Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Food and consequences

We just got home from a great dinner at Fleming's with our friends Martha and Gil. We had so much fun tonight, the food was wonderful, and we had the best waiter who put up with my rant about why the hell they pulled the twice-baked potato (with smoked cheddar and pancetta) off the menu. Yeah, I'm still a little bitter about it. But it made me think about what happened this weekend.

On Saturday night we ended up going out to dinner with the owners of Monkey Man’s preschool, Jim and Debbie. They’re our age and we’ve known them for four years, but as long as we’ve known them we have never done anything socially with them whatsoever. And after Saturday, I doubt that we’ll be going out to eat with them again anytime soon.

The dinner plans had been postponed at least four times – I had finally lost count – and the stars finally got into alignment and Saturday was the big day. We all agreed to go to this great steak place that is literally in the middle of no-freaking-where and is about a 40 minute drive from where we live.

This place looks like a total dive from the outside – and when you walk in it is crammed full of all kinds of tacky tchotchkes and there’s a model train suspended from the ceiling and a damn 5’ tall polar bear standing in the middle of the bar. A stuffed animal type of bear, not a real stuffed bear. But despite the weirdness factor, you can go to this place in cut-offs and sneakers and get one of the best meals around. Dick, the owner of the place, does things to steaks that should be considered illegal in at least 40 states. It’s that damn good. And don’t even get me started on the stuffed shrimp or the stuffed baked potato that must have at least 5 kinds of cheese and a half-pound of bacon on there. And if your arteries aren’t clogged enough after all of that, have some derby pie or carrot cake. It’s an evil, evil place. Oh, and word to the wise - if you ever get the chance to go there, Dick won't cook anything over medium because he considers it a travesty. We've had at least one friend banned from the restaurant when they insisted on medium-well steaks and Dick told them to go f*ck themselves.

We had a great dinner – filet mignon, stuffed shrimp, the evil baked potato, dessert. We were all literally groaning and I was thanking the good heavens for the 2% spandex in my clothes, which even with the spandex my waistline was probably testing every law of physics.

And then the check came. We had offered earlier to pay – after all, they own several small businesses and with Joey’s business we can write stuff off occasionally for “entertaining potential customers”, but they turned us down flat and insisted on paying for everything. The bill came to $400. Yeah, we had a few drinks beforehand and then two bottles of wine, and then appetizers and the whole shebang…but damn, that was a lot. Jim paid the bill and as we were leaving, the waitress (who has waited on us so many times over the past 10 years that we know her fairly well) pulled Joey to the side and asked if everything with the service was okay.

Do you know how much Jim had tipped her? $40. On a $400 bill. And knowing her personality fairly well, she wasn’t looking for the rest of her tip – she was genuinely concerned about whether she’d done something to offend our table or what had gone wrong.

So what do you do in a case like that? I had already walked out of the restaurant with Jim and Debbie, and even though Joey offered her another $40 she refused to take it. I don’t think she was upset about being stiffed as much as she felt badly about even bringing it up to us. We’ll go back there in a few weeks for a family birthday so we can always make it up to her, but it was just embarrassing as shit. Joey didn’t even tell me until later that night when we were back home and my face just burned from the humiliation. Yeah, I know it wasn’t our fault – but I hate, hate, hate when people short-tip a server if they’ve done an exceptional job. I’m the first one to cut a tip if the service sucks, but when you go to a nice restaurant and the server is practically licking your shoes, I think they deserve a decent gratuity for the service provided.

On Sunday night we had my former coworkers SG and Cat Door M along with their wives come over for dinner – SG and Mrs. SG were moving into a gorgeous new house this weekend, and between the extreme heat and her being 3 months pregnant I knew they would need a little TLC. So I threw together a good meal for “my guys” – filet mignon, grilled garlic lemon chicken (for Mrs. Cat Door M who doesn’t eat beef), parmesan and cream au gratin potatoes, roasted asparagus, and my famous (or infamous) warm fudge-filled cheesecake. Oh, and lots of beer and lemon drop martinis. We had the best time catching up with each other, laughing about old jobsite stories, and sharing a meal together. It had been way too long since we’d all gotten together and we fell into our old, familiar patterns of banter. (This is where all of our spouses stare at us and shake their heads, wondering how in the hell they married a bunch of crazy lunatics like us….)

On Monday morning, both of the guys called me to thank me for having them over and raved about the dinner. Now, that’s the kind of gratuity that I like, as in gratuitous fawning over the Cheesecake Goddess. No monetary tipping is required or expected at Chez Builder Mama, but laying the compliments on extremely thick works like a charm and will definitely earn you a place at my table every time. Just bring your appetite.


madge said...

Having been a waitress I find no more reprensible a transgression.

I have been known to sneak back and slip money onto the table when this has happened. Alas, you had no such opportunity. We have some friends who we KNOW to be crummy tippers (and VERY high maintenance for the waitstaff) so we always insist on splitting or treating. That way, we have some control over the tipping.

Tree said...

Builder Mama - That's stingy and in poor taste. I would not want to repeat the experience, either, but now you sort of "owe" them a nice dinner in which you are in charge of the gratuity. In a way, I am a bit surprised by the server asking you - she knew you were not the one to pay and it does not sound like the other couple were frequent customers. As a former server, I find it a bit presumptuous of her. However, it does sound like you have a great relationship with the owner and the staff, so maybe that is appropriate.

On the upside, I would be more than happy to provide the filets for you to serve me at Chez Builder Mama. And you must send me the lemon drop recipe. I am on my countdown until I can have some champagne!

We have a steak place very similar to the one you mentioned - ours is named Molly's Landing and it is very very good.

Mitzi Green said...

feed me. feed me now. i'm serious, come to kc and feed me. ben's gone alton brown on me and i'm just trying to get him NOT to use my hairdryer tonight to blow ashes from the grill all over the yard and our neighbors' carport and start a very large fire.

joansy said...

I'm with you on the tipping gig. I always leave extra when my brother-in-law pays because he always leaves around 10%. My favorite technique is to start walking out, suddenly announce that I must go to the bathroom and that I will meet everyone at the car, and then I head back into the restaurant and leave the extra tip.

On the other end of the spectrum, my silly ass husband gave a $50 tip on a $25 bill to a really shitty waiter at PF Changs because he forgot to divide by 10 before doubling (my favorite technique for determining 20%). It's not like you can walk back into a restaurant and say my husband is an idiot, please give me back $20. Billy's no longer in charge of anything involving math.