I always hoped that I would never have a story to tell you, mostly because it’s just plain embarrassing for me to witness a faux pas and also because I like to think that people are better than *that*. However, what happened this weekend was just too boorish to not send in, in the hopes that people will learn by example and never, NEVER do this!
My husband, J, and I flew out to attend our friend N’s wedding in Missouri and were accompanied by N’s other friends C and K, who live close to us. (The wedding was lovely, tasteful, full of wonderful people and has nothing to do with this story other than background.) K, bless her heart, is gluten intolerant, VERY gluten intolerant and has to be exceptionally careful of what she eats or it becomes life-threatening. For example, if something touches something containing gluten and then touches her food, she has a reaction; she’s THAT sensitive. And K is very up front about using trigger words (allergic, gluten-free, etc) when placing orders at restaurants to keep herself safe.
So K, C, N, J and I go to this nice little independent sandwich/salad/pizza shop for dinner when we get in. You order at the counter and then take a number to your seat and they bring your food to you. Everyone orders. Food’s great. Everyone’s happy. We decide to go there for breakfast the next day, especially because they have a gluten free menu for K. Morning comes, we order, and K is careful to use her trigger words when ordering a gluten free omelet and we all go sit down to wait for our food. The waiter (same guy who took our food up at the counter and whom I am naming B) comes and brings a meal for K that is definitely NOT gluten free. There is an English Muffin sitting ON TOP OF her eggs, and granola in her fruit cup thingy, effectively ruining her food.
K politely tells the waiter, B, that she cannot eat this because of her allergy and asks him to remake it. He says something to the effect of, “You can’t eat any of it?”, and she explains that no, she can’t because there is gluten touching her food. He says “Sorry” and whisks the plate back to the kitchen. A little short, but no real offense. Not yet.
The waiter returns some time later with fresh food and C, K’s husband, asks if B was the manager (he was currently dressed in khaki’s and a navy polo, very different from what everyone else who worked at the restaurant wore). B says no and why?
“I’m just a little upset that you took my wife’s order, you heard that she asked for gluten free, and you brought this,” says C. “And you didn’t apologize for it.”
“I did apologize, I apologized for it when I took the food away!” protests B (which is true, I heard him). “What do you want from me?” he continues, getting a little hot under the collar. “Do you want a formal letter of apology? Do you want a refund?” (B is practically yelling at this point)
“Actually, yes, I would like a refund” C replies, still calm. “I’m just upset because my wife can’t eat this kind of food.”
“Well, I brought her new food and I didn’t charge you for it and I’m going to get you a refund!” B storms off, but not before we hear him huff “jack****s” rather loudly in the aisle behind us.
I am MORTIFIED, Ms. Jeanne! K is looking hurt, C is rather triumphant. N and J are trading looks that say “We are NEVER coming back here AGAIN!” And I can still see B at the counter, yelling back to one of the cooks in the back, gesturing angrily towards us. Our group quietly finishes our food and scoots out of there rather quick.
Now, I admit that I think C pressed the issue a little too far, but B’s reaction (and towards a customer!) just about stunned me. How could this kind of situation be addressed better? How can one best defend one’s self against Rude Aliens from the Planet Booron without becoming one? 0912-11
For some added background, readers, I did confirm with the story writer that the meal K ordered was not the same as what she was given. She did not order oatmeal or an English muffin. Further, the waiter not only comped K’s meal but gave them a $15-20 gift card as well.
A considerable component of gracious manners is to know when to overlook an offense and to certainly not escalate the problem any further. I’m going to lay the blame on C as the main Booron in this story for the following reasons:
1. C presumed that the waiter had gotten the order wrong. The waiter may have or he may not have. Instead the kitchen staff may have not executed the order correctly. So, taking an antagonistic approach to blame the waiter for the error when the evidence is not conclusive set up the scenario of the waiter not reacting well.
2. While the waiter’s behavior in resolving the issue was not exceptionally tactful or gracious, he did promptly address the problem with a “Sorry”, replaced K’s food with something she could eat (and had actually ordered) and comped her meal. Yes, it would be optimal for the waiter to have said, “I am so sorry for this error. I take full responsibility. Please allow me to fix this for you,” but in a real world, one should be practically euphoric that a “sorry” crossed his lips so sometimes we have to take what we can get. If we walk through life expecting people to jump through our personal hoops for how it should be *exactly* done to our satisfaction, we will be consumed with critical frustration at the imperfection of humankind . C made it clear that the manner in which the waiter resolved the problem was not up to his high standards and as he confronts the waiter, the scene is set for an epic etiquette failure by both.
3. C was not content with a simple apology, fresh food and his wife’s meal comped. For a gracious person, this would have been enough. His wife is once again happy, they can finish a safe, gluten-free meal, and all is well with the world. Well, not quite. C wants something more. I can’t speculate as to his motives but the description of the storywriter of C’s “triumphant” look suggests to me that his escalation was more about male ego and power than any real concern to address an injustice. For pushing the issue, he gets a gift card which means he and his wife ate for free that morning. Was the triumphant look because he knew he had pushed the envelope and scored free food?
I’m sure many of you will object that the waiter was outrageously ill mannered. There is not way to sugarcoat what he did….he was flat out wrong to go on a cursing rant. But I also predict this would have *never* happened if C had not pushed for more.