Hard To Please

I think to myself: “…if you  ever come back, don’t sit in my station…


To all what they say I answer, “That’s great! That’s really great!” I think to myself “Please don’t come back! And if you do, please don’t sit in my station!”
I am in one of the best of my good moods despite the fact that we have another one of those tour groups, a bus full of cranky people who are hard to please. I work outside in the red brick paved garden. A layer of fog has been cooling the air after an eighty-degree day to a comfortable sixty degrees. The outdoor propane heat-lamps are all lit and turned on at low. Turned up they circulate plenty of heat within a six feet radius. I watch the orange, red and blue flames in the wishing-well-look-a-like open fireplaces licking away on our typical summer-fog which we locals lovingly call “Monterey Bay mist.”

Back in the valleys the temperatures have been exceeding a hundred degrees for most of the day. Along the coast, in Monterey, sixty five is the average summer or winter temperature. There is much humidity in the air. Off hand I can think of at least two reasons why I like the fog. First such is great for the skin and second it usually keeps the bus-tourists indoors which allows me to concentrate on some serious diners. So I think.

It is a larger than expected group and a four-top spills over into my outdoors section. These are four lovely older ladies. The hostess is seating these four, under protest, at my best table next to the fireplace. The hostess apologizes for she ran out of space inside. These ladies don’t stop complaining until the comfortable warmth of the heaters make them purr.

All four show the best intentions to give in to have an enjoyable dinner. I am not busy yet. I tell myself that these four are not like some other bus tourists who are rather pushy and arrogant lousy tippers. I bite my tongue when one of these ladies tells me that they had been on the road all day and therefor expect me to provide speedy service. She says they all are tired and ready to go to their hotel rooms next door to relax.
I tell myself that these ladies are special and that they are just a little worn out from a long day of traveling on a bus. They are unquestionable special patrons. I plan to do my best to make their meal with us a memorable one. I bring them their drinks, one iced tea and three coffees. Only non-alcoholic beverages are included in their meal. They have to pay for bar drinks out of their own pocket and very seldom does one of these bus tourists order anything from the bar.
I take their orders. Two of the ladies complain that they get too much to eat on this California tour. Still, they order appetizers and salads. Getting to the main course, nothing on the menu is appealing to them in the original description. They tell me exactly how they want their order prepared. Each lady knows what way it should be cooked. Everyone wants something be left off and another item to be added on.
I notice that our French chef will not appreciate this order: “…no Pernod in the Pernod sauce, I don’t want much sauce anyhow with my shrimp!” “…bring the sauce on the side for my fillet and I don’t want wild mushrooms, but I take some pasta with my meat.” “…no! No beans. I hate beans and none of this mint sauce with my lamb-chops. I want mint-jelly and mustard instead. Ask the chef to cook mine medium-rare. Would ye?” I wait for the last one. This lady in front of me is stuffing her face with bread and lots of butter on it, like she hasn’t eaten in days. She washes it all down with a gulp of iced tea. She looks up at me, then asks for absolutely no eggs or dairy products in her food. She wants the pasta primavera. I point at the menu where it says egg-noodles. Sure she wants spaghetti noodles instead. As I walk away, she calls me back and asks for more butter. I say “Yes ma’am.”
I shake my head and take my order to the kitchen. I am right when I think that the chef doesn’t like this order, but out of the goodness of his heart he does all the changes for which I ask. I stay out of the kitchen and out of the chef’s way as much as I can. I serve their appetizers, four prawn-cocktails. I bring them small Caesar salads, thinking full size salads would be much too much for them. They complain about the skimpy salads. I ignore their comments and I am right they do not even finish the half orders.
My tables start filling and I get somewhat busy when it is time to pick up the four ladies’ food. The chef did a great job. All dinner plates are piping hot. The food looks good and I serve the sauces on the side or left off, just as I was asked to do. I take the food to my table and serve it from the tray one by one. Now I do expect to hear “That looks good! Thank you! I like it!” or something along this lines. They do surprise me with “You know, waiter, bring me some of this Pernod sauce I want to try it.”
“Maybe I should have the mint sauce with the lamb.”
“Waiter! I want some mushrooms too.” I get them what they ask for and make a couple of trips as the one with the lamb needs it cooked more. She wants it crisply well-done but all she says is “Could you please ask the chef to cook it a little more!”
The one with the fillet asks also twice for more mushrooms. I am lucky that I get from the kitchen what these ladies want. However, I also get to hear from the chef what he thinks about me. He tells me where I may stick my special orders in the future. Our chef does fill me in into all his deepest thoughts about these my customers’ special requests. Slightly irritated, I go about my business. I am getting close to lose my cool. My other tables need attention and I forget my four ladies until it is time for dessert. Here they try it again, “What sauce comes with it?” One asks. “Creme Angelaise!” I answer. “I want my sauce on the side!” is her request. The next one asks “Can I have my chocolate decadence without raspberry sauce and without nuts?” I crunch “Ladies let me check with the chef first.” I do not waste my time with asking the chef but wait ten minutes before I return to them with a, “No ladies! The desserts are served as the menu spells them out. The chef is right now too busy to attend to any more special requests, at least for tonight!”
They don’t mind. I get them dessert and more coffee and they sit and chat for another two hours. They are in no hurry anymore. I listen to the four ladies as they leave. They praise the service and the good food and the ambiance. All four promise, if they are ever again in Monterey, to come back. On their way to line up at the bathroom one of them presses a single dollar bill into my hand, thanking me for putting up with them. To all what they say I answer, “That’s great! That’s really great!” I think to myself “Please don’t come back! And if you do, please don’t sit in my station!”
There is a hole in the fog and we are right in it. I look up at the dark night sky. Stars are sparkling above. The sliver of a moon is resting comfortably on its rounded side. That is what I want to do too. I will pretty soon as I am done with my shift go home and kick back.

by helmut schonwalder