Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

When It Comes to Getting Comped at a Restaurant, I Have a Couple of Stories

At the weekly meeting of the Peddler Wednesday-Night Irregulars last night, some of us had a conversation with Peddler owner Deborah about the irrational complaints of the occasional customer trying to scam the system: The customer who just keeps complaining about things until his meal or entire check is comped. These are people you can't please no matter what you do; you are better served to just comp their meal and hustle them out the door.

A few of the Irregulars on a field trip to The Duck in Boca Raton, Florida.

The discussion brought to mind a couple of related personal stories.

When I was shooting video for "Discover America," I occasionally worked with a female freelance videographer, who became friends with the production company's core writers and producers. She was fun to work with and was a decent shooter.

When we were on the road, she was the model of propriety when we would dine. Of course, we were on an expense account -- a rather liberal one. As we all do from time to time, she might remark that her steak was a bit overcooked or the steamed veggies rather bland, but that was about it. When back home dining socially with our group and responsible for her portion of the tab, however, she transformed into Mr. Hyde. Her goal was to get something -- or everything -- for nothing.

Her drink was weak, her beer warm, her salad limp, her steak tough as nails, on and on and on. She would create a spectacle at every dinner. I wanted to put a bag over my head and slink out of whatever joint we were in. After a half dozen of these outings, I refused to go out to dinner with the crowd when she was along. There's cheap and then there's CHEAP!

As our Peddler conversation developed, another story popped into my head.

Karen, Amy and me in 1996 (?) at some undisclosed place, ummm, drinking beer, I think.

For two or three years, Karen, Amy and I were like the Three Musketeers. We went out together a lot, and when not out, we gathered at one or another's -- usually Amy's -- home. This was in the early 1990s. Then one by one they got married, and that was the end of that. We are all still close friends, but the days of anything goes, and let the good times roll came to a halt. I was the last man standing.

The three of us at theHoliday Inn poolside bar. 

Any way, one Saturday the three of us had been at the beach in Delray, sneaking beers -- strictly verboten on the beach -- from a cooler, before adjourning across A-1-A to the poolside bar at the Holiday Inn. A few more beers there had our stomachs growling. The girls decided we should head to the Japanese Steak House in Boca. This was a poor-man's Benihana's; although probably priced about the same, it lacked all the chain restaurant's trappings.

It was still a little early for the dinner crowd. The owner/hostess/chef -- a 60-something Asian woman -- seated us at one of those U-shaped tables with a grill in the center. The two upright portions of the U each had two chairs, with four or so chairs located on the bottom of the U. With Karen to my right, I sat at the bottom of one upright with Amy to my left in the first seat on the bottom of the U.

Under a full head of steam, we ordered more bottles of beer and generally made a nuisance of ourselves. Usually in such places, they try to at least somewhat fill out the table before the chef -- in this case the owner/hostess/chef -- begins preparing the meals table side. The owner/hostess/chef gamely attempted to seat one or two couples at our table, but no one wanted to sit with us. Imagine that. Finally giving up, she rolled out the cart of ingredients to prepare the dishes we had ordered.

Part of the allure of this type of joint is the show the chef puts on while preparing the food. Knives are flipped, salt-and-pepper shakers juggled and veggies are tossed in the air. Just before the owner/hostess/chef began at our table, we had been discussing what might happen if a knife got away from one of these chefs, spearing an unsuspecting diner. We laughed and laughed.

As the owner/hostess/chef launched into her routine, she poured oil on the grill top and chatted with us. She then produced a spatula with a six-inch-long handle and an eight-inch-long blade. It looked like something a mason would use to spread mortar; it was huge. She used the blade to spread the oil across the grill surface, clinking and clanking the blade's edge on the grill, exhibiting a degree of showmanship.

As she prepared to move on to the next step, she tossed the spatula from one hand to the other: left, right, left, right. On the next toss of her right to her left, she failed to catch the spatula. It came sailing toward us, spinning like the propeller blade of a helicopter. Karen leaned to her right, I to my left as the spatula came whistling between us, taking out my bottle of beer in the process. The beer went crashing to the floor as the spatula bounced off the back of an empty chair behind us.

Laughing her ass off, Amy raised her beer and yelled, "Just put that anywhere!"

Karen and I, also laughing hysterically, straightened up in our seats. Glancing at me Karen said, "This must be in 3-D; that looked like it was coming right at me."

We managed to get through the rest of the dinner without incident.

I tell this story because trying to get the meal comped after this life-flashing-before-our-eyes event, never occurred to us. We certainly could have raised a stink. As it turned out, the only thing that was comped was the beer that went flying. I received a free replacement beer. Now that's customer care!

I must admit, I've often wondered if missing the spatula was intentional.

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