An Indian Restaurant Fable (i.e. A Review with Morals at the End!)
My Knight and I enjoyed a date night this week at a local Indian restaurant. It has been a while since we visited this place, and I was craving yummy naan bread, curry, and cheesy Bollywood films. When we arrived, there was only one server working. She was a young girl who seemed a little unsure of herself as she asked us to be seated. She was nice, friendly, and completely and totally clueless. Let's call her Lola, for no reason whatsoever other than to give her a name. Lola took our drink order right away, and as she walked away I asked if she could bring us garlic naan. It's never a good sign when your server at an Indian restaurant doesn't know what naan is. I explained what it was and some dawning of recognition occurred and she offered butter, garlic, or cheese naan. I asked what kind of cheese. She replied, "I have no idea. I'm new here." A word of advice to anyone starting a job as a server. The correct answer is NEVER "I have no idea. I'm new here." The answer can be "let me find out", but it should never be the equivalent of I AM CLUELESS AND REALLY DON"T CARE. Lola returned promptly with my Diet Coke and My Knight's green tea, which looked exactly like water in a clear glass. She further impressed us by announcing, "I am not sure if this is water or green tea. It looks like water, but I pressed the green tea button." Ummmmmm, yeah. So we asked if perhaps the tea wasn't brewed yet, and she said...I DON'T KNOW. I'M NEW HERE. Soon our food was delivered, and we forgot about Lola as we chowed down on yummy Butter Chicken and spicy curry. The food was awesome! Another group came in while we were eating, and their conversation with Lola proved to be good dinner entertainment. "What is in this dish?" I DON'T KNOW, I'M NEW HERE. "Is this very spicy?" I DON'T KNOW. I'VE NEVER HAD IT. "Do you have....(insert any menu item here)?" I'M NOT SURE. IT'S ONLY MY 4TH DAY HERE. Now before you think I am hating on Lola, please let me clarify that I am not. She was sweet, she was trying hard, and she had OBVIOUSLY not been trained well. And she was alone. All Alone. Other than whoever was in the kitchen, this girl was on her own alone in this restaurant on her 4th day working there. So I'm not hating on her; I'm hating on the poor management decision to put her (and the customers) in that situation. We didn't have much more interaction with Lola, other than flagging her down to ask for refills on our Diet Coke and green tea water (and I guess we should have asked for ice in the refills, since there was no fresh ice ever added to the glass after the first serving.) At the conclusion of our meal, we asked for the dessert menu, which unfortunately did not include the handy-dandy translation for us Americans who have no idea what to order. So I asked Lola what the desserts were. SHE HAD NO IDEA. So being the ever helpful customer that I try to be, and believing that education is key to providing customer service, I cheerfully suggested that she go and ask what they were. Then we could find out what our choices were and she would learn something new for her job. Lola returned with the following delectable descriptions sure to make your mouth water and send you rushing out to your local Indian restaurant just to try these desserts. "This one is kind of like a pistachio ice cream. They take pistachios and soak them in milk, then freeze that and make a popsicle out of it." (said with the enthusiasm of describing your grandmother's hip surgery procedure) "This one is like a biscuit that looks kind of like a Munchkin from Dunkin Donuts, but with some kind of syrup poured over it. (said with a bit of disdain for the idea of syrup evidently.) "This one is a little cheeseball sitting in some kind of cheese milk." (said with such a look of disgust and nausea that surely NO ONE would ever dare order this dish.) "And this one we don't serve any more, but they haven't gotten new menus." "OH!" I said with a smile. "That's the one I wanted." Lola looked at me in complete seriousness and said "We don't have it." Yes, dear. I understand. I was joking. Not a good time, I guess. So I ordered the pistachio popsicle, after which Lola commented, "Yeah, it's the only American sounding one, hunh?" (On a side note, the popsicle actually looked like a taper candle with a skewer stuck down the middle. And it tasted NOTHING like pistachio ice cream. Or pistachios. It actually tasted floral. Almost perfumey. Not bad, just not what I was expecting.) Lola asked how it was, and I told her the same thing I just told you. To which she replied, "Yeah, they eat all kind of weird foods here. I've never tried stuff like this before I started working here, and the last few days I have eaten some really weird stuff. It's not like American food at all. They use all kinds of plants in their food. It's so weird." I bit my tongue to keep from asking Lola what on Earth possessed her to apply for this job. (or what on Earth compelled them to hire her?!?!) This entire meal had been made possible by a restaurant.com gift certificate, which Lola had no clue how to use. So she brought me a receipt for the full amount of our dinner, without the $25 value of the certificate subtracted. "Go ahead and sign this for the full amount, and then at the end of the day, he'll take the $25 off." Ummmmmm. NO. I am not signing a credit card receipt for $25 more than I should pay on the mere premise that Lola will remember to get her non-present manager to take it off my bill later in the day. So I asked her to get the manager. But since the poor girl was alone with just the cook in the kitchen, she had to call him on the phone. She got his wife, who said she'd try to reach him and get him to call Lola back. Lola looked at me in complete frustration and said, "I can't believe they left me here alone on my 4th day. I don't know what to do, and there's no one for me to ask. I made a big mess out of this, and I already charged your card, and now I don't know how to fix it." I smiled at her and told her not to worry and that we would figure it out. And in the end, we did. The manager called and told her just to give me $25 in cash to make it even, and he would sort out the gift certificate and charges later. My Knight and I suspect this might be Lola's very first job ever. And what a terrible experience for her. And for the customers of the restaurant, some of whom may never come back to see if Lola improves or if there is another waitress with more experience (and more passion for that cuisine!) So I have a few morals to this story: 1. If you are a restaurant owner or manager, TRAIN YOUR PEOPLE WELL. Make sure they know what they are doing, how to answer questions, and how to answer professionally if they don't know the answer and need to find out. And maybe don't leave them alone in the restaurant with your customers before they're trained. 2. If you are applying for a job at a restaurant, at least TRY to like the food there. Find out about it, research it, taste it. Find SOMETHING you like that you can genuinely recommend to customers. And don't just keep telling people I DON'T KNOW. Or I'M NEW HERE. Go and find out the answers so you can tell them and know for future reference. In all honesty, it shouldn't be the customer's problem that you were just hired. 3. If you are a customer, be patient and understanding. That server may just be some newbie that got thrown to the wolves without training and supervision. Be nice and smile. It goes a long way in helping to get answers and get your problem solved. Besides, the clueless server is already having a bad day working a job they probably don't enjoy and don't know anything about. Don't make it worse just because you can. I'd like to hear from you. What are your worst server stories? And servers, to be fair, let's hear from you--what are your worst customer stories AND manager stories???