They’re here to serve ME–or is that a wrong-headed view?

August 4, 2005 at 11:18 pm Leave a comment

It’s typical in our family to make alterations to standard menu items when we order at restaurants. So when we went to dinner at a New York style pizza place on Vancouver Island Monday night, Mom was true to form in asking to substitute cream sauce on her Spaghetti Marinara in place of the regular tomato-based sauce. Along with her pasta, she also ordered a frosty lemonade, which she apologetically changed to Diet Pepsi fifteen seconds later, right after the waitress had finished scribbling down her first choice.

The waitress, it seems, was less than enthusiastic about such substituting and mind-changing. Not possessing the strongest social skills or a healthy sense of customer orientation, she laughed brashly, laid her hand on Mom’s shoulder, and declared half-jokingly, “Oh, you’re one of those types of customers we don’t like.”

The remark was meant half-jokingly, but also half not, and so I think her comment uncalled for, especially considering Mom’s substitutions were minimal. But as I said, my family is in the habit of altering menu items to suit our tastes when we go out to eat. This is not the first time a waiter has become mildly frustrated or confused because of our finicky choices.

And so the four of us spent half an hour vigorously debating whether or not our substituting and adjusting is appropriate. Restaurants and other such businesses exist to serve customers, of course, but how much responsibility do we have as customers to make life easy on those who serve us?

As long as we’re paying for it and are respectful about it, should we expect them to meet our wishes, even if those wishes are out of the ordinary? Or should we try to avoid causing complications or inconveniences to our servers?

I should note that our family has somewhat of an excuse for making such alterations—we’re vegetarian. Being that most restaurants are limited in their vegetarian options, we sometimes have to get creative to come up with something appealing to eat.

This explains, for example, why Mom, Dad and Tyler regularly order menu items from Taco Bell for which they ask to substitute beans instead of meat. It also explains why I order things like pizza and burritos without cheese—I go further than just vegetarianism and generally shoot for vegan options when we’re out.

Substitutions made based on these factors are legitimate, in my opinion, because they have partly to do with conscience and psychology, rather than simple preference.

But our vegetarian habits don’t totally account for our substitutions. When we go to Viva Mexico, for example, and Mom asks for her Burrito Especial with diced tomatoes (rather than the standard sliced), that’s pure preference, and has nothing to do being vegetarian. If one of us orders pasta with extra sauce, or substitutes angel hair for the regular spaghetti noodles on the menu, that’s also solely concerned with preference. On occasion, we have even gone so far as to craft entirely new menu items by combining particular things we like from various pre-set choices.

So, should we try to limit our menu adjustments?

Tyler and I said yes. We may be paying for service, and our waiters may be responsible for trying to please us, but that doesn’t authorize us to take advantage of them.

Restaurants prepare and advertise specific dishes—a specific menu—and if we patronize their restaurant, we should expect to order according to their prepared options as far as possible. If we don’t like what they have to offer, we should go elsewhere. It’s our responsibility to be considerate of our servers and not ask them to go out of their way to please our tastes, especially when it frustrates or confuses them.

Mom and Dad disagreed. They said restaurants should be willing to do whatever is necessary to please the customer. Isn’t that what they are there for? Since we are paying for the service, it is not unreasonable to ask them to make small changes according to our tastes—and it isn’t our fault if waiters become unreasonably frustrated over this. If a restaurant is unwilling to allow substitutions to their menu items, they can say so (and some do).

The more basic issue to consider, in my mind, has to do with whether or not it’s ok to be self-centered when we’re being served. I think there’s a tendency to suppose that it is legitimate to be self-centered when we’re paying for a service. In such situations, we are supposed to focus on our own needs or desires.

But who says? Where do we get the idea that dishing out cash means we’re suddenly excused for self-focus?

The question reminds me of a girl in my class last semester who vented to me one day about the fact that our professor wasn’t as available to discuss a grading issue as Cara wanted her to be. The girl protested vehemently to me that she’s paying for this education, and thus professors “are here to serve me, not me to serve them.”

Like, right.

Professors are to serve their students in a sense, but the relationship goes both ways. The student has money that instructors want, but no student would bother to attend class if professors didn’t also have something the student wants (in this case, knowledge and credentials).

Same goes with any service relationship. Both sides are dependent on each other, and ought to act accordingly. If we want what other people have, whether it’s a professor or a waiter or whoever else it is that happens to be serving us, it’d be good practice to reform our focus and view ourselves as serving them.

Thoughts on our family squabble? 😉

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Profile

profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

Email me: jamie.kiley@gmail.com

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