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A Fine Example Of A Gentleman And The Lesson Learned

In this story, I am the rude one!

I manage a family friendly restaurant that is often very hard to predict busy or slow times. This was during an unpredicted busy time and I was slightly understaffed. When that happens, I like to be up-front seating guests, taking drink orders when my servers get behind, etc. At this time I had just delivered some drinks when I noticed a gentleman in a wheelchair waiting by the podium. (This is important to the story!) I asked the usual, “How many tonight?” and he responded, “Two.”

I then say, “We’ve got a table right over here if you’d like to follow me, please.”

He stopped me and told me that unfortunately he couldn’t. He’d have to be pushed. It slowly but surely dawned on me that he was unable to physically move himself (he was a much older gentleman, around 75 or 80) and had been pushed in by someone else not present at the moment.

I was taken aback, because it didn’t even *occur* to me that someone in a wheelchair would not be able to push themselves, so I responded, rather feebly and very apologetic, “I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t realize you didn’t…have wheels…”

I know. What an awkward response! I swear, that is exactly what I said. And yes, it makes NO sense! And yes, I feel like a heel! Thankfully he didn’t take it the many, many ways it could have been misconstrued.

The gentleman, on the other hand, was the epitome of grace. He filled in the oh-so-awkward silence and helped my face to go from beet red to the normal ghost white it is by asking about my Easter, and if I liked working on holidays or not while we waited for his son to come back in.

I actually ended up waiting on them because the servers were too busy at that moment and I didn’t want to make them wait to order, as the server whose section they were in was busy taking an order at another table. In my mind, it was the least I could do for being so rude? Clumsy with words?

I don’t think he held any ill will towards me, but next time I know not to answer with something that makes no sense, or even better, to help the gentleman MYSELF! Why didn’t I think of that then??! Both father and son were, of course, very pleasant and polite during their meal. I hope they come back in, as they were so nice and understanding I’d like to see them again.    0425-11

Lovely story!  I keep drumming it into readers that sometimes you have to overlook the stupid comments some people thoughtlessly say and extend graciousness to smooth over the bumps.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Steph September 21, 2011, 4:55 am

    I know a few folks in wheelchairs and they all have pretty good senses of humor. A lot of people, especially young’uns, have never interacted with someone in a wheelchair and it is a little weird at first. Wheelchair users know that, and that most people are not trying to be malicious. I’m glad your first encounter with a disabled person was a non-confrontational one. It’s okay to have had a brain fart!

  • grumpy_otter September 21, 2011, 6:43 am

    I was once entering a giant fish (see “National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame” if you don’t believe me, lol) and was walking up the rather steep ramp toward the doors and a man in a wheelchair was right behind me. I stepped toward the doors and said “May I get the door for you?” He curtly said “No,” wheeled past me OVER MY TOES, opened the door vigorously, and wheeled away.

    I don’t think he meant to roll over my toes–they just happened to be in the way of the direction he was going.

    It’s OK, OP, we all goof sometimes. The trick for all of us is to try not to jump to conclusions when someone else makes a well-meaning error. I’ll bet the man and his son later laughed about the silly person who said he didn’t have any wheels.

  • Lexie September 21, 2011, 7:11 am

    I don’t think you were rude, per se. I think you would flustered and caught unawares. Rudeness is generally intentional or unapologetic ignorance, and your incident was neither 🙂

  • SV September 21, 2011, 7:54 am

    I feel your pain-we’ve all suffered from foot-in-mouth disease before, OP! You handled it as best you could and more importantly, saw the benefits of someone else being gracious and kind rather than condescending and rude in their response. Let’s hope that we all behave as generously as the gentleman in this scenario if we ever find ourselves in a similar position 🙂

  • Hemi Halliwell September 21, 2011, 9:05 am

    Wonderful story. The gentleman is a great example of graciousness and etiquette.
    We have all had moments when our brain froze but our mouths kept going.

  • LovleAnjel September 21, 2011, 9:10 am

    OP, I’m sure you feel bad, but that was not the worst the gentleman had encountered. Very often people who are in wheelchairs are treated as mentally deficient, or ignored outright. You treated him as you would treat any able-bodied customer, which is what you should have done. Now that you’ve had the experience, you’ll know to approach similar situations a little differently.

    My suggestion would be, “Would you like to wait for the rest of your party to arrive before I seat you?” That skips over any question of their personal mobility.

  • Chocobo September 21, 2011, 9:33 am

    I was once a hostess at a family-friendly restaurant. A lot of the time people with physical handicaps get annoyed because they are often automatically seated at tables in the center of a room without being asked their preference. It’s a misguided kindness that people assume the accessible tables are always preferred.

    One time a young couple who were both in wheelchairs came in and I froze for a second, not wanting to offend them and trying not to appear as though I noticed their physical condition. Thankfully after only that split second my training — which taught that one should never assume a customer’s preference — came back to me and I asked: “Would you like a table or a booth today?” They chose a booth.

  • Wendy September 21, 2011, 9:49 am

    I think it was less “rude” than “busy and overwhelmed.” I find I say the dumbest things when I’m busiest and not thinking clearly. He obviously could see how busy you all were and gracious enough to go with it. What a nice story. :o)

  • sillyme September 21, 2011, 9:55 am

    OP: I’ve done things like that. You were swamped, probably overwhelmed mentally and were in complete autopilot.

  • Leslie Holman-Anderson September 21, 2011, 10:30 am

    Excellent point, Admin! Good manners are (should be, anyway) equal parts caring whether or not you offend and choosing not to take offense at every gaffe. A favorite author described that sort of people as ‘holding their pride above their heads like an umbrella and rattling their sword every time it catches a few raindrops.’

  • gramma dishes September 21, 2011, 11:03 am

    “I hope they come back in, as they were so nice and understanding I’d like to see them again. ”

    Hopefully you expressed this thought to them too.

    I think we’ve all been there. It would be a rare adult indeed who had never committed an unintentional verbal gaffe. All things considered you and your guest(s) handled the situation with grace and diplomacy after the fact.

  • many bells down September 21, 2011, 11:08 am

    Back when I was in college, I was headed to class when I accidentally whacked someone with my bookbag rather hard. “Oh I’m so sorry!” I said, “I didn’t see you there!” I turned to the fellow in question as I was saying this only to realize I was addressing a blind man with dark glasses, white cane, the whole thing.

    I fled. I’m sure he had no idea who I was but I was so embarrassed.

  • Clair Seulement September 21, 2011, 12:10 pm

    I like posts like this–socializing can never be a tightly choreographed dance despite our best efforts. Here’s to defaulting to gracious, and liberally dispensing the benefit of the doubt.

  • Shiksagoddess September 21, 2011, 12:34 pm

    I think every one of us has had a moment in our lives where we immediately thought “OMG! did I just say that out loud?” Now, you have too. The gentleman in the wheelchair handled it well, you regrouped and handled it well. You learned, which is more than a lot of people do.

    Blessings to you.

  • Dorothy Bruce September 21, 2011, 1:12 pm

    Most people I know who use a wheelchair propel themselves where they need to go, so when the OP was surprised that the gentleman needed help I understood.

    And I’ve been on the receiving end of a handicapped person not only not wanting me to hold the door for him, but being rude about it as well. I hold doors open for people not to help them but because my parents raised me to be polite to others.

  • Angela September 21, 2011, 1:56 pm

    Most of the people I’ve know who use a wheelchair would rather work with your imperfect phrasing than if you grabbed the wheelchair and pushed it without asking. You don’t want to be insensitive but you also don’t want to be the patronizing “poor little disabled person, I’ll take care of you” person either, at least when you’re dealing with a teenager or adult.

  • Janos September 21, 2011, 2:04 pm


    Tee he probably got a good laugh about that later “Son that nice young server thought my wheelchair didn’t have any wheels XD”

  • A.L. September 21, 2011, 2:11 pm

    Maybe this is a stupid question, but how did the young couple manage to sit at a booth? Did they move onto the booth seats and stow the wheelchairs elsewhere, because I cannot figure out another way to accommodate two wheelchairs at a booth, since I didn’t think most booths had movable seats?

  • Gracie C. September 21, 2011, 2:14 pm

    I agree with LoveAngel – a lot of places won’t actually seat a party until everyone is there, so you can never go wrong with a simple, “As soon as you are both ready I will show you to your table.” Then once they are both there, a simple “right this way” leaves the companion able to push the chair if the person in the chair cannot do that themselves.

    Chocobo – sometimes it’s not a matter of personal preference, sometimes it’s a matter of what the fire laws regulates. Some places aren’t even allowed to pull up a high chair to booth.

  • Ruth September 21, 2011, 2:25 pm

    Sounds like a gracious man. Incidentally, one point of wheelchair etiquette that you definitely didn’t violate is the “pushing without permission.” Offering to push him might’ve worked, but it’s good that you didn’t simply start wheeling him to his table. Some people will do that, thinking it’s a favor, but it’s very intrusive to the person in the chair not to ask (imagine if someone just picked you up and put you somewhere else…even if they could do it faster than it’d take for you to walk, you’d want warning and to give permission).

    Leaning experience and a good reminder, but not too bad a fail.

  • Enna September 21, 2011, 2:56 pm

    You didn’t patronise him OP, at least you didn’t assume that he was backward or anything like that. He would have seen your embrassement and know that you didn’t mean it. It’s not like some stories we get here of how others have made unfair assumptions about hidden conditions or treated the person in the wheel chair as sub-human.

    You made an innocent mistake.

  • Allie September 21, 2011, 4:07 pm

    I don’t get what the supposed rudeness was. Granted, what you said didn’t make sense as he clearly did have wheels, though he lacked the ability to get himself rolling. But you were in no way rude that I can see. You did make an assumption, which can be rude, but as others have pointed out, you assumed he was perfectly capable of following you to his table. It would have been terribly rude had you assumed that he should be treated like a infant or an imbecile because he was in a wheelchair and/or older.

  • Cromo September 21, 2011, 6:02 pm

    The worst gaffe I think I’ve ever made was when I, and several members of my husband’s family, and extended family, were staying at a cabin in the mountains around Christmas. My husband’s mother was hit by a car and taken to the local hospital. I stayed behind at the cabin with the kids while everyone else was at the hospital. Knowing that we would have to head back to the city eventually for more invasive treatment, I started to straighten up the cabin and try to pack up most people’s belonging so that we can make a quick exit rather than everyone trying to do it at once when everyone is trying to get to the city as soon as possible. Unfortunately, she passed away later that day. On the day of the funeral, one of my husband’s Aunts thanked me for cleaning up that day, etc. In my mind, I was going to say “No need to thank me, I just wanted to do what I could to help.” Instead, what came out was “No problem. I knew it wasn’t all about me that day.” What, of course it wasn’t all about me! I completely froze and couldn’t think of a way to extricate myself from this proclamation of selfishness. She looked at me for a second and then said “Well . . . No . . .But we appreciate your help.” And then walked away. I still cringe when I think about that and hope that she didn’t go tell everyone else what I just said.

  • Ballerina September 29, 2011, 12:44 pm

    You weren’t rude.

    You saw the person, not the disability