On A Slow Boat To China

May 12, 2010

in Diner Stories

After spending the last 18 of my 32 years in the restaurant business in the Chinese restaurant niche, I’ve become astounded at the way some older men, particularly veterans, are like dinosaurs when it comes to their racist remarks. For the record, my heritage is German; I’m not Asian-looking at all (rather very WASPy) but I speak Mandarin Chinese fluently.

It starts with the people who walk into my place, stare at me and say “funny, you don’t look Chinese!” I’d reply without skipping a beat, “Oh, but yes, I am Chinese. I was disfigured in a horrible accident.”

I’ve sat in bars after work and had fellows find out what business I’m in and say things about my staff like: “When you’re f*cking them, do they say ‘I love you long time?” (this usually uttered with the Asian stereotype: “ruv you rong time”). I actually had a man enquire as to whether I had a mail-order bride (yes, my wife is Chinese; from Taiwan, but she’s been here for most of her 45 years). I’m sure you get the picture.

To the gentleman of Irish descent who told one of my servers: “go back to the rice paddy and get me some more rice – chop! chop!” I said “gee, while we’re embracing stereotypes why don’t you get me a few boiled potatoes…”

Often, in our bar, a drunken 70-something will ask me out loud if I can get him a discount at “an Asian massage parlor.” Some even enquire if I own an Asian massage parlor. Others just outright ask my permission to have sex with my waitresses – occasionally with said waitress within earshot.

The best one was the bone-head who claimed he was a Korean war veteran. He insisted on coming into the bar at our Chinese restaurant at least once a week. When it came time to order food, all he’d get would be chicken wings. He claimed that the sight of Chinese food made him sick because “in the war I was a P.O.W. and all they gave us to eat was rice, with maggots in it… to this day I can’t eat rice…” This fellow would go on and on about the “gooks” and the “chinks.”

At a St. Patrick’s dinner at the local V.F.W., I was a guest. Of course I asked why this particular gentleman wasn’t there – I figured with all the talk about his war-time experiences he’d be at the V.F.W. for the festivities. The fellows sitting with me laughed, “oh, heavens. You got taken in – [name of customer] was never in the Korean war. In fact, he was never in the armed forces. He’s got one leg shorter than the other so he wasn’t fit to serve and got an exemption. We doubt he’s ever set foot in the far East.”

You can imagine the look on this guy’s face when I let him know the gig was up and that we were on to him. Not only had he insulted us frequently, but the whole “basis” for why he behaved this way was a fabrication on his part. I’ve never seen anyone more embarrassed. He threw a $20 on the bar and never, ever came back.

– Xiao Gou

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Jack May 13, 2010 at 12:42 pm

There are all types of people in this world, when you work dealing with the public you get to experience many of them. I don't think older veterans are any better or worse then the general population when it comes to boorish behavior. As your story points out one of the worst offenders you encountered wasn't even a veteran, he just pretended to be. I'm not sure why you are stereotyping veterans.

You seem to have run into a lot of nasty people while working in the Chinese restaurant niche of the hospitality industry. Perhaps you should try working in another segment of the industry, perhaps in the back of the house where the public wouldn't insult you or you wouldn't be tempted to "burn" them in retribution for their actions.

If you look so "waspy" why would complete strangers think you were Oriental? Something just doesn't ring true about your stories.

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Xiao Gou May 14, 2010 at 8:17 am

Jack, I guess you don't get it.

It happens so often that some idiot will stare at me and then quip "funny, you don't look Chinese" when they find out I'm the manager, it's getting boring. Making that statement to me is just as inappropriate and racist as if one were to approach, let's say, the only white server in a restaurant — for purposes of this post a soul-food restaurant, staffed otherwise by people of color, and say "funny, you don't look black."

I can safely say that 90-95% of the people I interact with every day are just wonderful. A good percentage of those folks, in fact, are adventurous diners looking for an out-of-the-ordinary experience and we give it to them with atmosphere, good service, a good bar program and fine, exotic foods (at our place we offer home-food specialties from Sichuan province and are popular with many Chinese diners, too).

The people I discuss when I write here are in the other 5% — the kind of folks whose behavior in public astounds others.

I look forward to relating some of the more pleasant experiences of my career herein, as well. It's just much more fun, and appropriate, to discuss the horrible ones — on a website called "Dinners From Hell."

Perhaps, Jack, your workplace is completely free of stress caused by mindless, selfish idiots. I'd like to know where that is so I can apply for a job there. In the meantime, I like to embrace the words of a former employer who I respected a lot, "If life were easy, it'd be boring."

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Jack May 14, 2010 at 11:08 am

"It happens so often that some idiot will stare at me and then quip “funny, you don’t look Chinese” when they find out I’m the manager"

Just how often does this happen?

"Perhaps, Jack, your workplace is completely free of stress caused by mindless, selfish idiots. "

When you deal with the general public it goes with the job. You learn to cope, and remember that the "customer is always right". You don't insult them, and you surely don't "burn" them.

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Guest April 27, 2014 at 2:06 am

Your name means "small dog"…

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Trixi May 14, 2010 at 10:22 am

Jeez Jack; "Perhaps you should try working in another segment of the industry, perhaps in the back of the house where the public wouldn’t insult you or you wouldn’t be tempted to “burn” them in retribution for their actions."

Perhaps black people should stay at home so racists can't hurl epithets at them. Perhaps gay people should hide in their closet, so homophobes don't beat them up.

Don't blame the victim, buddy.

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Jack May 14, 2010 at 11:01 am

Trixi, are you comparing this guy to people who have been, and are being discriminated against?

Xiao Gou seems to resent waiting on people, he has had problems with Irish customers, seniors, and veterans, to name a few. He proceeded to physically "burn" a customer he felt was being abusive. After all of that you see him as the victim? Are you serious?

I suggested he work in an area where he wouldn't be exposed to customers, and you think that's a racist comment.

When you work in a job where you deal with the public, you can't be thin skinned, and become irritated by everything they might say or do. If you're good at your job you learn to handle the difficult customer, in a way that does not physically injure them or verbally insult them. If you can't do that you shouldn't be in the business.

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Xiao Gou May 14, 2010 at 11:25 am

Jack, at this point in my life, I'd be kidding you if I told you "the customer is always right." They aren't.

What I've written here is the tip of the iceberg. What do you say I do to customers who literally, physically injure my servers and/or other employees? What do I do to the one's who verbally insult me or my servers? The corporate restaurant world would have us suck it up. However, independent restaurants depend not on the largesse of corporate advertising budgets, but on the reputation we earn as running good-quality, popular restaurants. To hell with the 5% who think they're "right," but who are really selfish boors who make the dining out experience worse for all of us. I, for one, won't put up with their hijinks.

The legions of these whiners crowd the comments pages on sites like this, Yelp, and Chowhound, moaning about how their efforts to find fault with restaurants have hit a brick wall with restaurant managers. Their efforts to find fault in what we do are thinly-veiled attempts to get free food and drinks. It's a game, once again, that only 5% or so of diners play. But it makes the whole business of operating a restaurant so distasteful.

It's obvious to me that you've not worked with the public to any great extent. Walk a mile in my shoes and then come back with your whining and P.C. sniveling. When a customer's downright unreasonable, he or she certainly can try to play the "customer's always right" card. Kudos to the restaurateurs, servers and bartenders who don't play that particular card game.

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Jack May 14, 2010 at 11:58 am

"…if I told you “the customer is always right.” They aren’t."

If you deal with a successful company they do not look at the customer as the enemy. The customer is why they are in business. Buy something from Nordstroms Department Store, then make an unreasonable demand, they treat you like you are God, and try their best to satisfy you. Buy from Amazon, tell them you're dissatisfied with your purchase, they fall over themselves trying to please you. Have you ever heard of Stu Leonard? He built a wildly successful dairy/grocery chain with the idea that "the customer is always right".

I worked as a manager in a restaurant (actually a hotel chain), and always tried to satisfy the customer. If they didn't like the food they were served, it was replaced, no questions asked. Sure I probably comped some meals, and drinks, that maybe I shouldn't have, but it's all part of the business. A happy customer will come back, and spread good "word of mouth" about your establishment. There will always be those customers who are out for a freebie, you can't let them color how you treat your good customers.

A customer who cursed or otherwise mistreated my staff would be dealt with by being firm and polite at the same time. Purposely physically injuring a customer is completely outrageous, and wrong. I never allowed my staff to be mistreated, but I didn't allow my customers to be mistreated either. I use to stress to my employees that the customer is why we are here.

If you think that attitude is P.C. sniveling, you are in the wrong business.

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JR May 15, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Jack, I think you're online too much. You're only goal in life, it seems, is to rile people up for the sake of feeling superior.

Let me let you in on something, you snide asshole:

Social rejects such as yourself who apparently haunt the comment sections of offbeat restaurant-themed websites aren't superior to ANYBODY. It's scumbags like you who go out to eat JUST to treat people like dirt.

And let me let you in on another little secret, you obnoxious blow-hard: The customer is NOT always right, and that tired, antiquated, downright pathetic way of conducting business went out with smoking in doctor's offices and men in pearls. Restaurant owners have had to become smarter and savvier than the average advantageous customer looking for a free ride. Why do I get the feeling that dickheaded retirees such as yourself fall under this category? I'll bet you've never tipped more than 8% your entire life, because you nitpick every minute detail when dining out, until you can save yourself a few bucks.

You're nothing but a mean old son-of-a bitch with nothing to do, and nowhere to go–Except maybe out to feed your fat face, and treat your server like crap. Hope he/she spits in your trough, you pig. Enjoy your meal.

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Jack May 15, 2010 at 5:39 pm

JR, let me make a quick observation or two. Number one, you sound like a Tea-Bagger. Not only that you sound like someone who has not been successful in business because of your own personal failings, and lack of business acumen. It would be impossible to try to educate you in how to manage customer relations, because you are just to ignorant to ever learn.

I've never really thought about trying to sound superior to anyone on this website. However after reading your post I realize I am far superior to you, and anyone related to you.

Now, go crawl back under the rock you were hiding under.

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Xiao Gou May 15, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Dear Jack:

You said "because you are just to ignorant to ever learn."

It's "too ignorant."

That describes you to a tee. ("Tee — look it up in the dictionary.")

Best regards,

Xiao Gou.

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Jack May 15, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Well, you sure as hell "burned me"! 🙂

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Xiao Gou May 16, 2010 at 2:41 am

Stew Leonard languished in jail for about a year and a half, because two of the registers in his Norwalk, Connecticut store weren't hooked up to his central accounting system. They were taking the funds garnered therefrom, physically, off-shore. Stew Senior was jailed over only $400,000 in unreported income; a pittance given that their four stores, collectively, bring in about that much in profits– not gross sales, just profits — daily.

Despite their liberal-sounding customer service policy there are dozens of people who think that they're not doing enough for their customers; these yo-yo's post on websites like Chowhound.com and bitch about the exorbitant prices charged by that company for what they sell. Yes, these people want Stew to continue his liberal customer service policy and yet cut his margin, too.

At the doorway to every Stew Leonard's store is a huge granite rock in which is inscribed "Rule No. 1: The Customer is Always Right. then, Rule No. 2: If the Customer is Ever Wrong, Read Rule No. 1. "

Their huge customer-service desks at each store entertain a legion of complainers, typically wearers of stretch-pants or fleece who're morbidly obese, trying to return perishable goods a week after purchase. Stew Leonard's, actually, places restrictions on their customers. If one attempts to return meats/vegetables that were purchased more than 72 hours before, you're out of luck. Moreover, if a customer attempts to return an item for cash without a register receipt, they're out of luck; all you'll get is store credit.

About Nordstrom's: Indeed Nordstrom's is a fabulous example of customer service. But the kind of cheap fools that I'm discussing certainly don't shop there. The kind of morons that I refer to in my writings would never enjoy the piano player positioned strategically in the middle of the store, they'd never enjoy the services of a dedicated sales associate who can stay with you from department to department — you know why? They're cheap. In fact, I feel bad for people who haven't, once in their lives, enjoyed the Nordstrom's experience (an elderly friend told me that shopping at Hartford, Connecticut's G. Fox store many years ago was similar to the Nordstrom's experience in style and grace.) The cheapies just want price; they couldn't care less about the fact that your sales associate and the store's tailor assure you that your suit or sport coat will fit right every time; and be ready the day after purchase.

And, finally, Jack, you're naive about "word of mouth." This kind of promotion is exceedingly rare. The public at large is fickle. They rarely tell each other about a good experience; but waste lots of breath on bad ones. Customer endorsements are fleeting and unspecific; calls placed to our establishment claim "my friend forgot where you're located, could you tell us?"

I recently threw a woman out of my establishment. She'd been a troublesome customer, complaining and asking for "comp" appetizers and drinks a number of times. When I threw her out she and her dining companion told me they were very popular in their circle of friends, and that they'd tell *all* of them not to dine there. Apparently this woman had set records raising money for her church; she spoke incessantly of this fact when interacting with us; essentially attempting to commit extortion. Instead of a horrible backlash, some of this woman's acquaintances actually came into our store and asked to see the manager who "had the nerve to stand up to her." I can tell you I've established great relationships with at least four families — thanks to putting this lady in her place.

"The customer is why we're here" is an old battle-cry that went out with the "Total Quality Management" ideas, popular in the late '80s, that died with the IBM that wouldn't fire anyone, or the Chrysler Corporation. It's business, plain and simple and when you're in business the end-game is to make a profit and keep your financial head above water. Giving food/beverages/service away to those who seek it at no cost/low cost is contrary to that end.

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Jack May 18, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Yeah, Stu cut a deal with the DA and agreed to do 50 months if his son wouldn't be charged, and could continue running the business. I had dealings with Stu several times back in the late 80's, and found him to be an astute businessman, and a gentleman. Regardless of his "legal" problems his business model has been, and continues to be very successful.

Shopping at Nordstrom's is a very enjoyable experience. You get the same type of feeling when shopping at an Apple store. If you have a problem with a purchase a dedicated "Genius" helps to solve your problem. Of course you pay a bit more up front, but the experience makes it worth while.

For about five years in the mid 90's I worked for a large computer retailer. This company treated both it's employees and customers they way you treat your customers, they were all looked at as "thieves". It wasn't a pleasant place to work or shop. They went out of business, and no one misses them.

I worked for a consumer products company for many, many years whose guiding principle was very simple:

“The goodwill of people is the only enduring thing in any business, It is the sole substance. The rest is shadow.”

This company has been in business for over 130 years, employees over 10,000 people, is privately held, does business all over the world, and is very profitable. They do not look on the customer as the enemy, rather the customer is the reason they are in business. You may consider these ideas old fashioned and not relevant to todays world, but you are wrong.

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Exaspera May 17, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Having worked in the food service industry for about 8 years, the customer is not always right. That phrase went out last century.

Venting about the 5% of your "not right" customers is great reading. Keep it up! 🙂

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Jack May 19, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Yes, on one level the stories he tells are amusing. On another he seems to go out of his way to belittle people, and stereotype them. The old person, the veteran, the Irish guy, the complaining woman in sweatpants, etc. The people he describes frequent "low end" establishments, so he makes them sound like undesirables, who do not want, deserve, or understand good service. If these people irritate him, he feels he has the right to physically hurt them. When you really read his stories, they are not as funny as they are downright mean.

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At Your Service May 21, 2010 at 8:14 pm

@Xiao Gou: Jack ain't nothin' but a troll… best not to feed him. Nice post, once again. So where did you pick up Mandarin? I can only say a few words (food words, obviously, haha), but the folks I work for are trying to teach me more.

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Jack May 22, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Do you plan to learn English?

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Xiao Gou May 23, 2010 at 8:17 am

@At Your Service: Yeah, I’m new to the blogosphere and have not yet learned not to feed the trolls who hide ‘neath the bridge…

On a better note, I learned Mandarin from immersion… that being said I have purchased learning tools along the way in CD, book and DVD form. One of the most handy tools I’ve found lately is, of all things, Google Translate, which will convert Mandarin ideographs into Pinyin (the way we express the language in our own characters). There are websites which will also actually “speak” the words to you from Pinyin or Chinese characters.

I’ve been very fortunate that many of my finest teachers were just ordinary folks who took the opportunity to help me out… and learn English, to boot… at the same time.

It’s been about a 20-year journey since learning “nie hao” for the first time and the fluency I now enjoy. At about 15 years it suddenly began that I actually started “thinking” in Mandarin at times; that’s when my fellow employees (and Chinese customers, too) started noticing a skill at pronounciation and an expanded vocabulary on my part…

What makes me proud these days is when I can speak to Chinese-speaking people and not have them go “huh?” any more; they can actually understand me on first words. Given that it’s a tonal language, that’s no small feat. It’s the tones which are the most difficult concept for non-Chinese speakers. Perhaps my fluency in German helps (the assignment of a gender for each noun makes it easier for one to understand the concept of assigning more information to a word than merely its spelling and pronounciation). But, once again, *each and every syllable* then takes the additional information (the choice of one of four tones), rather than just the nouns, as German does.

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Peace Lover May 23, 2010 at 7:25 am

I admire people like you Mr Goe who are willing to learn new languages to work better at their jobs. I tend to have problems with spelling myself as I have a bit of dyslexia. I really enjoyed you're stories and I look forward to hearing any more. I just submitted another one and I hope you all like it.

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Gregg - admin May 28, 2010 at 9:54 am

Your new story is now posted Peace Lover: Emergency Evacuation.

Thanks for sharing your experience!

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At Your Service May 26, 2010 at 1:26 am

Immersion has been proven time and time again to be the best way to learn. It’s how I learned French and the little I know of Spanish, German, Italian, etc. I am language crazy! Being around people speaking Mandarin for so long has me learning as well.

I love your stories and appreciate your contributions to these sites. Please ignore the negativity that you may (most likely WILL) encounter. It’s a poor reflection of the majority of people who actually do enjoy posts on these sites.

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Guy July 2, 2010 at 11:28 am

re: Jack

I think the game is to get you to click on his link. My computer gave me a warning when I clicked on it, 'cos I was curious what kind of bozo would visit a site where people vent about their experiences working in F&B and contradict everything on that site. Definitely a troll, but probably also someone spreading a virus or spam. I'm glad I have security software that protects me from that game. And I'm especially glad I'm not waiting tables anymore so I don't have to deal with bonehead know-it-alls who get their jollies out of testing the boundaries of customer service at Nordstrom's, Amazon, and anywhere else unlucky enough to have caught their attention.

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Jack July 2, 2010 at 12:55 pm

If your computer gave you a warning about my link, it must be a Dell or some other cheap PC running Windoz. You see, I don't have a link. Whatever you clicked on must be a figment of your computer's imagination. You should also ask for your money back for that "security software" you have installed.

I'm glad your not waiting tables anymore too. People like you should never be in the hospitality business, or in any business where they come in contact with customers. Your decision to leave the industry is a win-win, for the customer and the industry.

Now go back to whatever you do, and don't bother me anymore.

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Guy July 18, 2010 at 11:26 am

The "link" I refer to is Jack's user name. Note how in ever other insulting post it makes on this site, "Jack" is hi-lighted. If you click on "Jack" it takes you to a virus. Jack removed the hyperlink from its name when it responded to my post. Don't click on its name where it is hyper-linked or you will harm your computer. Jack is a troll.

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Jack July 18, 2010 at 11:40 am

You are a fu*king liar, and a as*hole. The "http://jackzig@me.com" is input automatically by my browser (Safari). I sometimes forget to remove it. If you look at it moron, you can see it is not a website. If you click on "Jack" it does not take you to a virus. You are a lying idiot. You sir are the troll, and if I ever met you face to face I would make you eat your words. STFU!

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College Kid November 3, 2010 at 9:00 am

"To the gentleman of Irish descent who told one of my servers: “go back to the rice paddy and get me some more rice – chop! chop!” I said “gee, while we’re embracing stereotypes why don’t you get me a few boiled potatoes…”"

Hilarious, mmmm boiled potatoes….

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Laura January 19, 2011 at 12:22 am

Well, you seem to ignore the part where the OP mentioned (a few times) that these complaints are about the 5% of his customer base who are unpleasant. He doesnt treat the vast majority of customers "as the enemy", as you put it… just the 5% who's business he can afford to do without! If you are doing well without them, and getting rid of them actually makes the dining experience more enjoyable for other customers, then I'd say he is making some good decisions.

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Mel November 3, 2016 at 10:11 am

Yea, I just don't tell people of a certain age that I'm part Japanese. It doesn't matter that my parents are both American citizens, my grandmother is a naturalized citizen or that my grandfather was an American soldier stationed in Japan after WWII, I just know that it's not in my best interest to offer this information to the "greatest" generation.

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