It wasn’t the best evening for Cafe Mocha in the November of 2017. Danish and I decided to sit outside because the loud music just made it unbearable. We were meeting to discuss an article that I was to write about his profession. I was taking notes, watching some videos on his phone as examples and building a story line. Basically, we really needed to hear each other correctly.
Outside, the moment I sat on the cane chair, I shivered. Winter had set in earlier than I had expected. I quickly excused myself to fetch the jacket from my car. Danish almost rebuked me. Dude you could have taken my coat, he said. Now he knows better. I am one of those overly self-respecting people who have a problem asking for help. Yeah, he still rebukes me.
Another flip side of sitting outside was we had to inhale smoke, thanks to an active community. I craved for Chai. After I placed my order, Danish took his own sweet time placing his. He asked the waiter his name – Tarun (name changed) – then spilled details about his kinda coffee. I shot him that proverbial – Oh-come-on-you-coffee-snob look. He was amused. Thank God Danish eventually learnt to like Chai.
The Chai arrived half an hour later. I had my first sip and I couldn’t believe it. My eyes searched for the waiter. What? It’s cold? Danish asked, quickly standing up. He found Tarun half way, put his hands on Tarun’s shoulders and brought him to our table.
Before I could spill my anger on to him, Danish said, “Tarun bhai, shayad ye chai bahut der se counter pe padi thi, aur shayad aap bhool gaye. Ab thandi ho gayi hai. Aap zara garm karva denge.” (Brother, possibly this chai was kept at the counter there and you forgot to pick it up. It’s cold now. Will you please get it warmed up?)
Not even for once did Danish sound either angry or annoyed. We will see how they serve your extra special black coffee now, I chuckled. Oh God help them, he said.
Little did we know that the coffee wasn’t coming. Not that day.
Tarun was back with another glass of Chai. This time, it was a burnt Chai. It isn’t a good day for me I guess. Danish felt genuinely sorry. No, it’s fine. It’s not the waiter’s fault really, I said. No, it’s the cook’s, he said and stood up again snatching the Chai from my hands.
This time I followed him, more out of curiosity. He politely requested the counter guy to bring in the manager. It was crazy loud. Yet, Danish managed to be audible and polite.
Do I know you? Wait, are you batman? I asked.
Shut up, he said.
Surprise, surprise! He asked the manager to change the Chai because it was burnt. Without offending the manager, Danish pointed out about the general lack of management that day, the loudness of the music and a few tips on how to manage better. He concluded the conversation with, I know it’s easy for me to say, since I don’t manage a cafe. But as a customer, I do have some basic expectations. Danish did not mention the cold chai served earlier.
Listen my experience says that the waiter is new here. If I shared about the cold Chai, the waiter could possibly lose his job. Lets test some possible theories though, he suggested.
We both came up with some –
– The waiter was new
– The waiter had a bad day
– The waiter wasn’t trained well by seniors
– The waiter was going through something painful personally
– The waiter was a total moron (Okay that was mine)
– The waiter was just being casual about his job (also mine)
The not-burnt-this-time Chai arrived. I thanked the waiter and all was good again.
Untill the coffee, which was MIA, after almost an hour and a half. Danish waived at Tarun. This time, he gently took away Tarun’s tray and asked him to sit down on the next chair. That’s when I felt sorry for him. Tarun was shivering, both his hands clasped. Danish bent towards him and held Tarun’s hands. I felt like my gaze made Tarun feel worse, so I got busy over the phone.
I was sitting across both of them. Danish was whispering now. When I looked at Tarun, he was breaking into a half-smile. He wasn’t shivering anymore. I looked at my watch. From that moment, two more minutes passed by. Danish was apparently sharing some personal story with him. Tarun was listening intently. And I was pretending like I wasn’t eavesdropping.
Then I saw Tarun standing up with ‘Thank you sir, thank you Maam.’ He went away taking back his tray. For the first time since I saw him, he wasn’t frowning.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. – Mathew 5:7
What just happened?
I cancelled my coffee.
And he was happy about it?
No, he had forgotten to order the coffee in the whole chai goof-up. It’s just his third day. Let’s cut him some slack.
Oh that’s understandable but cancelling coffee? How does that help him dude?
I don’t think he would know how to explain the coffee I liked. He cannot write much by the way. And we both know they were short of staff today, hence they are just somehow managing. I promised him I would come again tomorrow and order the same coffee and he would need to remember it then.
And this great gesture wouldn’t get him fired?
Yes it won’t because the manager doesn’t know I had ordered one.
That incident opened my eyes to a more sensitive and humane side of Danish. I have known him since 2015 but that day I saw an absolutely new person.
I know what you are thinking – he did all this to impress you.
My first reaction to this would be –Seriously? Have you seen him? Or me?
But on a serious note, I assure you that he wasn’t trying to impress me. Both of us have a lot of common friends and every single one of them – male or female – have similar observations about Danish.
Money gives us a sense of entitlement
This incident, my dear reader, has become a benchmark for me since then. Earlier too I was never exceptionally rude to waiters. But after I watched what Danish did that day, I have learnt to be extra decent with waiters.
I say decent because the fact that we can ‘buy food and food services’ often gives us a sense of power. It subconsciously assigns us some sort of entitlement to treat waiters the way we want. Customer service has indeed taken a beating lately, universally. But should that stop us from being decent human beings?
It amazes me how when we are at work, dealing with a demanding customer or a client, we whine and crib and rant about rudeness. Yet, when roles are reversed, we do the same thing.
What better way to satisfy our hurt egos or inflated ones by shouting at the waiters? What sadistic pleasure we get from demeaning those we can! It’s tempting. I have been tempted several times. But it’s a temptation I have managed to drop dead.
I also like how my brother Abhishek deals with incompetent waiters. He sets examples, he offers advice or gentle feedback. Most importantly, he tries his best to not sound annoyed or authoritative towards them. I have also seen him apologizing to a waiter in case he pointed at a mistake, other times I have watched him shake hands with waiters with a hearty ‘Thank you’. But my most favourite part is when he treats them like buddies, joking with them even while correcting them.
Waiters are not always the culprits. Sometimes, it’s the circumstances. Other times, some capitalist owners. Or sometimes, just a bad day. We can never truly empathize with waiters, or drivers, or house helpers. In India, they are considered quite low in status hierarchy. Let us rise in the hierarchy of humanity, for once.
One day, when waiters or people in the service of customers get replaced by robots, we will most likely miss this human imperfection. That human bow that made us swell up or that ‘You know what I like’ gesture that evoked a sense of home or that ‘It was a pleasure serving you’ that gave us goosebumps. We don’t know what their day has been, or nights. The least we can do to them is set an example of decency.
Rising above the stereotypes, hierarchies
There are aplenty for both men and women. A good man will love dogs. I have seen very lousy men loving dogs too. A good woman will dress decently. I know some girls who like to dress scantily and are the most trustworthy. A good man will always open the door for you. Oh that one, I am still finding an exception to. A good man treats waiters kindly. Ah, hardest one to let go. Sorry.
So on International Men’s Day, I want to say Thank You to all the men who are kind to waiters. You are setting some awesome examples. And Thank You to all the ladies who choose to rise above their gender bias in treating waiters nicely. You are breaking stereotypes. And a huge Thank You to Danish for demonstrating that –
People are and should always be more important than your food.