The first lesson: Getting Rid of a Downer Customer (insert Friend here if you like).
In my years, BK (before kids), I have been a Babysitter, Lifeguard, Firefighter, Shoe Salesperson, Grocery Cashier, Waitress/Hostess, Fruit Basket Maker, Actor, Hospital Records Keeper/Organizer, YMCA Swim Instructor, Wave Pool Assistant Manager, Aerobics Instructor, A Notary Public, Architectural Drafter/Office Manager, Team Member, Manager of a Team, Bank Teller, Loan Officer, Mary Kay Sales Rep, Day Care Teacher, and Writer (which I still am).
During these diverse, fun, awful, never ending, exciting and sometimes scary jobs I learned skills for survival. One of those lessons learned, losing the downer customer, came from my time as an Eat-N-Park waitress in the small town of Beaver Falls, PA.
How old was I? A teenager, maybe fifteen, sixteen...old enough to know better, but young enough to not care. And they, a family group, consisting of a grandmother, grandfather, son, daughter and grandkids. Now before you think "aww" this is not your fairy-tale family. They stunk. And I mean the entire restaurant smelled like a garbage can. They never washed, dirt embedded under each fingernail. They never talked, to each other, and barely to me, their unlucky waitress. Oh, and they NEVER NEVER NEVER tipped.
This poor family group came in each night, ordered on bowl of soup, which came with free bread, took up a six person booth for five hours, then left without a penny for me.
I know, I know, now....they needed a place to warm up, and some food to share, yes they were vagrants, living on the street and yes, I feel awful....NOW. But back then, a teen, I was pissed. Angry that they sat in my section, irritated that I had to wait on them, sickened that I had to smell them, and tired of working for nothing.
So I devised a plan to get rid of the group. Their one bowl of soup, I would add one ingredient, red hot pepper. Not too much at first, but little by little, just enough to make it uncomfortable. And as they came back, I would add more, and more, until the soup was unbearable.
I figured it wasn't really harmful, it wasn't gross and it might get them out of my section or maybe, hopefully, the restaurant for good -- a win win.
The first hot pepper laced soup I placed in front of them, the grandmother sipped as I watched, waiting for her reaction. She slurped. Then a chill. She sipped again and again. They shared. I failed.
The next bowl I doubled the red flakes. Placing it, well dropping it, in front of them, they sipped. Grandfather blinked up at me. "This soup is hot."
"Yes," I said. "It's soup." (oh how awful I was.) I left them. They finished their bowl. I failed again.
The third bowl, I tripled the spice, and slammed the bowl in front of the six dirt covered customers. By this time the rest of the wait staff knew what I was up to. In fact they wanted to add more ingredients to the soup. But I knew the red pepper would work, eventually.
Everyone waited. Grandmother sipped, shivered, stopped. She glared up at me, knowing eyes. Pushed the soup away. With one nod the six scooted from my table and out of the restaurant onto the cold streets. And that was that.
Never again did I see them. And I often wonder about that poor family. Where did the go? What restaurant did they pick? Which waitress did they annoy next?
I didn't fail, I won. Right? Yes to the winner go the spoils. The waitstaff celebrated my victory with cookies. I had many other customers, tipping customers, great smelling customers, clean customers....but none of them do I remember. None of them do I think about. None of them haunt me with that look, the knowledge of betrayal.
If I could, I would apologize to this family. I would buy them dinner. Sit with them and talk with them, let them warm up from the frost.
Lesson: Yes, you can rid yourself of downer customers, downer friends, downer family members. But who is the winner? I am all for getting rid of those drainers - the ones who take and never give. But before I add hot pepper to one more of my relationships, I'm going to try some salt first. I'm going to be honest, try to help, and change the dynamic. Of course I'll keep some pepper flakes in my purse, just in case. :-)