Setting: Yakitori Taisho; 5 St. Mark’s Place; East Village, NYC
Time: Friday, February 12, 2010; 10:04pm EST
Synopsis: A “Wish I Could Have That Back” Moment…
So I walk into Yakitori Taisho with my friend Melinda. It’s a really narrow space, and there’s always a line. There are a few groups in front of us, and the waitress comes up and asks if any of us would like to be seated immediately two doors down at “O Taisho”, their partnering restaurant with the same menu. A few groups take up the offer, but I choose to wait, as I have a particular affinity for the ambience of the original Yakitori Taisho. The group behind us, consisting of two guys and a girl, deliberately chooses to wait too.
The prelude to the blown opportunity that was to come happened early. After we had been waiting about 15 minutes or so, two girls had just finished paying their bill and were headed for the door. One of the two, who happened to be attractive, reached for her coat and accidentally knocked over a small plastic brochure holder, scattering three or four brochures onto the floor near the entrance. The holder itself actually landed on the shoe of one of the guys in the group behind us, who we’ll call D.B. (Douchebag). Rather than reach down and pick the thing up, D.B. proceeds to stop his conversation mid-sentence, glance up and to the left towards the ceiling, almost as though to pretend he didn’t even notice. The girl, clearly embarrassed, started making a move to fetch the holder, but she couldn’t get his attention as she was standing behind him, and he would have to physically move to give her an alley. Keep in mind, she wasn’t one of these pretentious girls who was just waiting for the guy to help her out—she was clearly trying to grab it herself, but couldn’t really get the guy’s attention to say “excuse me.”
After 5 or 10 awkward seconds, I look at the other guy, who was speaking to D.B. and who is also in the way, as if to ask with my glance if he’s going to do something. With no response, I take a step between then, start to dip my shoulder towards the brochures on the ground, at which blatant cue the other guy who’s still in the way squats down and picks everything up. D.B. has yet to acknowledge the situation. This rubbed me the wrong way.
A few minutes later we get seated, in the very back of the restaurant. Because this place is so small, but so incredibly good, they have a room in the back to accommodate overflow crowd. To get there, you have to walk through the part of the kitchen where they clean dishes and store supplies. The room itself is exactly the same as the rest of the seating areas. Not two minutes after we’re seated, the trio that was behind us in line goes to the table immediately next to us. Because this place is so small, the tables are no more than 12 inches apart, too.
The next 10 minutes are soiled by the fact that D.B., who we would come to find out lives in New York (the other guy had just flown into town that day from Alaska visiting), laments about how “ghetto” the restaurant (which he suggested they go to and which he chose to wait 30 minutes for a seat in) is. “I’ve never seen a place where you have to walk through the kitchen to sit” (in a snobby, arrogant, he-stole-my-purple-skittle tone). No sooner is he done with that comment does he start talking about how “ghetto” the restaurant he had eaten at the previous night was. By this point I already wanted to punch him in the nose, and would have been justified in doing so.
As they start perusing the menu, D.B. starts talking with an aficionado’s tongue about the different Japanese dishes on offer. This is a very authentic, traditional Japanese place, run by Japanese people primarily for Japanese people, and as such has some menu offerings not seen at the typical suburban Benihana’s. Trying to be the big shot host New Yorker (though he’s clearly a transplant), D.B. starts talking about the most exotic dishes on the menu as though he invented them—it was truly a sound to behold. So one of the entrees they decide upon is the Tofu Karage salad, which is basically jellyfish and tofu mixed with some Japanese vegetables.
The dish comes out, and it smells very strongly of the Japanese vegetables. If only I could describe the look on D.B.’s face as he took a whiff—imagine the smell of rotten cheese-infused sweaty socks. The dish didn’t smell like that, mind you…it smelled exactly how it is supposed to smell. But the look on his face. Clear of the waitress, D.B. starts looking mischievously at his friends, and asks the fateful question (in a tone matching the way Butt-head used to speak to Beavis): “Do you guys, uhhhh, want to pay for this?”
You already know what’s coming. A minute or two later, after the dish has been played with and touched and twirled, the waitress comes back with another entrée, and D.B. says (in the same tone): “Uhhh…I don’t think we ordered this.”
This is when I very blatantly should have stepped in and said something. If not for the sheer imbecility of trying to show off in front of your friends and then trying to rip the poor waitress off, throw in the story from earlier when he wouldn’t pick up the brochure holder that fell on his foot. Making it worse, the waitress, being Japanese, was clearly distraught at getting the order wrong. She was puzzled and slightly frantic, bringing back a menu and pointing at the item and saying “I’m pretty sure this is what you ordered,” only to be met with a scornful shaking of the head by D.B. and his “nope, we definitely didn’t order this” reply. When the waitress walked away and the Alaskan visitor, who in his defense seemed to be an innocent bystander in all of this (the girl companion actually went along with the let’s say we didn’t order this plan), expressed slight remorse, D.B. assuredly said “don’t worry, they will just write it off as a mistake—the restaurant won’t make her pay.” What a thoughtful, generous soul.
I really couldn’t take any more of this, but my avoid-conflict mechanism kicked in, and I couldn’t bring myself to say anything to D.B. So I walked as if going to the bathroom and made a bee line for the front of the restaurant, where three waitresses, including ours and the person who appeared to be the head waitress, were talking. Our waitress was clearly frustrated at the questioning, so I poked my head in and say “they definitely ordered it—we heard the whole thing.” I’m thankful that I said this in front of the head waitress, as I found out later that our waitress would indeed have had to pay out of her pocket for the ‘mistaken’ entrée—all $6.75 of it.
Melinda and I then debated if they would actually take the charge off the bill, as she, working in service, said they have to live by the “customer is always right” mantra. I argued that they should just keep the charge on there, given that it would take a double douchebag to not only lie once, but then lie even more deeply a second time to dispute a charge on the actual bill. When I asked the waitress later, she said that they just kept the charge on, and the trio didn’t dispute it. This made me feel a lot better, as though justice had been served, and the waitress (and even a male worker who was brining an entrée out to another table) thanked me multiple times for speaking up.
However, while the problem seemed solved in the micro level, as soon as I walked out of the restaurant, I realized that I had blown a golden opportunity to save so many poor waitresses and service people in the future. After all, while I got this particular waitress off the hook, D.B. walked out of that restaurant never knowing what an asshole he is. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that he probably lives his live like this every day, and apparently nobody points it out to him. Had I called him out then and there, to his face, not only would he have been embarrassed beyond belief and looked like a total ass in front of his friends…he may have actually taken the experience to heart and thought twice before pulling such a cowardly dick move the next time. If I would have known for certain at the time that the waitress would have been charged I would probably have been more inclined to confront him, but I still chickened out. As the scenario kept playing around in my head, I realized that the perfect solution would have been to just take $7 bucks out of my wallet when I first heard them debating about whether they’d say they didn’t order the dish, hand it to him, and say “really guys? It’s seven bucks divided by three of you. Two-thirty three each. It’s just not that serious. Here’s the seven bucks, just give the poor girl a break.”
Had I done that, not only would he have not taken the money, since that would be the ultimate slap in his own face…he might have actually learned something. Thought about what a dipshit he is for one second. Maybe not. But even if he did take the money, just having that potential would have been well worth it to me. More than anything, I would have been saving him from himself. Think about people who are exceedingly cheap, and I’m not talking about being frugal with money. It’s one thing to not spend a lot because you want to save, which means that you may limit your spend on luxury items, eating out, drinking, whatever. But it’s a completely different thing when you choose to do those ‘luxury’ things, such as eating out, and then screw the people who are serving you. If you can’t afford to tip, or to pay for a meal properly, nobody will blame you for that—but just don’t go to the restaurant. People who do that, just imagine what it actually saves them over the course of a month—a few bucks, maybe $20 or $30 max—in assorted tips? Are the dirty looks and the total ass you make of yourself on a daily basis really worth enduring to save a measly $20 bucks?
Ahhh…how I wish I would have handed D.B. seven bucks and called it a day. I am no hero. But I could have been.