it before him and one minute later he asks her for another.

“Hey, buddy, you haven’t even started the one I just gave you yet. Maybe you oughta wait a bit, huh?” she says.

He looks down at the full Heineken and registers surprise that is, in fact, full. Clare has now decided that will be the last beer he gets from her this evening and gives him the check. I go to the back sidestand to check on the status of my wine in the coffee cup and when I return, the man is gone and Clare is standing at the bar holding his check.

“He just left. Told me he didn’t have any money.”

“What? Are you kidding me?”

“He said he didn’t have any money to pay and he walked out.”

I grab the check from her hand and head outside, determined to get this man to pay his check or, at the very least, release my frustration on a man who is attempting to dine and dash. Out the door I rush and I see him about twenty feet away.

“Hey! Hey! Excuse me, sir? Are you you gonna pay your check?”

He stops walking and turns around to look at me. “I don’t have any money,” he tells me.

“You owe us $20.79. If you didn’t have any money, then why did you come to a restaurant?” I want to know.

He shrugs his shoulders. “I was hoping you would feed me.”

“Well, for one thing, it’s not my restaurant to give food away. I’m not the owner. And for another thing, you didn’t even eat! You drank three beers and a side of mashed potatoes. You owe us $20.79.” My voice is getting louder so I can make sure he can hear me over the traffic since we are standing next to the street.

He shrugs his shoulders, not caring that someone else is going to have to pay for his beer and potato fest.

“You are not welcome here again, you know that?” I yell at him. “Don’t ever come here again! And you know what your New Year’s resolution should be for 2016? Don’t go to any restaurants when you don’t have any money in your fucking pocket!”

It feels good to let this asshole know how I feel. After all, he is in the wrong and I am in the right, right? He’s basically stealing and he needs to know that. How many times have I wanted to verbally let loose on a customer and here I am presented with the perfect opportunity. It feels great!

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m real sorry.”

All of a sudden, I see this man for who he is. His shoes are too big for his feet. His pants are too long and the zipper is halfway down. The coat he is wearing is shabby, not nearly warm enough for the temperature. He turns away from me and shuffles down the street and I realize I have just yelled at a man who is probably one step away from being homeless. When he said he didn’t have any money, he meant it: he has no money. He truly was hoping someone would feed him. Maybe him being so chatty with us was his way of attempting to pay for what he ate and drank. He turns the corner, probably unsure of where he is going next and I am now on the street alone.

I’m an asshole. This is how I am ending 2015? Yelling at a man who has nothing? I have let the character of Bitchy Waiter overtake the person I truly am. I go back into the restaurant and Clare asks me what happened.

“He really doesn’t have any money,” I tell her. “He’s gone.”

Our manager voids the check, Clare serves the next person at the bar and I go to the sidestand to try and forget that I just treated someone exactly the way I hate to be treated; complete disregard for another person’s feelings. Happy New Year.

18 thoughts on “Maybe This Was the Wrong Customer to Yell At

  1. Bo

    While your sense of compassion is commendable, this guy is a con artist. Here are just a few options he had t get a meal rather than what he chose to do that night:

    1) Get government assistance
    2) Go to a local soup kitchen, shelter or charitable organization
    3) Go to a church or other religious organization with a food bank
    4) Get a piece of cardboard, write “God Bless. Anything helps” on it, then sit on a street corner for a few hours.
    5) Offer to wash dishes for a couple hours at your restaurant in exchange for a meal.

    Instead, he elected to take advantage of a system that doesn’t require him to pay up front, took off and then hoped he picked the diner that doesn’t call the cops. Chances are you are one of the few who called him out on it, since I doubt this is the first time he pulled this stunt. It’s sad that he was down on his luck, but he elected to rob your establishment when he had several other sensible (and legal) options to get a meal.

    Reply
  2. Scott

    Dear BW. Love your page and your work. This story hits home for me a bit. I am a day manager of a neighborhood bar that also serves pub grub in a less fashionable section of Hell’s Kitchen. My boss has had a guy walk in, order food and drinks and then state “I have no money” after they were fed and buzzed. Like you, after that came to light, after a second look we saw that this guy has nothing, is on the street and leads a sad existence.
    Like many NYC venues we have a “Restroom for Customers Only” sign that many ignore. Some people ask if they can use the bathroom, others pretend to be looking for a friend and slip in and out…others just charge in and use it. A few people use it and toss me a dollar. I hate that in NYC venues have to be vigilant about their bathrooms as the homeless will come in and mess it up. It’s kind of horrible to not let a person use the bathroom, but the flip side is, it’s also horrible to pick up after a far gone homeless person trashes said bathroom.
    Similarly I have customers who I am more comfortable running a tab with and others where I want them to pay or leave me a credit card at the bar immediately. Sometimes a customer gives you a bad vibe,
    The long and short of it is that it is tough as a restaurant/bar employee in major cities to make these judgement calls on top of everything our job entails. I try to be a good person and I actually know what it’s like to BE homeless. I was a homeless kid in Boston in the late 80s /early 90s. I used plenty of bathrooms to wash up. I hung out in places for long periods of time after buying a single cup of coffee so I could stay warm and out of the weather. That said, I never left the water running, towels and water all over the place and pee on the floor and toilet seat.
    I try to be compassionate and kind. Recently I organized a fundraiser for the Ali-Forney Center in NYC which helps at risk LGBT youth here in NYC. It’s a great organization.
    It can be tough at times to retain your humanity and still deal with life ( and NYC’s) constant stream of Bullshit…on top of a difficult and often thankless job.
    I think you and your co-worker handled this as well as you could.
    Be Well
    Scott

    Reply
  3. Lynn

    This is a sad story and I think people are showing real lack of compassion. If he was such a creep he would have ordered something more substantial than mashed potatoes. I think he was desperate. BW, I commend you on realizing that this was not your usual dine and dash.

    Reply
  4. April

    This is how I see it. IF he wanted to be fed, and wanted to be honest about it, he would have gone up and asked for food. Not beer. Food.
    Instead, he wanted beer. He wasn’t that hungry. He was getting drunk. He was a thief.

    I do think you are a good person though.

    Reply
  5. Shelley

    You learned from it. Be thankful for that and enjoy the new year. You never know what battles another person is fighting. I admire you for seeing it and acknowledging the situation. You’re a good egg and I’m sending a hug, kiddo!

    Reply
  6. Kate

    Ofcourse you feel bad. That is because you are ultimately a decent person. True this man was down on his luck, but he knew what he was doing. He didn’t come in and ask for charity, he took what he wanted and left. That is stealing. I feel bad for him and what is probably the sum of his poor life choices, but let’s add this to his list not yours.

    Reply
  7. Sharon

    I agree with Jill. THREE beers??? And, he had already asked for a fourth.
    I know I sound like Ebeneezer Scrooge, but you should have called a cop. At least then you would know that he would have a warm place to sleep and a couple of meals that did not stealing beer.
    Lots of hungry folks out there not stealing.

    Reply
    1. Michael K.

      So the taxpayers of New York should buy this guy three hots and a cot after he swindled a coupla beers and some mash? No bangers? Come on. Most jurisdictions would only ticket for petty theft anyways.

      Reply
  8. Jill Tasker

    I think you are being too hard on yourself. If he was truly there because he was hungry, he wouldn’t have scarfed down three beers. He was there to get as much beer as he could. The little side of potatoes was hardly food. The fact that he drank the beers so quickly likely means he was hoping to drink as much as he could before you caught wise. It’s good of you to feel compassion, but he stole, plain and simple.

    Reply
    1. J-Diggy

      I think its worth considering that he may be unwell. Besides, if you didn’t have any money to feed yourself, wouldn’t you drink a bunch of beers, too? And, its worth saying that I’ve made similar mistakes. I think its just easier to call people on their shit when they aren’t likely to have any power to hurt you. It sucks.

      Reply

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