It was apparent to even a casual observer that the poor woman had a lot more going on than just a typical case of nerves, low blood sugar or "having a bad day-itis".
When she ordered her salad, she said to the cashier "And please make sure that there is no salad dressing -- absolutely none! -- anywhere even near my salad. If there is, I could die!"
(Sometimes for the sake of a good story exclamation points and italics will be used to give someone's statements a little flavor -- to slant a characterization into a kind of hyperbolic delivery. I assure you, no matter which words I emphasize and no matter how many exclamation points I deploy, I cannot possibly express in writing the quivering, hysterical, vehement, anxious and aggressive way in which this woman spoke. And I am not mocking, I am describing.)
My cashier was a trouper, and did a great job of being respectful and sincere (I have a terrific team) "Yes m'am. I have a button on the terminal just for that. 'No dressing.' May I get you anything else?"
"Just make sure..." she repeated the mortal danger she was in should even a drop of salad dressing land on her plate. "If it's even in a those little cups on the side of the plate, I could die!" (That's honest-to-god a direct quote).
She was in her seat for all of three minutes when she got up and spoke to the busboy, repeating her concerns and, frankly, working herself up a little more. I was stuck on the phone with a Big Problem and couldn't get over to her immediately. I gave my Lead a Look and he went over and rescued the busboy, who by now was a little frightened, since he's only on disc three ESL program we got him.
Back to her seat she went.
For all of another two minutes.
I was going nuts stuck on the phone, but the call was wrapping up. I watched her go up to the other cashier and ask where her food was, and repeat again about the salad dressing and how she could die if there was any on her salad. I could see my team slide this Guest into the Crazy column and start to stop listening.
Suffice to say she managed to speak to every single person working the shift (six, total) and become more agitated by the minute that her food was not at her table.
I finally had the chance to speak with her myself.
I gave my Kitchen Manager a look that said "This guest's salad, NOW" as she was almost screaming that she was a diabetic and did I want to see her medical card? I assured her I did not. I offered to get her juice, or fruit, or go to the market (next door) for whatever she might need and that her salad would be up in a moment, but to that she replied "I'm not here on vacation you know!" (yeah, I have no clue either.)
And here's where it really went south:
Somehow (I put this together after the fact) in talking to one of the staff and describing how the dressing in the little cups on the side of the plate placed her in mortal danger as much as dressing on the salad itself (and language barriers figure into this again) they thought she wanted the dressing in little cups on the side, and in an effort to help went back to the kitchen and wrote "dressing on the side" on her ticket -- so when her salad came through the Expediter Window it had no dressing on it, but two little cups of dressing were perched (like vipers!) on the side of the plate. And naturally, she was standing right there when it came through the window, having gotten up again to check where her food was.
I do not have the talent as a writer to describe accurately the fit of hysterical screaming which ensued.
Eventually we got her a salad without dressing -- eventually being about thirty more seconds. She sat and ate it, the rest of the diners somewhat subdued and unsure where to look. I (obviously) voided her payment and approached her table to give her the receipt showing the charge as voided and apologize (again).
"You are humiliating me! Get away from me!"
Obviously there was nothing more to do in a case like this, and I retreated.
My team was frightened and embarrassed (one of those is the correct response actually. Regardless of how over-the-top she was, we screwed up her order. Sure, there's context, but at the end of the day the score is the score. Did we get it right or did we get it wrong? It was a simple request and we got it wrong.)
Eventually a general buzz of conversation filled the air again, and finally she left. Right or wrong, I was relieved to see her go.
I spoke to each of the people on the shift and in the kitchen to both find out how we screwed it up and help them shake it off -- we had a whole lunch to get through after that, and they needed to do it with smiles and aplomb.
Later, I closed the door of my office and just took some deep breaths. I thought for a minute about the camera, and how maybe I was being watched and should be on the floor of the restaurant rather than sitting there with my head in my hands.
I muttered a barely audible and deeply sincere "fuckit" and kept taking some deep breaths.
The poor woman was obviously a tortured soul, and regardless of how horrible and enraging and embarrassing it is to be spoken to in the way she went off on me, the strongest thing I felt was compassion -- I couldn't imagine what her daily life must be like.
But it also struck me that -- if I wanted to (and I did, at that moment) -- I could draw a little parable from the Universe about footwork and control and results from the whole incident.
Because the fact was, when she ordered her salad, we got it right. The ticket was correct. And sure, sometimes in life you need to follow up and give due diligence, but if she had just made her order and trusted the process her salad would likely have come out quickly and correctly. It was her constant, repeated attempts to involve herself in the process, check on the process, guide the process, which was what actually produced the exact opposite result from the very one she so desperately desired.
That's a good take away from this.
I can make myself crazy -- and I think it is ultimately folly -- to spend too much time trying to divine lessons from events in my life. Whatever I get from it on the first pass is probably what I was meant to get. Worrying at it like the proverbial dog with a bone is eventually just an exercise in self obsession. If there's more for me to perceive it will reveal itself, I don't have to keep rearranging the mental pieces to see if there's something I missed.
So it was a good reminder about footwork vs. control, and trusting the process and such -- but to be honest with you (and You, Universe) I just don't know why I had to wipe some poor, tortured, abusive, crazy woman's spittle off my glasses to be reminded of it.
And so it goes...