Every few weeks, I read someone or the other tweeting about how a person’s behaviour towards a waiter reveals a lot about him. Never mind how some of those who extol the virtues of being kind to waiters interact with people in general online and offline, but each time I read these tweets, a) I thank my lucky stars I am not a waitress given how it is portrayed to be the most pitiful job in the world through these columns, and b) I wish someone would also write about how unfairly some waiters treat their perfectly polite customers, and how the more ‘posh’ the restaurant is, the more obnoxious this behaviour gets.
When I started off in the PR industry, one of my early lessons from my then boss Mr Banerjee was that the more you whine and complain, the more people (especially in five star hotels) try to please you. He had this knack of finding flaws with everything, and the gift of communicating it with just the right touch of haughty disdain that somehow made the entire staff of the hotel hover around him like bees buzzing for this approval. I realised I couldn’t pull it off when I once landed in a hotel in (then) Calcutta and made a big hue and cry about not getting a room with a pool-facing view – which Mr Banerjee always insisted on and raised hell if he didn’t get one – when after much drama the Manager politely explained to me that the hotel didn’t have a pool.
There have been countless occasions when I have seen the staff of elite restaurants neglect friendly, polite customers to waste their energies on someone who is throwing a fit and frothing at the mouth about the lettuce not having the right crunch, or the cola having an extra ice cube. When five star hotels were luxury we could not even dream of indulging in, I had once planned a surprise meal at one for some relatives from my savings spread over months. Without going into details, suffice it to say that evening turned out to be subtly, torturously humiliating for me and my not-so-well-turned-out relatives. The smirk with which a waiter explained (unsolicited) what some dishes meant or contained, and whether the dish was hot or cold, and how they would be charging for buffet for the child who was with us, took a long time to vacate my memory.
Do not get me wrong. While I have known snobs like the one who waited on us at the restaurant mentioned above who behave like they own the place, I have also known countless people who are nothing but professional, courteous and respectful to people irrespective of how they look or talk or behave in a restaurant. This brings me (finally) to the point of this post.
The problem with us really is that of consistency, of respect or lack thereof. It is not about the waiter and how we behave with him. We could be polite to the waiter and give him a generous tip, only to later shoo away the beggar at the traffic signal on the way back, or irritatingly bang the phone down on the telemarketing executive who is merely doing his job of calling us to check about a service or loan. We all do it, including that waiter who just got yelled at. We will raise our voice when we know the person in front of us is not in the privileged position we are. We don’t think twice about slamming doors on the lady who sells shampoo at doorstep to provide for her family. We will badger the vegetable seller into bringing down the price of brinjal by a rupee. Why, we even react to people on Twitter with different follower counts differently. We don’t wear our wisdom lightly, we let go of no opportunity to point and laugh at someone who doesn’t know as much as we do.
I am yet to see a person – I include myself in the list - other than one (disclaimer: I am married to him), who treats all people equally. And by all, I mean every single human being, equally. When we get that right, we wouldn’t have to tell people to treat their waiter right.