After working in the industry for a while, most folks begin to develop a special ability. After watching a table walk in, sit down, and look at their menus, a server will be able to tell you what they will order, how long they will sit there, and what they will tip.
Today, if I were to walk into any restaurant, I could probably tell you what each table will tip within +/- 1%.
There are exceptions. This story is about those exceptions.
It's a busy Saturday night at The Restaurant. I'm bartending. I've been doing this for about a year now, so I've got it down.
Friday nights and Saturday nights are the only two shifts when we staff 2 bartenders. We need it. We usually have a full bar, we're responsible for the service bar, and we have to take and prepare take-out orders. We're also responsible for two bar booths.
I'm working with The Woman, and we work well together. She handles the bar and the take-out orders while I take care of the service bar and the two bar booths.
The place is rockin. It's busy, noisy, and we're making mad money.
The bar booths have been turning over pretty well. At the moment, they're both getting bussed. I turn my attention to the service bar.
There are about ten chits that I need to make. I pull the string off the machine and take a look.
Three milkshakes (one chocolate, one strawberry, and one vanilla), two margaritas, one smoothie, one virgin daquiri, and several myriad something and somethings (Jack and Coke, 7 and 7, etc.).
Frozen drinks are a pain in the butt. Especially when we have three blenders, only two of which work properly. I have to plan this one out.
I throw 9 scoops of ice cream and some heavy cream into the blender. Punching the "start" button, I grab another blender and throw in some ice, sour mix, and bar strawberries and set that a-twirl.
Finally, I grab the mixer out of the dish tub and go to work on the margaritas. It takes me about 25 seconds to whip those up. I'm thankful that I am the sole bartender on Margarita Night. I put those up on the bar and start on the something and somethings.
Looking over, I see that the milkshakes are blended to the right consistency. I pour two into cups (vanilla-done!). I add some chocolate sauce into the other. I throw some bar strawberries into the third and put it back on the blender. I flash spindle the chocolate shake and it's good to go. I stop the blender and pour out the strawberry shake. Whip cream, whip cream, whip cream... ta-da!
As I go to work on the virgin daquiri/smoothie mix, I glance up and see that the two bar booths are bussed and getting sat. I have about two minutes... no problem.
I stop the blender, pour out half the mix into a teardrop glass. Adding a lime wheel garnish, the virgin daquiri is done. I add some more ice, some pineapple and apple juices, and half a banana. I throw it all back on the blender. I return to the something and somehings.
A minute later, I'm washing my hands and grabbing bev naps. I take stock of my tables as I make my way around the bar.
Table 1- Two middle-aged couples, nicely dressed. Expensive leather coats and flashy jewelry. The two ladies have enormous rocks on their fingers. Cha-ching! 20% on at least an $80 tab, over .
Table 2- A late-30's couple. Woman has on a shirt with a large picture of a cat's face. Man is wearing torn jeans. Both have the same hairstyle. Shoulder-length, unwashed, and stringy. Bummer. 10% on $20. Oh well.
When you get double-sat, the key is to treat two tables like one. I start off with drinks. Money table- 2 glasses of chardonnay, 2 expensive scotch and water. Poor table- water and an MGD.
Dinner order... Money table: 2 chicken and pasta dishes, 2 strip steaks. Poor table- chicken pot pie and cheeseburger.
Notice a pattern developing here?
The people in both groups are nice. Especially the couple. His name is Ron. He works as a mechanic. Her name is Judy. She takes care of their 8 cats.
I'm allergic to cats, so I'm careful not to get too close. If I get one whiff of cat hair, my face swells up and I look like Corky from Life Goes On.
I take good care of both tables. I really pour on the charm for the 4-top. The motivating factor is money, and it's looking like this is going to be the table that will fund my post-shift bar trip.
Final bills... Money table- $120. Poor table- $25.
Dropping off the bills, I head back behind the bar.
"How's it going?" I ask The Woman. She's making change at the till. I'm careful to make it look like we're just co-workers. There are a lot of young guys at the bar, and I want them to think they have a chance. They'll tip better that way.
"Fine. Are you taking good care of Ron and Judy?"
"Yeah. They have 8 cats. He's a mechanic. Why do you ask?"
"You'll see. They do it right." She slams the drawer shut, adjusts her bra, and heads back to her customers.
I wonder what she means. I haven't seen the couple in The Restaurant before. They can't be regulars. They look like they just left a garage sale. Hmmm...
Finally, they leave. I walk over to check out the tips.
Money table- $15. Bullshit. I hate this job.
Poor table- $10. Wow. Nearly 50% tip.
Scratching my head, I go back to work.
When the rush is over, I ask The Woman about the Ron and Judy.
"They come in about once every month and a half. They don't have a lot of money, so they save it up before they come in. They make sure they can afford their meal and their tip. Like I said, they do it right."
A quick recap... swanky table, high bill, crap tip. Poor table, low bill, great tip.
Just goes to show that you can't judge a book by it's cover.