Saturday, December 5, 2009

Return on the Investment of Not Being a (total) Jerk

The SEC Championship. Alabama vs. Florida. Glory, drama, tradition. A football gal's dream.

We have two young 'uns, a leftover gift certificate to Outback Steakhouse, and no desire to fix dinner during the game. I'll just go to Outback at halftime and presto! problem solved.

I arrive shortly into halftime, in my houndstooth check coat and crimson scarf, and there is no one at the take-out stand. Except an older couple studying the menu with an intensity that startles and alarms the gal behind them, who is determined to place her order and depart before the start of the third quarter.

Years and years ago, I waited tables at Outback. I know this couple. She is overweight and her ballet slipper style gold sequin shoes show stress at the seams. He is dressed in a fastidious but not expensive fashion. If they were seated in my section I would groan inwardly while fixing a bright smile on my face to greet them. It's not really their fault they don't know how to tip and it's not my prerogative to give them less than my best because of my prejudicial assessment of the likelihood that I'm about to get stiffed.

Safely behind them and invisible while they peruse the menu, I silently tap a foot and fix my best annoyed customer expression on my face. Not because I'm hoping they will notice- I'd feel pretty bad if they did- but because I'm hoping someone who works there might and please come tend the take-out stand. Let's speed this up, people.

Unfortunate shoe matron turns to see me behind her, smiles broadly, and says, "Mumble,mumble, mumble, good, mumble,mumble, reasonmumble?"

I don't hear well so I know some of my trouble is attributable to this undignified condition but I do hear well enough to know that something is off with her speech. She is foreign or has had a stroke. I've never had a stroke, but I've been foreign and that is challenging enough.

"Sorry?" I ask, with what I hope is an encouraging smile.

She communicates that she would like to know what articles on the menu are agreeable and affordable. They have a $25 gift certificate and do not want to exceed that amount.

"It's been a while since I've eaten here but everything is pretty good. I have a $50 gift certificate, though, and I don't think I'll spend more than $35, so if you go a little over I'll pick up the difference." I tell her. I've been there, looking through the window at goodies I can't quite afford. It sucks.

She is delighted and bends over the menu again. He opts for a chicken and ribs combo I've had and I assure him it is good, she chooses a chicken sandwich item I've never tried. The attendant finally manifests, looking harried, and takes their order. They come in just under the $25 limit.

I'm a bit disappointed but I think it's sweet they didn't try to take advantage.

The neatly dressed gentleman focuses attention on the television at the bar while I place my order. I don't need the menu since I checked it online and had already made my selection.

"I've got a connection to Alabama," he says. Cool. They're Alabama fans. "My brother-in-law and both my nephews played there."

I cease the recitation of my order, much to the server's confusion and ill-concealed irritation, and ask, "Who's your brother-in-law?"

"Did you ever hear of Jeremiah Castille?"

I proceed to mild hysteria and a borderline apoplectic seizure. Holy hell. Jeremiah Castille and his sons, Tim and Simeon, are Alabama legend. Jeremiah was the MVP during the Bear's last game in 1982. He went pro with Tampa Bay, I think.

After stuttering praise for the man's august relations and watching his proud grin grow wider and wider, I offer to buy them dessert. The wife is tickled pink. She orders cheesecake.

Damn if I didn't get home to find the people at Outback put Jeremiah Castille's brother-in-law's cheesecake in with my order instead of his. I hope something good happens to them sometime soon. They were nice folks, and exceedingly generous in their pride for the achievements of their family.


  1. Made me smile. :)

    Yes, most un-jerklike of you. I imagine you had to deal with some real doozies at Outback (or anywhere).

  2. Jason: You are so right. I learned a lot:

    1. Actual illiteracy still exists. (Twice I had to coach an adult through the menu while I pretended that I didn't realize they couldn't read it.)

    2. Military men tip 10%. If they tip more they usually tell you where their hotel is.

    3. Outback is big on the rodeo circuit. Fortunately, the rodeo only came to town once a year.

    But the best thing was the surpises. I took a wedding party that no other server would touch just because somebody had to do it. Honestly, who has a wedding function at an Outback? Nobody who knows how to tip, that's who. So after getting laughed at in the kitchen for an hour, cleaning up spilled drinks and a bottle of ketchup, and bussing the tables for the party of about 30 since no other server or busboy would go near it, I got a $50 tip on a bill that came in just under $200. $50 for an hour an a half. Not too shabby for a waitress!

  3. I love this post!!
    I've waited a few tables in my day--a restaurant at Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Anytime someone came in speaking in a British accent, we all ducked for cover. Europeans also tip 10%. hehehe ;-)

    But you do learn a lot about people doing this kind of job. I could memorize a lot of orders, but if somebody made any changes, I'd have to resort to writing it all down.

    Fun times...