Losing Control // An evening out changes his life —and his perspective.

As told to Shalom Kenig

I tend to have a bit of a short fuse. I don’t consider myself an angry person, but I’ve been known to occasionally explode when I’m under extreme pressure. My wife understands me very well, and recognizes when I’m likely to snap. We try to avoid stressful situations and vacation often. However, my business requires me to be polite; that’s why I never interact with my customers, just in case.

I own a successful kosher dairy restaurant in a posh neighborhood that is frequented by wealthy, successful people. The food is delicious and the ambiance is upscale and tasteful. All of my employees are oufitted with earpieces so I can communicate with them, and there are numerous surveillance cameras that I monitor constantly. From the comfort of my office above the restaurant I am able to handle any issues that arise, and rarely venture downstairs. I’m an observer, but I’m also the boss. No one sees me but I’m there, watching everything.

Over the years I’ve spent thousands of hours watching my customers, and I’ve detected certain behavioral patterns and types. There are the easy ones, the difficult ones, the overstayers and the in-and-outs. There are also people who clean up after themselves and others who make a tremendous mess.

I enjoy running the show without actually being on stage. This arrangement works well for me because I am literally on top of everything, but I never risk losing my cool in public. You see, if I scream at one of my workers through the earpiece no one else will hear it, but if I scream at a customer it’s over. I’ll get a bad review and that will be the end of my venture.

Most people don’t understand the restaurant business. While it’s possible to turn an impressive profit, there are huge expenses that can add up very quickly. Our prime location costs a pretty penny in rent and we have a large overhead with over 40 full-time employees plus utilities, which are always on the rise. Then there’s kashrut certification and insurance. These things add up to a whopping $70,000 a week.

No one will ever tell you this, but if you walk into a restaurant and spend less than $50 you’re not a customer, you’re a liability. You take up space that could be given to a larger party, you use up our employees’ time, and if you charge your phone in an outlet or use the bathroom, you’ve cost us even more money. Not to mention that if you slip and fall or get scalded by a cup of coffee, G-d forbid, we can be sued. The worst customers are those who buy a drink and sit at a table for three hours using our WiFi. The goal of every restaurateur is to get you served, satisfied, billed and out the door as fast as possible. The staff might smile at you and be polite, but trust me, they want you to leave. That’s the nature of the beast.

Watching the surveillance cameras from my office, I often seethe at how long some people take to order their food or eat. Then there are the needy customers who drive the staff nuts. They always want extra ketchup, straws or salt. Sometimes when the restaurant is packed to capacity I take a loss because of such people; potential customers are turned away at the door while they play around on their phones. It’s very frustrating.

Whenever I eat out in other restaurants, I have a hard time enjoying the experience because I’m constantly watching the goings-on and thinking about how I’d deal with similar situations. My wife can’t stand that I’m always immersed in the management of a restaurant even if it isn’t mine. I’m sorry, but I can’t change that. I know I’m not perfect.
When a girl from Miami was suggested for our youngest son, my wife and I decided to travel to the Sunshine State to meet her. After an uneventful flight we headed straight to our hotel, ready to begin our spontaneous vacation. Later that evening we met the girl, who seemed very sincere; we thought she’d be great for our son. Afterwards, we were free to relax for the duration of our stay.

Since we’d be eating out two or three times a day for four days, my wife asked me once again to try to stay in the moment and not get lost in the business side of the restaurant industry. I assured her I’d try my best to overcome my bad habit. We ended up having a great time and really got some badly needed R&R. Before we knew it our vacation was almost over. There was only one day left, and we wanted to make the most of it.

My wife and I have a ritual of going out to eat right before heading to the airport. This way, even if the flight is delayed, we’ve already enjoyed a good meal. In the early evening we visited a restaurant that had recently opened. It was beautifully decorated, with dimmed lights and pleasant music playing in the background. Because it was early, we were the only customers aside from one other couple. Although I tried my best to stay focused on our dinner, this middle-aged couple sitting a few tables over caught my eye. I can usually spot a difficult customer a mile away—and these people fit the bill.

My wife and I ordered our meals and waited for them to arrive. I always order my appetizer, entrée, side dishes, drinks and even dessert all at once, ensuring that I don’t waste too much of the waiter’s time. For some reason the food took a long time to arrive, and we couldn’t help but notice this couple while we were waiting. The husband was staring at his phone as he polished off a large steak, and the wife kept calling the serving staff over to the table. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but everyone was very polite. Actually, the neediest customers are always the most polite ones. They ask for things in a nice way—every 30 seconds.

Our food still hadn’t arrived, so I continued watching this couple. The wife didn’t stop making requests, and it seemed as if every employee of the restaurant was occupied with her needs. They kept going back and forth from the table to the kitchen trying to placate her. Then Mrs. Needy did something I really can’t stand. She got up from her seat, walked right up to the cashier and craned her neck over the counter so she could see the computer.

“She’s one of those,” I murmured to myself. “Why are people so nosy?”
My wife asked me nicely to cut it out. “But just look at them,” I lamented. “I can’t help it.”

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