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The Grifters


There was a movie that came out when I was in high school. It had Jennifer Love Hewitt and Jamie Lee Curtis (?), I think. I don’t know really. It obviously wasn’t Oscar-worthy. But it was about this daughter-mother duo who would go from place to place being, well, grifters.

They’d con free dinners, free hotel stays, free cars by pretending to find a bunch of glass in their dinner, or slipping on a “wet” floor in the lobby. The movie wasn’t all that exciting, truth be told and I’ll not be sad if I never see it again.

I worked in the restaurant industry for many years, first as a hostess, then as a waitress and occasionally bartender, and I saw this happen infrequently. But it did happen.

I used to work Sunday afternoons at a pizza joint while I was in college. The money was never stellar but since most of my friends were sleeping off hangovers, and baby Ben was with his father, I didn’t have anything to do but sit at home. And working would at least give me an extra $50-70 dollars (yeah, it was shit money for serving) to tide me through the week.

Sundays are a notoriously bad day to work in the restaurant industry, any server knows this. In a diner, you might turn a number of tables more than normal, but the people you’d serve were often religious folks or older people, or both. In lieu of a tip you’d occasionally get a pamphlet about God, telling you to renounce your sins (as an aside, how did they know that I hadn’t?) and that you would go to hell if you didn’t. Sometimes you’d get a verbal “you’re the best waitress EVER” tip, and sometimes you’d get nothing.

And at the pizza place where I worked, we were usually slow as hell. While this was boring, it meant that I could get paid (something) do my homework, and, like I said, it beat the shit out of sitting at home under my parent’s disapproving eye.

About 2 PM on one Sunday, I got seated a two-top of old people. I popped over to get their drink order and they ordered immediately: a large pizza, two salads and a couple of Cokes. They were typical Sunday diners: rude, entitled, and unpleasant.

I called these sort of people The Crusties.

I imagined my $3.00 tip as I rang in their food and got their sodas. Lacking anything else to do, I strolled back to the kitchen to get their 2 salads. I dropped them off and they grunted a monosyllabic “uh” rather than say thank you. It was all I’d expected from them, so I loudly said in my saccharine sweetest voice “You’re welcome.” It was my passive aggressive way of reminding them that I wasn’t a servant, and I’d perfected it so it sounded completely sincere.

(and yes, I’m aware that this didn’t do anything to affect anyone’s attitude. It just made me feel better.)

A couple minutes later, as I was checking on my other tables, the Female Crusty beckoned me over with a couple of finger snaps and a wave. Just like I was a dog. I put up my first finger, signaling that I’d be there in a moment yet she continued snapping. This only made me move more slowly.

I finally made my way back to their table and inexplicably the old bag ordered a bottle of light beer. I walked back behind the bar to grab the beer and as I’m standing there, talking to my manager Old Man Crusty storms up to us. When my manager asked if he could help him, the old man opened up his palm and showed us a large crescent of a fingernail.

“This,” he said accusatorially, “THIS was in my salad.”

My manager fell all over himself apologizing, promising free meals and free desserts and shoving his face so far up the old guy’s ass that I rolled my eyes.

The salads were pre-made every morning by the line cooks, and although I frequently told them that they had “poquito huevos” (small balls) after they’d catcall me, they weren’t unsanitary. I couldn’t imagine that these dudes, who routinely worked 80+ hour weeks to support their families in Mexico would cut their fingernails into the salads. I’d worked with these guys for years and although I could see a staple accidently falling into the salad mix, the fingernail made no sense.

Anything that made it’s way into the food at any of the places I’d served was usually put there by servers or by accident. While I never spit into food, I will tell you that I may have accidentally on purpose added some hot pepper to the sauce. Maybe.

What made me increasingly suspect of the motives of these Old Bags was when their attitude shifted 180 degrees. Knowing they’d get anything comped they could think of, they began ordering multiple drinks, extra appetizers, and eventually desert. And now, rather than treat me like the piece of scum on the bottom of their shoe, they were unfailingly kind, gracious, and overall pleasant as hell. They now asked after my son (his picture was on my server book), made jokes with me, and smiled when I spoke.

Not normal unless you’re mentally ill.

Of course, after they left without having to pay a cent for their meal, to-go bags brimming with unfinished food, I knew my fate before I walked over to the table. They’d left me exactly nothing. Zero dollars and zero cents. I’d run my ass around for nothing. Less than nothing, if you want the truth. I lost money waiting on them.

The government, you see, looks at the gross amount of money a server sells and takes a certain percentage of that as assumed tips. They then tax the shit out of it. So, for the whopping $3.19 I got an hour, I saw maybe 10 cents of that. Less if I’d had high sales. So the government was taxing me on money I hadn’t made. My paychecks ranged from $0.00 (they totally wasted money printing me this check. I always meant to frame one of these) to maybe $3 or $4 a week.

I just sighed as I bussed the table. Nothing more to do. They’d eventually get what they deserved.

Karma, after all, is a total bitch.

35 Comments to

“The Grifters”

  1. On April 18th, 2009 at 4:21 pm Lindsay Says:

    My husband never tips me for serving his dinner either. I never waited tables for a job, but I sure do around here. I think I am going to add a customary gratuity to every meal from now on.

    And you’re right. I bet they got it back in karma.

  2. On April 18th, 2009 at 4:58 pm Jenn Says:

    Hey! I JUST saw that movie on TBS or some other cable station a couple nights ago when I couldn’t sleep, haha. It was called “Heartbreakers” and the mother was Sigourney Weaver. I feel so awesome for knowing that. Ahem.

    People suck. Even if I think my waitress is a bitch, I leave a decent tip. I figure everyone has bad days, you know? xoxo

  3. On April 18th, 2009 at 4:58 pm The Mommy Says:

    I would never – in my entire life – even CONSIDER NOT tipping a server. I sometimes worry that my monetary tip was somehow swiped by, say, the teens sitting at the table behind us, but I’ve never done it intentionally. Holy crap you deserve a medal for NOT horking in their food!

  4. On April 18th, 2009 at 5:12 pm Infertile Myrtle Says:

    $3.19? I’m so jealous. When I was a waitress I only made $2.10 and hour!

    Best waitressing job I ever had was at a sports bar. The owner didn’t want to mess with taxes so he just paid us minimum wage and let us keep all our tips (which were HUGE! on the weekends). That is were I worked my senior year of high school, much to my mother’s disapproval. That’s why I moved out while I was still in high school. I thought I was so rich. 🙂

  5. On April 18th, 2009 at 5:26 pm amy Says:

    ha! Jenn beat me to the punch about heartbreakers. I’m a bit like rainman when it comes to movies.

    I once put visine (a rumored diarhea illicitor) into some asshole’s drink when I was a bartender. I felt terrible for a long time and always regretted the immature prank despite his disrespectful rudeness.

  6. On April 18th, 2009 at 5:31 pm Madame Yu See Says:

    My son waited tables for years and told me that when ‘sophisticated people’ felt they got lousy service, they generally left him a dime. That way he’d know they didn’t just forget to tip him. I don’t know what kind of sophisticated people he was meeting at Ruby Tuesday’s!

  7. On April 18th, 2009 at 5:54 pm kerrie Says:

    Waiting tables is, for sure, a rite of passage. I think it should be a college credit. You really aren’t a real person until you’ve been shit on by total strangers. The only thing I got out of the three some years out of waiting was a deep appreciation for bartenders, how to converse about wine, and waiting tables is a good weight loss program.

  8. On April 18th, 2009 at 7:33 pm Ms. Moon Says:

    Annette Benning and Angelica Houston were in that movie and it’s a good one, actually. Maybe we’re talking about a different movie.
    Anyway, I’m reading a book called Waiter Rant and he has all the stories in it. Everyone should be a server at some point in their lives. I was and will never treat a server rudely unless he or she really deserves it.
    It’s part of life’s lessons and teaches you more about human behavior than any anthropology or sociology class ever could.

  9. On April 18th, 2009 at 8:00 pm guilty noodles Says:

    people suck and i go out of my way to be nice to servers. i’m terrified of what they can do to my food. i once ate at a high end french restaurant to find a finger nail in my soup. i was super polite and asked to have it removed from the table. i was so grossed out, i couldn’t handle eating, considering the nail was in my mouth.

    the restaurant didn’t offer to comp us for anything. they just brought me another bowl of soup, which i didn’t want.

  10. On April 18th, 2009 at 8:03 pm guilty noodles Says:

    my husband, on the other hand, would do everything he could to get a complimentary meal. he’s used everything from “my wife JUST had a baby and this is her first night out since delivering and this food is TERRIBLE.” To “I was told we’d be offer complimentary massages at the hotel here and I wouldn’t have booked the room had I not been promised this.”

    he gets it from his french mother.

  11. On April 18th, 2009 at 7:47 pm ainebegonia Says:

    My mother, god rest her, was a waitress many, many years. She always told me that rich people and old people were the worst tippers. I must confess that I did once purposely not leave a tip. The waitress walked away WHILE I was ordering, brought me a DIET soda (and told me I’d ordered it, so I better drink it or pay for a new one) and brought me the check with my food (not the way I wanted it, because she didn’t bother to take my full order). I complained to the manager about her and I just could not bring myself to even leave a penny to her. It’s funny I normally tip 20 – 25 % because I know what it feels like to live off of tips.

  12. On April 18th, 2009 at 9:56 pm CJ Says:

    That’s just horrible! 😛 DH and I like to do as Steve Martin’s character says in My Blue Heaven — It’s not tipping we believe in, it’s overtipping. 🙂

  13. On April 19th, 2009 at 2:25 am Lannie Says:

    *grins* Sounds very familiar.
    BTW, I’ve worked in customer service for the longest time, and I always told people to have a nice day (or weekend) JUST so they’d have to be polite and wish me a good day as well. When they did after they’d been assholes to me, I always felt this awesome triumph 😀
    (When they didn’t, I always called them assholes after the call ended)

  14. On April 19th, 2009 at 6:02 am Eva Says:

    This takes me back. I waited tables one summer in college. Ah yes.

  15. On April 19th, 2009 at 7:45 am SciFi Dad Says:

    The service industry is brutal. We go out at least once a week on average, and we always tip at least 15% unless the service is horrible (and we know the difference between a slow kitchen and a busy restaurant and a bad server).

  16. On April 19th, 2009 at 7:44 am birdpressw Says:

    I never waited tables, but I have worked in customer service in many different jobs, so I’m familiar with “human nature”. Some people still surprise me, in both good and bad ways. I truly believe in karma though. And for what it’s worth, I think it’s great fun to overtip, as long as I can afford it.

  17. On April 19th, 2009 at 9:15 am StuffMomsWant Says:

    One of my favorite things about my husband is that he’s a great tipper. I too, waitressed back in the day when we made $2.10 an hour. I distinctly remember guys “dropping” napkins so I’d have to bend over to pick them up. Hated that. I hold to the theory that you can tell what kind of person someone is by the way they treat people in the service industry and the way they tip.

  18. On April 19th, 2009 at 1:03 pm Painted Maypole Says:

    you have to be a really bad server to get less than 20% with me… that’s the standard. I’ve known too many servers. it’s not easy work.

    unless I go out on a Sunday. then i just pray for my server.


  19. On April 19th, 2009 at 1:43 pm Betty M Says:

    Tipping US stylee is one thing we Brits have huge difficulties with – 20% is way over the top for us with between 10 – 12.5% the usual and mostly added to the bill by the place. People rarely tip in a bar – you might say have one for yourself to the chap in a country pub. But not tipping at all in a restaurant is way mean.

  20. On April 19th, 2009 at 2:48 pm Stacey Says:

    We’re good tippers having both done our time serving tables – unless the service is downright negligent, say for example, the waiter is too busy chatting with friends at table A to notice us at table B wanting to order sometime tonight, dying of thirst from lack of refill and reconsidering that dessert we had planned on ordering, dropping the tip from 20% to 10%

    Not that that happened yesterday or anything

  21. On April 19th, 2009 at 3:07 pm Wabi Says:

    Hoo boy. It must have been hard not to loogie their iced teas …

    I worked at M@cD.on@lds as a teen and ran into many crusties. Several sneered about finding hair in their danishes. They threatened to call the health dept. or sue — yet all of them also wanted free food from the incident. As you point out, why would you want more food, free or not, if you felt it came from a filthy kitchen?

    The kicker was that each and every hairy danish I ever got a complaint about turned out to be fine. The danishes came from a factory and the industrial-strength icing machine sometimes left fine spun sugar lines on top of the usual thick icing squiggles. It was so OBVIOUSLY NOT hair, since if you tried to pick off the fine white lines, they disintegrated. But people would run up to the counter shouting regardless. I guess they figured it was worth a shot.

  22. On April 19th, 2009 at 3:49 pm zelzee Says:

    I worked as a waitress for awhile, and I will tell you it was one of the hardest jobs I ever had.

    So many people were rude, and had the tendency to look down on you…….believe me, good waiters are worth their weight in gold…and I let them know, vocally and with a good tip.

    And no, my tip wasn’t “Get out of the stock market, NOW”

  23. On April 19th, 2009 at 8:01 pm Karen Says:

    I absolutely hate people like that. I am an over-tipper generally and even when I hate the service, I still tip. I say I am not going to tip, but I always end up leaving something.

  24. On April 20th, 2009 at 5:38 am Erica Says:

    I was a server for seven years. I used to shout out by the You’re welcome thing too. People are so rude. I hated when they would call me waitress like that was my given name.

  25. On April 20th, 2009 at 7:42 am foradifferentkindofgirl (fadkog) Says:

    I always, always, always tip my server. I never worked in the field, but I’m pretty sure that’s because I don’t have the backbone to deal with what I’ve seen them deal wtih when we’ve been out some places, especially from a particular friend of mine who is god awful to servers. It used to make me cringe to watch her treat servers the way she did, then ‘proving her point’ by not tipping them. Thankfully, I don’t live near her anymore, so that spares me, but sadly, still not the servers.

  26. On April 20th, 2009 at 10:32 am Kristine Says:

    Ever since I found out what servers make (or don’t make for that matter) I always tip, even for bad service I give around 15% – more if you’re good.

  27. On April 20th, 2009 at 11:30 am Coco Says:

    Hah. What about the people who bring their own tea bags and ask for a free cup of hot water? Oh and some honey and lemon, please?

    I remember there used to be a family that came in every Sunday brunch and they were the worst. They were total condescending assholes (even the two kids, who were obviously despots in training), always sent at least one item back, demanded special substitutions and tons of free extras. They generously tipped about 8% if you worked your ass off, and $1 if they didn’t feel you were “prompt” enough. It became kind of a rite of passage to throw the new servers to them.

    Once I stopped waitressing, I still noticed this kind of thing, and marveled at it. Why in God’s name would you want to piss off the person who’s handling your food?

  28. On April 20th, 2009 at 11:33 am Miss Grace Says:

    In CA, waitresses make minimum wage, and responsibility is on them to report tips, which means they really don’t have to. It’s a much better deal than some other states.

  29. On April 20th, 2009 at 2:50 pm lady lemon Says:

    You never know, man. I went to a bagel place one time and when I bit into the bagel something was terribly wrong. Someone had baked said bagel with a RUBBER GLOVE in it. Or at least part of one.

    I thought it was a condom at first and nearly died. Although a rubber glove isnt exactly comforting, its a hell of a lot less scary than a condom.

  30. On April 20th, 2009 at 4:00 pm The Mom Says:

    I never waited tables, but I would have ended up with an arrest record if I had. I would not have had the patience for those two. I used to work in retail and we had a old couple that always manages to slip and fall or get some body part caught in the escalator. I used to hate to take their “accidently on purpose” report.

    The movie you were thinking of was Heartbreakers and it was horribly.

  31. On April 20th, 2009 at 3:07 pm MelissaQ Says:

    I used to be a waitress at a popular pizza joint, and I only made 2.15 an hour.
    It was crap. The GREAT thing was that it was by a very popular tourist and bar area in Fort Worth, TX, so many a weekend night my sweet hello, I’m guessing not unlike the one you perfected greeted many DRUNKEN Cowboys who never failed to leave AWESOME tips. I could forget it if a bunch of jealous women were with said cowboys or in a pack alone. I remember one lady with her hubby had come in with an attitude and decided that after all my running around I did for her and her hubby to leave me 35 cents as a tip. I smiled as they were leaving and said out LOUD “excuse me, you forgot your change!” She looked even more pissed and kept walking. I was extremely lucky that my boss at the time was a high school senior and I a junior, so he just laughed and said I was so mean. I loved that moment. It made me feel better. It’s just sad that people just have no compassion for people who serve and help them. Your right, you gotta LOVE karma. Take care

  32. On April 21st, 2009 at 5:40 am Badass Geek Says:

    Slimy bastards.

    I rarely leave poor tips for servers. Except for the times where they deserved poor tips.

  33. On April 21st, 2009 at 8:02 am g Says:

    OMG I HATED working Sundays!! On top of that, I worked at a buffet restaurant for a while. Talk about rude, gluttonious people. I hate buffets for this reason. But even at the Oliv.e Gar.den, Sundays were the worst, I wanted to beat them down with breadsticks.

  34. On April 21st, 2009 at 6:35 pm swirl girl Says:

    ….so, once you figured them as grifters – did you drop some visine in their drinks? About 1/2 a bottle will cause uncotrollable diahrrea and stomach cramping.

    (not that I know from experience, mind you)

  35. On April 29th, 2009 at 12:28 pm mumma boo Says:

    I worked one summer as a restaurant hostess and that was enough for me. It was at a hotel near the racetrack, and unless the customer’s horse had come in, the servers got jack. I swore I’d never work in the food industry again. *shudders @ the thought*

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