April 4 2012 09:36 AM

Only you can help prevent its spread

Edwin Decker

“I was suspended from ABC Bar and Grill because I told some douchebag customers to never come back,” wrote Dr. X, a bartender / server acquaintance, in a Facebook message.

Apparently, a party of 12 had run X ragged throughout their meal and afterward had asked to split the check six ways. As every server knows, splitting checks is a royal pain in the cranium, but Dr. X did as he was asked, and they each repaid him by drawing a big, fat skink egg on the line where the tip should have gone—hence his recommendation that they never return.

“Instead of the owner having my back,” X wrote, “I was thrown under the bus and suspended for one shift…. I now know the owners do NOT have my back in these kinds of situations.”

“Dear Dr. X,” I responded, “You are lucky you didn’t get fired. You say the owners didn’t have your back, but when you tell 12 paying customers, in a recessed economy, to never return, it could be argued that it was you who didn’t have the boss’ back, because I’ll bet dollars to Datsuns that all 12 of them are out there right now spreading the word about the rude service over at ABC Bar and Grill.”

Dr. X was thankful for my perspective and admitted that he had become “very cynical as of late.” This did not surprise me, as I’m quite certain Dr. X suffers from a case of Acute Server burnout Disorder (ASBD).

Aside from confronting customers about tips, symptoms of ASBD include: red face; bulging neck veins; acid leakage from ears and eyeballs; a chronic, condescending attitude; heavy drinking on shift; and a general antipathy for half of humanity, contempt for half of the other half and slavering disgust for the remaining half of the last half.

Dr. X, take it from one who’s been there and had that, this disease is highly progressive. You must be proactive in preventing the spiral toward its irrevocable end-phase—when you become a hissing, seething man-lizard with razor-sharp talons and an empty, black soul.

Look, I know as well as any how rotten it is to be stiffed on a large, troublesome table, but them’s the breaks, kid. Sometimes you get over-tipped and sometimes you get the cold, cruel rod of nada shoved up your ass. My point is, obsessing about it only hurts you. If you plan to stay sane, you must forget about stiffers. Instead, try to return to the mindset of those exciting early days when you were just starting out in the business.

I remember when I first got behind a bar; I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to work in a happy, fun, party place with great live music, smoking-hot girls, the ability to catch a funbuzz and serve customers who gave me more money than was the cost of the thing that I served to them!

What is this strange and magical thing they call “tips”!? I wondered.

And, yes, I know: Acute Server burnout is a disorder from which it is difficult to recover, especially in the final stages—when you hate the bar and the bands, the funbuzzes become more murky and stygian and your clammy lizard claws are ready to carve out the organs of the first customer who stiffs you.

I know a waitress who chased a stiff all the way out to the parking lot and yelled at him in front of his friends.

I know a bartender who threw coins back at people if they dared not tip with paper currency.

I know several bartenders who refuse to put alcohol in the drinks of chronic stiffers.

I know a bartender who served a shot of bar-mat juice to a stiff. Oh wait—that was me! In my defense, it was 2:05 a.m., the lights were up and he asked— no exaggeration—about 10 times to serve him another drink. I kept saying, “We’re closed. You have to go,” but he refused to leave, until finally I told him I would give him a free shot if he would go.

He agreed, so I poured the revolting bar-mat smegma into a rocks glass. The stiff was drunk enough to not notice and guzzled it down. He thanked me as he stumbled out the door. I’m not proud of this. But I was in the full-blown stages of ASBD and unaware of how reptilian a move that was. And the customer did deserve some culpability for what happened. I mean, he did, pretty much, ask for it.

Thus do we come full circle. Because all my ASBD-suffering friends and I wouldn’t have even developed this disorder were it not for guys like him. Being at the beck and call of thousands of shitty, rude, insensitive, loud, whiny, drunky, complainy, crude, violent, entitled, holier-than-thou, out-of-line, demanding, bellicose pecker-planters is exactly the reason the following public-service announcement will soon air on all major networks:

Narrator (in a foreboding voice): “Did you know eight out of every 10 service-industry employees will suffer from Acute Server burnout Disorder in their lifetime? For just a small percentage of the price of a meal (say, 15 to 20 percent), you can help stop the spread of this tragic disease; well, that and, you know, stop being such annoying ass-faces all the time! Don’t shout or whistle, triple-step the waiters, finish your drink when the bar closes or puke on the pool table; do the math on a 12-top check your own damn self, and if the servers are in the weeds, do like Otis Redding and ‘Try a Little Patienceness.’” —Paid for by SASS (Servers Against Stiffs and Scalawags)

Write to ed@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com. Edwin Decker blogs at www.edwindecker.com. Follow him on Twitter @edwindecker or find him on Facebook.