Tuesday, October 13, 2009

how to get fired from Applebee's, and end up a hero

I'm Only Human

I have waited tables for 10 years between Denny's, Applebee's, and part time bartending jobs. Never, in those 10 years, have I done anything to anyone's food. Don't get me wrong. I believe that lousy guests should be punished...and severely! But how is spitting in someone's hamburger punishing them? They never know what you've done to them. So it's not a real consequence. I am not going to risk my job for some asshole that isn't even going to know what I've done to him. Besides, I have way too much respect for food. It's not the foods fault. Food doesn't know who's eating it.

I have a story, though, that you might enjoy...

I had been working at Applebee's for just a couple of months. This was a night from hell. You know what I'm talking about: short-staffed, crazy-busy night. I had a table of two couples in their fifties. One couple was very respectful and polite. The other couple was rude and obnoxious. They ran me in circles, and showed no concern for the fact that there were 40 other people in my section who had just as much right to my attention and service as they had. At one point, the wife told me to my face that she was taking her wine glass home as a souvenir. When I told her we didn't sell them, she replied that she "just spent $50 in this dump (it was actually $35 because they didn't want anything that wasn't on the Happy-Hour list), and I'll take this glass home if I want to." So when she wasn't looking, I took the glass off the table. When she noticed it was gone, she demanded I tell her what I did with it. I tried to make light of the situation, and told her I "took the temptation away". She responded that she was "taking your tip away".
I decided that if they didn't tip me, I wasn't going to take it lying down. They stiffed me like I knew that they would. So I reacted in what I believe was a justifiable response. I followed them, at a safe distance, out to their car. By the time I got there they were strapped in and backing out of their parking spot. I knocked on the passenger-side window. The woman turned to look at me with disdain on her face, then lowered the window. With the most condescending tone, she asked me "What the hell do you want?!"

I remember what happened next as if I had seen it in a movie rather than experienced it for myself. It was like I had separated from my body and I was watching the event from above. Time slowed to a crawl, as if out of respect for such a dramatic moment. I saw myself slowly reach into my apron. Her eyes caught my hand, and her look changed from smug superiority to fear, as she realized that retribution was at hand.

…Before I finish the story, it is important that you know she had it coming. Because what happened next is, in the restaurant world, the equivalent of capitol murder. I cannot stress enough that the circumstances were extreme; that my actions were coerced. I will now continue…

Her face went from the color of pink, compact clay to ghostly white. Her eyes bulged out of her oversized head. Her haphazardly plucked and sloppily re-stenciled eyebrows disappeared into the wrinkles of her giant forehead. I pulled my hand out of my apron with a crisp and clean dollar bill face up in my palm. I raised the sad little picture of George Washington to her eye level, and paused for just a moment to give homage to all the great food servers in history. Then I crumpled the bill in her face and tossed it in her lap like a filthy tissue I had just blown my nose in. She flinched, and cringed away from the wad lying on her fat thigh as if it were a dead animal. For what seemed like an eternity, but was actually only a second or two, she stared at the dollar with her eyes wide and her breath caught in her throat, waiting for it to explode or bite her. Then she turned her giant head, with her blue perm, and looked at me one last time. She no longer had her smug little smile. She was frightened. Because she knew what she had done to deserve this. And before she could cry out in agony and terror, I said to her...
"Since you're too cheap to tip or buy wine glasses for yourself, take this dollar over to Wal-Mart and buy a wine glass on me."

She looked back down at the dollar bill, really seeing it for the first time crinkled in her now sweaty lap as if on a dirty strip club stage. She brushed it off like a cockroach onto the floor. She cried. She put her head in her hands, and she wept in shame. She mumbled something under her breath to her husband, who was unaware of what had just transpired. When he didn't respond, she hissed at him "GO!" He slowly backed out of the parking spot and drove away. I watched her cry all the way out of the parking lot. She never lifted her head, and I never saw them again. I knew the second I turned back to the restaurant that I had just thrown my job in that ugly cow's lap. And it was worth it. The next morning I was fired.

I thought that was the end of this story, and my career at Applebee's. It was not. Within 12 hours, my picture and my story was on the bulletin board of 1500 Applebee's restaurants around the world. A petition circulated through the company to save my job. And in only two days, the corporate home office in Cleveland received 853 faxes with more than 10,600 signatures. I was out pounding the pavement for a new gig when I received a phone call from the president of Applebee's himself (which he told me he would deny if ever pressed by the media). After proving who he was by reciting the Applebee's motto: "QSCVC… Quality, Service, Commitment, Value, and...um...Cuality", he thanked me for my heroism and self-sacrifice. He then begged me to come back to work (after a two-week paid vacation of course). My story was even added to the training materials for the entire company. The management, for obvious reasons of liability, told me it was to caution against such behavior. I found out later that it was to give new staff hope.

I stayed with Applebee's for more than seven years, and even became a corporate trainer, opening five different new restaurants, and training hundreds of servers. I have a file six inches thick. I have done everything from unknowingly insult an autistic child, to calling a woman a man (and she wasn't even a lesbian). My job will always be available, however, and I could transfer to any store in the company, because of one cold and lonely night, when I chose self respect over self preservation and did something waiters and waitresses have wanted to do for 500 years.
Please...don't look at me as more than just a man who acted extraordinarily in extreme circumstances. It's true that most would never have the courage to do what I did, and I may be a hero; but I only tell this story so that someday, when you're faced with a horrible situation like that, you can look back to the day you read my incredible tale and say "yes... I could follow this stupid bitch outside and throw a crumpled dollar in her fat face."

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