Susan and I went to dinner in Dumbo with a couple of our friends last Sunday night. We don’t get out of Manhattan much and so it was the first time we had ever been to Dumbo, a gritty though charming industrial area, dominated by the overpasses of the two old bridges. Among the drawbacks, the air was a bit polluted, and there was a constant hum of traffic noise. A few new condo towers had been built or were under construction—let’s hope they are hermetically sealed. We browsed in a nice, spacious used bookstore—the kind that are disappearing from Manhattan, then went down to the waterfront and watched the sun setting over the Manhattan skyline. Everybody besides us was waiting in line for either pizza or ice cream.
We didn’t have any specific restaurant in mind, so we rolled the dice and went into a place called Five Front that looked nice. It was at this point that things became interesting, if not exactly pleasant.
There were some boorish showoffs sitting at the table next to us, a party of about seven or eight, mostly men, including one older man who seemed to be the chief showoff and said he was in the restaurant business. (Yeah, right.) They were talking loudly (perhaps for our benefit) about Sandy Koufax and old time baseball—which seemed inane to me, though perhaps its a good way to show how much trivial information you can stuff into your brain—and so I quickly tuned out their conversation. Service was a little slow, however, and after awhile I noticed that they were bitching about it in raised voices.
Finally, when their food came, it turned out the waitress had messed up one of the entrées—so they claimed. They all attacked her—especially the old man--saying, among other things, that she wasn’t good enough to be working there. (Let me emphasize that this wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination a four star restaurant, and of course it wasn’t even in Manhattan. It was just a standard, slightly upscale, neighborhood eatery. The waitress, a girl in her twenties, who was also serving our table, was perfectly nice, though perhaps a little bit inexperienced.)
The waitress went to the kitchen to correct her error and then came back and said she didn’t think she deserved this abusive treatment for messing up just one thing. She said maybe she wasn’t that good of a waitress, but she was trying her best. Though she deserved respect for standing up for herself against these creeps, in response one of the men cursed her, saying “What is this fucking shit?!”
At that point, understandably, the waitress stormed off. Even the other people at that table knew that cursing her was stepping over the line, and they told the man who had cursed her that he shouldn’t have done that. An older woman who was with them got up and rushed to talk to the waitress to try to settle her down, and to head off what she thought might prove to be adverse consequences. She put her arm around the girl and whispered in her ear, and I thought, well, at least somebody from that table has a shred of decency. But then the old woman came back to the table and laughed about it, as if to say: “I took care of her, don’t worry about it.” Her behavior now appeared slimy and sinister, and I was appalled.
The waitress refused to wait on them anymore and had to go down to the basement to chill out. The rest of the wait staff took over the service of the table, and were unduly solicitous to the showoffs for the balance of the evening.
As the showoff party was leaving, the old man purposely knocked over a bunch of water glasses, soaking the tablecloth and the check, which he subsequently threw onto the floor—or maybe it got washed onto the floor by the flood of water. He laughingly told the hostess, “You’d better clean this up!” Then he turned to us and remarked, “It was just that kind of evening,” as if his purposely making a mess had been a fitting climax to the rest of his disgraceful performance.
Since the check, soaked through with water, was on the floor by our table, one of us snatched it up for a look. $88! (Tip: $16.) And this was a place where the entrées were in the twenty dollar range. The table had also had a couple of bottles of wine, and who knows what else. They had obviously been comped for at least half their check! I didn’t know who to be more angry with: the boorish diners, or the restaurant staff who had rewarded their obnoxious behavior.
Now I know that this is a game that certain depraved people play, and that it’s difficult for restaurants to deal with since they don’t want to risk offending someone who might be making a legitimate complaint, but once the man cursed the waitress they should have said enough is enough—game’s over, you lose--and asked them to leave, or at least stopped serving them. (I don’t think they would have been able to get away with this in Manhattan.) Customers are important, but so are employees.
And so are the other diners. Though the food was good—interesting appetizers including Zucchini blossoms, and entrées including tender, porcini-oil drizzled braised scallops—as was the service, and though I feel fairly certain that such deplorable shenanigans don’t go on every night, the incident definitely put a damper on our evening. -- Ed Hamilton