Not-So-Fine Dining

24 Feb

Letterbalm Coffee + PieDear LetterBalm: I’m a waitress in a popular diner in my city. I love my job, and I’m good at it. I also have longtime customers who are as close to me as friends. My problem is one particular new customer. He’s been coming into the diner for the past two months or so, and it’s clear he’s developed a crush on me. He leaves huge tips (a $10 tip for coffee and pie, for instance), he asks inappropriately personal questions and he’s asked me out several times. I’ve tried to give back the tips; the next time he leaves the money folded and hidden under the plates or puts it in an envelope with my name on it in the cashier’s tip jar. I’ve refused dates nicely. But frankly, I’m worried. I don’t want him stalking me or worse. What can I say to discourage him for good?

–Nervous Nellie                                  

It may be easier to handle your customer if he is mentally challenged or has a disorder that makes it difficult for him to understand personal boundaries – their interactions don’t usually provoke fear. A pushy customer, however, is another matter. You need to adopt different behaviors with your problem patron, but you can’t make it so obvious (flirting with other customers and being cool with him) that you provoke him. Ms. L.B. advises you to draw on the diner community to protect you and other servers. Try these techniques:

  • Don’t flirt with the customer, show him special attention or exhibit body language (leaning close to him, twirling your hair, etc.) that can be misinterpreted.
  • Speak to him in a neutral, offhanded, business-like manner, don’t look at him directly, gently turn away when he speaks to you and don’t call him by name.
  • Don’t engage him in conversation and don’t be overly familiar with other customers while he’s there.
  • If you’re working alone, keep busy out of sight after you serve him, and don’t do anything for him (refilling his coffee, for instance) unless he asks.
  • Mention your discomfort to a uniformed police officer customer-friend, and ask him to make a point of sitting next to or in view of your annoyer.
  • Use his generous tips to buy something nice for your fellow workers; don’t discuss his tips again with him.
  • Regarding his date invitations, have you told him that the restaurant policy forbids servers dating customers (only if this is true)?
  • Draw on the goodwill you’ve built up as a valued employee. When the guy is not around, make it clear to your colleagues — your boss, the owner, the cashier, fellow waitresses — that you find his behavior disturbing and that you want them to be discreetly watchful. This is not a case of “aw, c’mon, he just likes you,” and your concern should not be taken lightly.  Tell them you’ve been around customers a long time, and this guy may be trouble.
  • If it’s possible, when you work nights, ask that a co-worker accompany you home and see that you safely go in and lock your door.
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