Friday, March 9, 2012

The Cost-Counting Continues

My post business-owner journey has been an interesting ride, to say the least. Hard to believe I’ve been a (mostly) free woman for ten months. It doesn’t seem that long at all. I’m still undeniably in the “recovery” stage. I catch myself doing or thinking things I never would have done pre-café, or I ponder my frustrating inability to accomplish anything that takes more than a week’s worth of concentration, and I know I haven’t moved completely beyond that chapter in my life, and haven’t come close to beginning a new one.

I’m STILL in limbo. But instead of just floating above everything, as I was doing a few months back, now I’m dog-paddling around, bouncing off rocks and tree roots, unable (unwilling?) to grab one and pull myself out. I’m afraid the people in my life, including those who read this blog, are beginning to think, “PICK something, already!” Even I think it’s probably past time for me to be doing SOMETHING more constructive. But it just hasn’t happened. Yet.

The previous two paragraphs are meant as a preface; an apology of sorts. Because the thing that led me to the keyboard this morning is yet another observation of the changes wrought in me by my stint in restaurant ownership. So if you’re tired of hearing about this stuff, stop reading now and come back in a couple of months. Maybe by then I’ll have something more interesting to write about.

A few nights ago, the husband and I were on an evening shopping trip and we stopped at one of our old favorite restaurants over the hill. This is a tiny pasta place in a strip mall; they have maybe ten tables—smaller even than my late lamented cafe. You order and pay at the front counter, then sit down and wait for them to bring your meal. I left the husband to place our order, grabbed our silverware and napkins and walked to the back of the place, where most of the better tables are located.

The back dining room was empty—the promise of a quiet, intimate dining experience glimmered in my mind’s eye. But I had no sooner chosen a table and hung my coat on the back of the seat than a woman carrying a shiny beribboned gift bag strode into the space and began eying the entire room proprietarily. I recognized the scenario instantly: The woman planned to bring in a large-ish (in comparison to the space) party and had counted upon the place being empty so she could have her pick of the few tables available. The manager bustled in behind her and looked at me helplessly, but I had already begun to pick up my things and move to one of the smaller tables crammed against the wall by the kitchen door. He thanked me profusely, but I couldn’t even muster an understanding smile. I was just…irritated. It was like having a PTSD-esque flashback. As they pushed the three biggest and best tables together to accommodate her party of ten, the husband rejoined me. He glanced in the direction of the activity going on, raised an eyebrow and said, “Looks like someone decided to bring in a big party and couldn’t bother to call ahead.” Bingo. Argh.

Moments later, two parentless children came galloping into the space, bouncing like pinballs off the two tables left available, chattering loudly all the while. They made their choice then careened, coatless, back through the dining room toward the front register where presumably their parent was engaged in placing their order. Sigh! When we’d first arrived to a 90% empty restaurant, I had high hopes for a relatively quiet, calm dining experience. Now it appeared we would be shoe-horned into this tiny dining room with my worst nightmares: a ten-top birthday party and a table of rowdy unrestrained children. Perfect!

In the end, the dinner was not the horror it might have been. The party-goers were reserved and orderly; the children piped down once their slightly whiney, over-solicitous New Age dad joined them (Dad passive-aggressively pronounced the kids’ chosen table “claustrophobic” and made them move to the only other table available. Husband again raised his eyebrow and mouthed, “I don’t know which is worse—the kids…” “…or the Dad?” I whispered back.) Our dining experience was not ruined, just somewhat…compromised.

Hence my lament of yet another change inflicted upon me by my entrepreneurial endeavor. I HATE CUSTOMERS. Any customers. Not just my own…well, I don’t have any, anymore, do I? But apparently, having been on the receiving end of the thoughtlessness, attitudes, idiocy and often downright rudeness of the 21st –century American consumer, I am hyper-sensitive to…what? The negative energy they radiate?

I have never been a “People Person” by any stretch of the imagination. In the earlier days of my customer service career, I learned to fake it pretty well. I knew what decent customer service looked like and sounded like, and I could produce a more than passable imitation. Unfortunately, one of the lessons I learned early on in my restaurant-ownership tenure was that, faced with today’s snotty, demanding, entitled, self-centered customer, my acting ability crumbled like a rice-paper mask. Without a deep, deep well of concern for my fellow human beings, bordering on door-mat-ism, upon which to draw, I failed miserably at providing the kind of service demanded by today’s consuming public. Five years of struggling to rise to a task to which I was woefully, viscerally unsuited left me evidently scarred for eternity.

So, basically, it’s hard for me to go out shopping, or dining, or to attend any event where I might rub elbows with other consumers. I can’t help myself. I tune into the interactions between other people and the service personnel, and I feel an almost overwhelming urge to slug someone. Or scream. Or interject some scathing (uninvited) witticism into the conversation. Which is precisely the kind of rude, thoughtless customer behavior that brought me to this point to begin with.

If I start indulging myself when I’m out in public, I will become precisely the thing I loathe.

Is there a scarier thought in all the world?

1 comment:

  1. Interjecting oneself into anothers conversation is, in my actual lived experience, a bad idea. I once intervened in a mother's abusive behavior of her daughter and then, given the mother's abuse of me - worried that the daughter was in for a really bad night.

    but that is not where you are going with this, just the sense that you walk a fine line between being who you are and becoming what you despise. It is the nature of all the worlds great tragedies, no?