Daughter Melody and I went out to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants: Houlihan’s, in Elkridge, MD. We’ve been going there since they opened more than a decade ago, and it qualifies as one of the better chain restaurants we frequent. We had a special promotional envelope that was given to us on our last visit, about a week before Christmas, and we were anxious to see whether we would be getting a free appetizer, dessert, or discounted meal, which were advertised as possible “prizes” inside the envelope.
We entered and saw that it was not at all crowded. The host, a young man, perhaps in his late teens or early twenties, asked us how many were in our party (just the two of us), made a series of marks on a list on his clipboard, and took us to a table right in the middle of the restaurant, awkwardly sandwiched between three other occupied tables. There were a lot of other open tables nearby, including several preferred booths. After sitting, I quickly glanced over at my daughter, and she looked at me, and we determined that we were going to be too uncomfortable to converse with each other while other patrons were sitting just a few feet away. Our server showed up almost immediately, a young lady in her early twenties, and we told her our dilemma, and asked if we could move to one of the open booths, several of which were adjacent to our table. She said she understood, and told us to hold on just a minute, as she needed to clear it with our host. He happened to be passing by at just that moment, and our server asked him, within earshot of Melody and me, if she could move us to the booth nearest to where we were. He sighed, and said that it was in “Jared’s” section, and she would have to clear it with him.
Now, I’m from the school of good customer service, and accommodating a guest is just good business. Our request to move was not out of the ordinary, and there seemed to be no issues with over-crowding at the restaurant, and the server even volunteered to continue serving us at the other table. But the host’s reply struck a very negative chord in me, as if we were inconveniencing everyone by wanting to move from a heavy concentration of customers to an open table. His concern, I reasoned to myself, was that it might unbalance the number of customers in each of the server’s sections, and he didn’t want to make the change on his carefully arranged clipboarded sheet of paper.
Either way, I immediately went into the “red,” stood up, grabbed my jacket, and quite audibly exclaimed, “Okay, we don’t want to inconvenience anyone. We’ll just leave!” And I headed for the exit, followed by my suddenly surprised daughter. As I walked away, I muttered about how ridiculous this was, and I couldn’t believe I was walking out over this. As I reached the host/hostess stand, a lady who I’m guessing was a management type, asked, “What happened?” I said, very loudly, “It’s apparently too difficult to change tables!” I said, flashing my prize envelope so she could see this wasn’t our first visit to the restaurant. “We’ve been coming here for over ten years, but you just lost a customer!” And we left.
I have never walked out of a restaurant like that in my life. I was flush with emotion, and my poor daughter looked at me like I was a crazy man. I immediately apologized to her, and told her that I didn’t mean to ruin our evening. We went back to our car. I told her that I have never reacted like that before, never been so upset that I’ve walked out of a place. She didn’t know what to say to me, so she didn’t say anything. I asked her to pick another restaurant, any place, something that she liked. But we just sat there in silence.
I replayed the entire incident in my head, trying to figure out why I reacted so uncharacteristically. I am not one to fall so quickly into anger. However, given the current Federal Government shutdown, which is directly affecting us, plus not receiving a paycheck even while I continue to work to help maintain our National Airspace System, stress seems to be ruling my thoughts and actions, causing me to have a short fuse, and I overreacted to something that wasn’t worth reacting to. I normally would have been too embarrassed to draw attention to myself in a situation like that, and my normal reaction would just be to suffer in silence, even though I knew my daughter and I both were very uncomfortable with the seating arrangement. But I flew off the handle and reacted.
I again apologized to my daughter, letting her know that I was embarrassed by my reaction, and I promised her that we would return to the restaurant in the future. I didn’t want to sacrifice more than a decade of patronage at a favorite eating establishment over one lousy incident. In addition, since we are friendly with one of the managers, who has been there since they opened (though she wasn’t there last night), we would likely have the opportunity to talk to her about what happened.
Melody and I went on to have a very fine evening, completely overshadowing our bad experience, and I didn’t dwell on what happened, like I usually do. But it serves as a reminder and cautionary tale of the impact stress can have on our day to day actions. I will do better.
Have a great evening, everyone.