We launched the summer menu on a Friday night. Gear up and get down, goddamnit, seems to be our headlong MO.
The menu was an instant hit. A binder full of baseball cards, each representing a summer cocktail replete with goofy backstory.
The sultry evening pulsed with energy as I surfed the wave, riding hard to keep ahead as I worked through new recipes. I adjusted here and there, memorizing a handful of early leaders by sheer reps.
Toward the end of the evening some of our friends from nearby sister bars came in and occupied the corner, enjoying the show.
My server laid a drink tray on the bar to collect an order. "Dude, you'll never believe this."
"So – heh – so I was out there checking on their desserts, that late walk-in six-top out on the patio? and the guy was like, 'This ice cream is weird,' and I told him 'Yeah, the thyme gives it a funky kick, right?' and he was like, 'No, I mean really weird,' and I was like 'Yeah, man,' and he was like, 'No, I mean come try it, weird.'"
"And it was butter, man!"
"Yeah, one of them scooped out butter by mistake instead of ice cream when they were plating."
"No way!" I laughed. "Shit, were they pissed?"
"We were laughing about it, making jokes. He said it was actually good with the honey-and-salt donuts, but terrible with the cobbler. They ate like four bites of butter. I brought them a new one and took it off their bill."
"Good." I shook my head. "Jesus, what a dumb."
I processed a few more orders, bantered with a few more guests, and ran a few more tabs.
Some time later a big sandy-haired fella in a linen shirt appeared through the hallway from the patio, backed by his squinty buddy. They approached the bar brandishing their printed tab.
I moved in when he started barking at my server, looming over him mad and menacing.
"What's the problem?"
"We got butter instead of ice cream, and he only took off the desserts, like eight bucks off our tab."
"Yeah I heard about that, sorry man. The line cook grabbed the butter—"
"My fucking four-year-old cousin can tell the difference between butter and fucking ice cream. Is this place a fucking joke? Are you fucking kidding me?"
"Hey buddy, take it easy. It was a human mistake. Butter is basically the same as ice-cream. No one was hurt. Weren't you just laughing about it before?"
"Yeah but then he brought us the bill, and he only comped us what, like eight-ten bucks?"
"Right, he brought you replacements, and comped them. Pretty standard. Are you saying you should get more free stuff?"
"Any other place! You made us eat butter! Any other place would do a lot more for us after a fuckup like that after we just spent three-hundred fucking dollars on dinner!"
"Listen, there are other people here, please relax. There's no need for swearing or yelling. I agree with you, it was a really stupid error. You want me to fire the guy?"
"Sure, maybe. What kind of fucking line cook doesn't know butter or ice-cream? We just want respect."
"It sounds to me like you just want free shit."
He sputtered, turning red. I narrowed my eyes, getting fed up with this. After the error, it was clear, they'd gleefully begun expecting freebies like kids on Christmas—and when we didn't deliver their imagined riches, it was like we'd robbed them of their entitlement. I gritted my teeth and put on a neutral face.
Chef spoke up from where he sat doing paperwork, polite as ever. "Sir, was there anything wrong with the rest of your meal?"
"No, our meal was awesome. The service was awesome. But butter...!?"
I couldn't help but fire back. "So everything was awesome until you started eating what your four-year-old cousin could have identified from afar as butter, and you accidentally ate some delicious cold butter that's so smooth and creamy it took you several bites to even realize, and then you were laughing about it with my server, and then all of a sudden now you shouldn't have to pay for other parts of your meal that were all awesome?"
The Boss moved in under his Giants hat. "What is it that you want?"
"Respect! What fucking kind of fucking place is this, you serve butter to guests and don't do anything about it? Are you a joke?"
"What is it that you want?" He opened his palms. "Tell me what you want."
I moved away to work on a drink ticket, grateful to let the Boss take over. I shivered with the chill you feel when patience is worn too thin, and shook it off through my shaker tins. The Boss didn't budge either, even though he was livid about the idiot error. But he wasn't about to suffer a guest abusing his people. The angry pair returned to their friends, and we had them pay the bill.
Most of them stiffed us, of course. The big galumph slashed JOKE across the tip line. One guy was kind enough to tip 10 on 40. One mensch in the whole bloody lot.
They left the patio out back, crossing the street outside the front windows. All but the big ox, who stumbled in from the hallway, shirt collar open over a dangling tit thick with ginger shag. Redfaced, he muttered and swore as he stumped through to the door. "Anywhere else—!"
He stopped, hanging onto the open door. "Fucking joke." He pointed vaguely at us. "Anywhere else..."
"Good bye, buddy." I made a move toward the door. He lurched out, following his friends.
A dramatic silence fell in the wake of his performance.
I let the moment ride and turned to address our remaining guests. "Sorry about that, y'all." I grinned ruefully. "He was— Well, you heard."
They smiled and nodded, chuckled at our jokes and asked friendly questions. Many of them left heftier tips than necessary. One taketh, and another one giveth away, in this game.
There's balance to the force.