When I started this blog, I had to decide whether to reveal that I work at Johnny D’s.
What if I had something negative to say about the customers, or the staff?
I decided if so, I’d just wait until the people involved had moved on. This one group has been gone for a while now; here’s their story.
It was many years ago. The band had finished, they’d packed up their equipment and headed home. I was left with a handful of people at the bar — four employees, and one customer — all in their early twenties.
Before continuing, I’d like to say that I knew these five people did not represent an entire generation. They were just individuals who happened to be sitting at the bar, and happened to be roughly the same age. And who all happened to be on the same page . . . all of them whining.
I can kind of understand why.
The staff had just finished a difficult shift and it’s natural to bitch a little afterward. Bitch about the customers who did this, the kitchen staff who did that, and about the managers they thought had their heads stuck up their asses.
But there was a customer there.
The staff didn’t care. They launched into a litany of things that went wrong that night. Legitimate complaints for the most part, but complaints nonetheless, and more than a few about the customers.
This customer didn’t mind. He joined right in, agreeing with them about everything.
The five of them had a field day. It was pretty funny actually; these were bright, energetic people and they cracked themselves up with the clever ways they tore some of the other customers to shreds.
Then it happened.
The customer sitting with them got up and went outside to have a cigarette. He was barely out the door when the four remaining started in on him.
“He said yesterday he was going to quit smoking . . . Now look at him!”
They talked about what he drank, the strange way he held his glass. They laughed about how he danced, and the fact that at closing time he always left alone.
When he came back in, it was as though not a word had been said.
Somebody bought him a drink, and the five of them went back to trashing anyone who wasn’t present.
They carried on as though I wasn’t there, but I guess that’s the bartender’s persona.
I’ve seen customers look to the left, then look to the right . . . making make sure that no one can hear as they talk to the person next to them. All the while, I’m standing right in front of them, an arm’s length away.
It’s natural for customers not to see us unless we’re serving a drink, or talking to them directly. We’re invisible.
But I was there, and my thoughts went back to The Lark Tavern, and to Johnny La La, the old daytime bartender.
I was standing behind the bar with Johnny La La one afternoon, talking with two customers. When one of them left, the one who remained started to complain about the other guy. Trying to fit in, I went along with his complaints.
Later, Johnny pulled me to the side.
“Never bitch about one customer to another,” he said. “Even if they start it, don’t go along with them. They’ll think that when they leave, you’ll bad mouth them the same way.”
Back at Johnny D’s, the guy with the cigarette was gone for the night, and the four wait staff remaining once again went verbally up one side of him and down the other.
“Oh well,” I thought, “Maybe at the end of the night it’s a natural reaction to customers.” Like a prostitute’s reaction to the johns afterward.
Then one of the staff left, . . . and as soon as the front door closed behind the guy, the three remaining started in on him.
“He’s so strange, he gives me the creeps. Don’t you hate the way he always fiddles with his collar!”
They complained about the clothes he wore. They laughed about his awkward attempts to become part of their clique.
“Well,“ I thought, ”Even if they work together, maybe they just don’t like him.”
The three who remained began to complain about everything in general. What was wrong with this, and what sucked about that.
“Jesus,” I thought, “What is this . . . Generation Whine?”
They were the BIG THREE, laughing hysterically, united in their mutual dislike of everything and everyone. But always they returned to their co-worker, and the customer who had just left.
When it was time to close, the three of them got up.
One of them, a cute blond waitress, said, “I’ll be right with you . . . I just want to go to the ladies room first.”
The other two, one male and one female, watched her walk to the ladies room. As soon as she was out of earshot, they began mocking her in a chiming tone, “ I just want to go to the ladies room first . . . I just want to go to the ladies room first!”
The two of them doubled up with laughter.
“My God,” I thought, “What will happen when there’s only one left?”
That remaining one would have all the people in the world to complain about . . . everyone would be fair game . . . but there would be no one there to listen. No one but me, behind the bar.
Fortunately when the blond came back from the ladies room they all left together
Over the next few days, I wondered if I should say something to the BIG THREE — something like Johnny La La said to me. But those three never listened to anything I had to say.
Anyway, that customer never comes in anymore.
Don’t see many restaurant blogs turn the camera around. They’re usually looking outward to complain about the job. That took some balls but I don’t know about brains. Good post though. Fun and kinda scary.
Hey, I worked in a bar, now work in an office, same thing and it isn’t one generation its all over the place. People should take a chill pill. Johnny La La had the best advice. Love that name. I bet he was a bookie too.
Didn’t mean that pun.
I really wish there were more articles like this on the web.
Those people sound very young. They haven’t learned the flip side of speaking ill of someone, of course the others will think that they are talked about the same way when they leave. Geez, haven’t they heard if you haven’t got anything good to say, don’t say it, which is certainly true about friends.
It didn’t seem so serious. Funny to watch.That’s the way people are.
Awesome restaurant backstabbing! I believe they left the east coast and work at my restaurant now.
Jason: Despite common misconception restaurant and bar staff are not the LEAST self-reflective group out there. As others have mentioned this was really looking at people in general. The note was about one night in particular bar, observed by the bartender.
Starbucks: It’s clear you’ve been a bartender from your previous comments, Starbucks. There’s a unique perspective developed behind the taps that stays with you. Thanks for commenting, my friend.
Susan P: In this case, Johnny La La had the best advice. That was often true.
DAbertini: Yup, people in general, DA. That night just happened to so perfectly capture a human foible I had to write about it.
Anonymous: Good luck! : )
It’s true, Mike. Kids today have a sense of entitlement…kinda like Nancy Pelosi. ;O)
Colleen: Hey, what’s with the political commentary? (I think you’re watching too much FOX “News.”) : )
You gave us a funny perhaps sad look at human nature. It’s best not to look too closely because despite the shedded hair and fancy clothing we often behave like monkeys climbing trees, don’t we? This is one of your more telling posts given that the behavior isn’t only restricted to restaurant employees.
I was a part-time bartender two years while working in construction. Hurt my back so now work in the company office. Miss the bartending what a blast.
Despite the bad form displayed by the people in this post, I actually found it hilarious, Mike, the way you laid it out. Especially when they nailed the last girl heading for the ladies room. Jesus, no one was safe!
Good point also about how bartenders seem invisible to a customer’s conversation. It’s amazing what you hear that is unintended.
this probably isn’t appropriate for the subject at hand, but i heard myself saying to a colleague tonight as we left the mines (i’m a copy editor at a daily newspaper) that the most honorable work i’ve ever done was serving drinks to the hoi polloi. there are a lot worse places to mark our days on this planet than behind a bar. … and what fun it would have been to get my mitts on the big three. michael, how ever did you restrain yourself.
I really love thıs post. I have seen thıs happen a lot of tımes especıally those who call themselves frıends. Good work.