So three women walk into a restaurant…and the owner loses money! Ba-dump-bump, chhhh! If you don’t find this joke funny then please rest assured that neither do I. This isn’t a joke at all but rather an almost depressing fact of life in the restaurant business. Although not a phenomenon exclusive to Humbug, I do feel compelled to share this little morsel with you.
There are few things that can fill me with more joy than a customer walking in my front door. Several customers walking in my front door is one of them - unless those customers happen to be three well dressed women. Invariably this scenario turns out bad for me, to the point that I’ve considered making a sign with the outline of three women within a red circle and a line across the center. To narrate a specific case so I can illustrate the problem, I will assign the women the names of Mary, Jane, and Deb.
One afternoon the front door swung open and Mary, Jane, and Deb walked in. As they approached the register I rubbed my grubby little hands together thinking that I had just scored a nice cover. These women obviously had money and I hoped to upgrade at least a couple of their orders to include double half-caf mochas. I greeted them with a genuine smile.
“Hi, there! What can I get for you today?” I beamed.
“Oh, look! They have sweet and sour meatballs!” Mary exclaimed.
“Yes we do! That price even includes one of our basic beverages. For just a few dollars more you could upgrade to a delicious café mocha,” I said, happily thinking of profit.
“But look!” exclaimed Jane, “They have a Santa Fe Chicken wrap, and it comes with SALAD!”
“That’s an even better value,” I added, “and you can still upgrade to a vanilla latte.”
“Maybe we could split the wrap,” Deb said to Mary.
“Indeed, would you like to have that with an Americano, perhaps?” I said, still hoping to break even on the order.
Not to be outdone, Mary upped the stakes in their little ‘I can eat less than you and still smile’ game. She suggested, “Well why don’t we split that three ways?”
Seeing where this was going I quickly changed course and said, “Sure, split it three ways. Would you perhaps each care to try one of our fine herbal teas?”
“Well,” said Jane, glaring at Deb for having started this game, “we COULD just have water. I never seem to drink as much water as I should.”
“Wow,” I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, “so one wrap special split three ways and just water to drink then?”
“Perfect!” they exclaimed in unison, avoiding eye contact with each other for fear of revealing their sneers.
I always did the best I could to avoid revealing my disappointment when this happened. It’s hard to go from expecting to sell three full meal specials with a few expensive coffees to actually selling one value meal special split three ways while watching three full sets of table ware and three no-charge glasses heading to the dishwasher. Every single time this happened I came to despise these three women even more. It didn’t matter that it was almost never the same three women – I just hated the very notion of them as a social unit. I always wonder if I have ever been guilty of playing this game myself when I was young and slim.
To make matters worse, this happened so often that on a few occasions I actually spotted one of them later in the afternoon when I ran up the street to the Humbug Credit Union. Invariably she was pulling out of the fast food drive thru taking a two fisted bite out of a greasy burger. Once one of the women saw that I had spotted her and she turned sped off.
What I hated the most about these women was that they would go on and on about how they loved having a little bistro like mine in town. They would expound the merits of a fresh cooked menu and blabber about how when you ate ‘real food’ you didn’t have to worry about portion sizes – even as they each ate one third of a wrap. The very idea of cutting a wrap in three pieces was just ludicrous and the one that wound up trying to hold the center slice together always looked completely ridiculous agreeing with this drivel.
Even the full meal in my restaurant provided 1/3 the grams of fat that would be encountered in a single fast food burger. To ask that the wrap special be divided three ways was like rationing dry puffed wheat at an anorexia rehab centre. What they never seemed to realize was that although they ‘loved’ a little bistro like mine, they took so much time ordering and used so much table ware that in the end they actually cost me money and threatened the very existence of my little bistro. To then turn around and each drop cash into a fast food drive thru because they left my place hungry just drove me mad. If they loved my little bistro so damn much then the least they could do was drop a little cash when they visited.
The food service industry often illustrates why democracy is destined to fail. While in public, the socially conscious will fawn over the merits of the liberal candidate that promises to tax the rich and provide equality for all. They will even go so far as to make a meager donation to such a candidate at a very public fundraiser. Once in the voting booth, however, these same ‘socially conscious’ rats turn around and put an ‘X’ by the name of the candidate that has promised to let them use their yachts as a tax shelter.
And so it was that trio after trio of these stuck up bitches walked into what they publicly expounded as a ‘delightful little bistro with a fresh menu’. With no regard whatsoever for the proprietor or the nutritional value offered they would immediately jump into the passive-aggressive social roulette of finding out who could eat the least without revealing a speck of disappointment. Left hungry by their public display of anorexia, they would use their first afternoon coffee break to rush for the nearest drive thru so they could scoop up a bag full of greasy burgers. Safe from the view of their compatriots they would park in an alley and push these disgusting globs of saturated fat into their pasty white faces. Oh, I came to hate them, to hate them even more than the backward, inbred, mouth-breathing, vacant eyed hillbillies that I had come to call Humbuggers!
There was no way that they would ever eat more than 200 calories in front of each other. There was no way I would ever make any money off of these women who so loved my quaint little bistro that they felt compelled to try and drive me out of business. As I came to realize this I began to make a habit of torturing them with decadent descriptions of my quadruple chocolate cheesecake. It wasn’t the gelatin filled cheesecake that one would find in one of those deepfreeze to deep-fry sort of restaurants. This cheesecake was made from scratch with rich cream cheese, sugar, egg yolk, and quality baking chocolate. The crust was a light wafer made from chocolate biscuit crumbs, sugar, and egg. For the additional two doses of chocolate I folded in crumbled pieces of my own made-from-scratch moist and rich brownies and then I layered the finished product with a chocolate pecan fondant. Each slice was served with fresh whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa sugar.
Every time I described the cheesecake to one of these trios I could visibly perceive little pieces of their souls dying. Their eyes would betray their longing for such a rich, chocolaty, creamy smooth slice of heaven. Their malnourished mouths would begin to salivate and I watched them each swallow their pride. I knew that my torture caused them immense mental anguish but it just wasn’t enough to relieve my disgust at what they did to me in return.
It came to pass that one afternoon I was alone in the front of the store while Marty was doing dishes in the back. The front bell rang and, as I looked up, in strode three women. My first instinct was joy at a potentially profitable sale but this soon gave way to anxiety as I surmised their attire and body language. Striding to the register, swinging their purses, and laughing in the carefree manner of the evil trio I had so come to despise they exchanged observations on the delightful little bistro that they found themselves in. My anxiety began to turn to anger.
“Hi, there! What can I get for you today?” I beamed while grating my teeth.
“Oh, look! They have chicken cacciatore!” Mary exclaimed.
“Yes we do! That price even includes one of our basic beverages. For just a few dollars more you could upgrade to some delicious café mochas,” I said, trying to think of profit.
“But look!” exclaimed Jane, “They have a turkey club wrap, and it comes with SALAD!”
“That’s an even better value,” I grimaced, “and you can still upgrade to a vanilla latte.”
“Maybe we could split the wrap,” Deb said to Mary.
“Enough!” I roared, breaking their momentum before it got started.
They stared back at me in complete shock, all three of their frail little empty mouths hanging as wide open as possible but not wide enough to take a full bite of food. I was almost as shocked as they were. I couldn’t believe it had come out of my mouth. I couldn’t believe I had actually begun to say it out loud. The only way back was to apologize and offer them some sort of discount but I wasn’t going down that road. The only way forward was to finish what I had started. Before they had a chance to say a word I continued.
“I know that you never eat more than 200 calories in front of each other! You come into a ‘delightful little bistro’ like this and you try to make me work for third world wages by daring each other to eat less and less until I’m putting a damn sprig of cilantro on each plate and pouring cold refreshing glasses of air. After you’ve finished your little game and you leave me to wash dishes for three, you end up going to the damn drive thru and letting them make money because you can retrieve your poison anonymously in a little grease-stained bag and go eat it in some back alley! I won’t have it! I won’t have it! I won’t have it!”
I was now screaming at the top of my lungs and perspiration was flying from my forehead as I thrust my accusing finger into the air. I had completely lost my composure and it felt thrilling. I was finally verbalizing what had been stewing in my mind the last dozen times that one of these trios traipsed through. The adrenalin was flowing as freely as my words as I pressed forth.
“If you are going to eat here then you are at least each going to have a wrap. I’ll serve them with the smallest little garnish of coleslaw that I can plate. You’ll also have one of those expensive herbal teas so I can at least make $2 off of each of you. If you don’t like it then just dare each other to eat nothing and get out of here and go straight to the drive thru for your burgers right now you passive-aggressive parasites!”
I couldn’t believe I had actually said it out loud. I couldn’t believe I had actually said it THAT loud. I couldn’t believe that they were still standing in front of me. Then it dawned on me – I had pulled back the curtain and exposed the horror of their secrets. For them to walk out now would be to acknowledge that I had hit the nail on the head. They couldn’t even look at each other for fear of revealing to their compatriots that they actually did wolf down greasy cheeseburgers in back alleys.
Realizing that they were paralyzed from any acknowledgement of what had just transpired I did the only thing I could think to do; I rang each of them through the register and told them I would have their food out shortly. They never said a word about what I had done and seemed to be content to pretend it had never happened.
They each took their teapots to a table and sat smiling at each other as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. As I prepared their wraps I heard them comment on how wonderful the herbal tea was and how it was so full of anti-oxidants. As I set their food in front of them they each complimented the colour of the coleslaw. There was a brief standoff as to who was going to take the first bite but they acquiesced and each raised their wraps simultaneously to their mouths in a psychically negotiated cease-fire. They actually smiled as they ate their 350 calorie lunches. I had pulled it off.
After delivering their food and retuning to the register I turned and looked for Marty. He was just on the other side of the swinging coral doors to the kitchen, staring over top back at me, like a damn big blonde ostrich. He blinked.