The nine worst sins committed by restaurant patrons (plus potential punishments)
So as decorations go back into boxes and we head into a new year, let’s take a good look at what will definitely land you on a 2017 Naughty List in the eyes of local service industry pros.
Welcome, friends, to Guest Hell, a brand-new Inferno where you can end up for committing crimes against humanity in bars and restaurants, crowdsourced from a long list of Boston bartenders and servers. But first, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of being assigned Dante Alighieri’s best-known work, a brief summary:
Dante, an Italian poet, wrote Inferno, the first part of his epic poem Divine Comedy, in 1300. He writes in the first person, narrating a tale of becoming lost in a dark wood, getting attacked by beasts, and being rescued by the long-dead Roman poet Virgil, who then takes Dante on a tour of the nine rings of Hell. Throughout his travels, Dante sees historical figures—like Cleopatra, for example, who is being punished in the second circle for Lust—and faints several times at the horror of it all.
Please, no fainting, but do abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
1—Touching a bartender’s tools/garnish tray/bottles of bitters
We know. They’re right there in front of you, most likely within arm’s reach. But you know what else is in arm’s reach that you know better than to touch? A stranger’s drink, or that woman’s purse. Why don’t you reach over and fondle those? Because you know that person will probably swat your hand away and say, “Excuse me? Not yours.” That drink or purse has a purpose, and it is not to entertain you. Bar tools and garnishes also have a purpose and, sorry, your amusement doesn’t factor in here, either.
PUNISHMENT: May strangers randomly pick up and use your phone. Passwords don’t follow you to the underworld.
This is not your house, or your dorm room, or your mom’s house, or Starbucks. There is a person standing near the front door who is happy to show you to open, available seats in a restaurant. If you’re not interested in sitting at the bar, which is first come, first serve, talk to the host. It is literally their job to find you an available table.
Believe it or not, there’s a system to seating guests in restaurants, and it has to do with a lot more than you wanting to sit at that table right over there this very instant. That table may be reserved for someone who called ahead and made a reservation, or perhaps the server in that section is being given a quick minute to catch up with the party of 18 in the back room. Either way, talk to the nice person smiling at you from behind a small desk near the door. Please.
PUNISHMENT: Every time it’s about to be your turn in any line, for anything, forever, someone will walk ahead of you. And no one will do anything about it.
3—Asking for things you already have or someone is literally in the process of giving you
The appropriate answer to “Hi, how are you?” is not “Can I have a menu? And water?” You’re going to get both of these things but, alas, acquiring them means I have to move a bit. And you haven’t even sat down!
PUNISHMENT: To have your call constantly be transferred back and forth between the same two Comcast departments. Oh, you talked to them already?
4—Failing to read the menu
Remember that menu you were so hot to have like, five minutes ago? Why did you want that if you weren’t going to read it? Menus are helpful—they tell you what a place has to offer. Having a menu and then asking for things that are not on it is tantamount to blowing through a stop sign and wondering why you got pulled over. A piece of paper with “Draft List” printed on it will alert you to the types of beer you have to choose from. Ordering things a bar or restaurant does not carry when all of the information about what is available is literally in your hands is the worst. In some places, like, you know, Texas, failing to read written directions can get you shot.
PUNISHMENT: An eternity of playing golf on a minefield.
5—Ordering from more than one person
It’s busy. You’re thirsty. You really, really want a drink. The people in front of you are finally moving, they have drinks, you’re next! Two bartenders are near you, both shaking and stirring and cranking out cocktails. You shout out your order. The one closest to you smiles, nods, throws you a quick “just a minute” hand signal. You wait. It’s been 30 seconds. The other bartender looks up and scans the crowd. That other woman is taking too long, here’s your chance!
After an agonizing two minutes both women walk toward you, each carrying the drink you ordered. They look at you and smile. They see each other. They look at you. They look at each other. They throw the drinks down on the floor and jump up and down on the shards of broken glass, laughing maniacally while you shout “Nooooooo!!”
No, this last part doesn’t happen. But it should.
PUNISHMENT: And in the fifth ring of Guest Hell it does happen.
6—Snapping/waving/whistling/clapping to get someone’s attention
Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Go immediately to Hell for being rude, self-important, and generally a miserable person.
PUNISHMENT: You shall be walked on a leash on all fours over hot coals for eternity.
7—Asking us about our hopes and dreams (aka “So what do you really want to do?”)
What I really want to do in life is something I like, and am good at, and can make a decent living at without having to answer stupid fucking questions from people who have absolutely no idea how to do my job but somehow think they’re overqualified for it.
No one is in love with their job at every single minute of every single day, but because we’ve been told, as a society, that desk jobs make people “more successful” than those who work late nights and long hours on their feet, I’m supposed to have a dream cubicle out there somewhere that, one day, when I’m a real grown-up and have gotten good at an actual skill, like talking on the phone, I will fly off to.
Give me a break. Please. I only get one, and it’s usually for about 75 seconds at midnight when I wolf down a Clif Bar in the kitchen. Seriously, the service industry is an amazing place filled with wonderful people who are passionate about the work they do. Sure, we do other stuff—we’re artists, teachers, musicians, athletes, bookworms, Netflix aficionados—but don’t assume we aren’t where we are doing what we do because we want to be.
PUNISHMENT: May every bad stereotype of a nosy, judgmental, high on the highest of horses mother-in-law be your underworld roommate.
8—Being extremely entitled
You are entitled to your own opinion. And that is all. Existing does not mean we have to care about you. We choose to do our best to ensure you have an enjoyable experience, but our hospitality does not give you the right to be inhospitable.
The fact that you attend, attended, teach at, or work for an Ivy League university means absolutely nothing to us—especially if, with all that top-tier education, you can’t figure out how to treat people with respect. The fact that you had a hard day at the office does not mean you get to take it out on people who you are asking to make you feel better.
PUNISHMENT: In the eighth ring of Guest Hell, those who break the Golden Rule and feel entitled to shit on people will, in turn, be shat on. By a fire-breathing dragon with the runs.
9—Failing to pay attention
To your server. To your surroundings. To the people near you. To the information that has been provided. To common sense. To every subtle (and not so subtle) cue that hey, we’re closing/we’re not open/you still haven’t paid for that drink/remember that drink you waved me down to order? And now some parting guidelines:
- Don’t flag the person carrying seven plates of hot food down to ask for a spoon.
- Don’t wonder why your table’s food still isn’t ready when the couple who ordered after you already has theirs. That steak Aunt Sally wants well-done is going to take some time.
- Don’t not call ahead and let a place know you and 40 of your closest friends are heading there for a drink.
- Don’t take chairs from other tables.
- Don’t think every bartender knows what you’re drinking. “Another” is a lot of different things.
- Don’t ask if the drink someone put down directly in front of you is yours.
And don’t be surprised when, one day, someone, somewhere, calls you out for being a complete idiot. Because if these things seem OK to you, you are beyond the help of even the most patient, humble, hospitable people in the industry. We actually feel sorry for you, because going through life with that little common sense must be hard.
And perhaps that’s punishment enough.
Copyright 2016 Haley Hamilton. Terms of Service is licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.
Haley is an AAN Award-winning columnist for DigBoston and Mel magazine and has contributed to publications including the Boston Globe and helped found Homicide Watch Boston. She has spearheaded and led several Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism investigations including a landmark multipart series about the racialized history of liquor licensing in Massachusetts, and for three years wrote the column Terms of Service about restaurant industry issues from the perspective of workers.