A bit of a long story, but this woman has stuck in my memory through the years. She truly taught me to be patient as a server.
I used to work in a small family run restaurant that depended on regular customers. The same girls worked the same days every week, knew our customers by name, knew when we could expect some of them, and often knew their order when they walked in the door.
One woman came in 2-4 times each week. She was an elderly woman in a wheelchair and was dropped off by a city bus. After being wheeled inside, on nice days she’d demand to be taken back out by the benches to sit and enjoy the sunshine. Every couple of minutes she had to be checked on to see if she was ready to be brought in. When she was ready, one of 2 tables was to already be set for her, with a chair removed and all of the condiments moved to the end of the table within arm’s reach. These were fairly reasonable requests for a sweet little old lady.
This is when she became a real pain. She could never make up her mind, even after being checked on several times. After a while, she often settled for hot tea and some crackers to start with. You had to put 2 Sweet’N Lows in her tea for her. An extra tea bag had to be put in her pot of extra water because “It wasn’t going to make tea itself” as she often reminded me. Sometimes she even needed a third tea bag. I never got why, but got it anyway.
To eat she usually wanted a simple grilled cheese sandwich. Easy order, right? They came standard with 5 slices of cheese. She swore there was only one and she needed 2, so they put 2 EXTRA on it for her. I then had to cut the sandwich in half, then only one of the halves in half again. After a quarter was eaten, she sent it back for more cheese. Another quarter, more cheese. By this point they had to make a whole new sandwich, which angered her and the cooks, but as she was a faithful customer, the owner/cook insisted she got anything she wanted, even when it was 3 onion rings. (Bring her 2 or 4 and prepare to be yelled at.) The owner finally called her son to request she not order any more grilled cheese sandwiches, it got that bad.
As a newer server, she usually got pawned off on me or another server who had started just before me. We always argued over who got stuck with her. On top of the work load for one person, she took us away from other tables, was rude, and usually tipped 50 cents.
I eventually got used to waiting on her and learned her routine. I spent a few extra seconds just chatting every time I stopped by her table, and even got her to crack a smile a few times. I started learning what she wanted before she asked and noticed that the more I did without being asked, and the more time I spent just chatting, my tip started increasing.
I realized she was just lonely and didn’t know how to take care of herself. She still put other servers through the usual hell, but was always much easier on me. Crazy as it might be, I kind of miss her.