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You'll always remember your first time: Sending it back

Laura Wilson
By Laura Wilson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, October 13, 2005
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In the six years I've been eligible for nonsweatshop employment, I've had more jobs than most people twice my age. The exact number is irrelevant and embarrassing, but I can admit that it's in the double digits and between 12 and 14. I've worked in banks, clothing stores and newsstands. I've diapered babies and slung espresso. I've inhaled dry cleaning chemicals and filed papers. However varied my work experiences have been, I've steered clear of one career path and one path alone - I've never waited tables.

Out of a strange combination of fear and awe, I've always avoided the restaurant industry. Some of my best friends pay their rent in dollar bills and love the fast-paced world of the modern eatery, so I've learned how to leave a fairly good-sized tip (15 percent is for chumps). I've heard the horror stories involving angry customers, and I do my best to avoid the wrath of a pissed-off waitress. I've heard that sometimes, when they get upset, they spit in your food.

Because I like my food stranger-saliva-free, I do my best to excuse lacking service. I'll tell myself that it isn't the waiter's fault that my water glass was empty for the majority of my meal; after all, he probably had four or five other tables, and I have water at home to sooth my parched throat. I'll prompt my partner to increase the gratuity when a waitress seems genuinely apologetic that she forgot to bring us our appetizer because I know that if I were under as much pressure as she probably is, I'd forget a lot of things, too.

Wait a minute. What? Excuse me while I try to remember that I'm paying for a service, not an optional kind gesture. If I remember the economics course that I never took, money should be exchanged for goods, not good intentions.

I've recently been the victim of a rash of bad dining out experiences, but it wasn't until last night that I spoke out. Out of a fear of turning into my mother who, lovely as she may be, is certain to send at least one meal back to the kitchen per month, I've always kept my disappointments internal. Sure, I may have ordered my hamburger cooked medium, but well done isn't so bad if you slather on the ketchup, right? It's probably not worth complaining about the fact that I ordered chicken and received salmon because salmon is healthier anyway, right? Wrong.

Last night, as I contemplated eating around the corn sprinkled throughout my salad (the corn that I had specifically requested be left out as I hate corn and find it physically repulsive), I finally reached my complacency limit. I flagged down my ever-smiling waitress and told her that I wanted a new salad. She apologized profusely and told me that she would have a new one right out. Fifteen minutes later, with no sign of any salad heading my way, I watched my partner enjoy his dinner. I was also out of water.

When the manager approached me with my new salad, he asked me if everything was all right. Much to my surprise, I told him that things were far from "all right." I told him that I understood that his staff was busy, but water is probably necessary in the desert, and my salad still had a few pieces of corn. He apologized and offered to comp the appetizer that we received once the waitress remembered we had ordered it. I may be wrong, but I always thought that appetizers were supposed to come before the main course.

It seems to me that we make excuses for servers because we know that it's a tough job. However, what if we applied the same leniency to other difficult professions? While I contemplate excusing politicians for their faux pas, simply because they have a lot on their plate, I'll be sending mine back ... My plate, that is.

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