It was a beautiful balmy night. We walked up the steps of the restaurant that were lined by an impeccably manicured landscape. The late-summer sun painted stripes on the flourishing greens, golds and violets.
As I opened the door into the small hideaway caf, a blast of cold air smeared my face and washed over my arms sending a chill throughout my summer-clad self, my cotton dress providing little protection from the air conditioner's product.
My husband whispered, "Did you bring a sweater?"
I nodded in the negative.
Overheard, the waitress offered us seating in the patio. "It's lovely, still sunny but there is a nice breeze... Would you like to sit there?"
Remembering the charming walkway, I nodded in the affirmative.
We were directed to a canopied table nestled in tall fir trees. "Perfect," I responded.
We ordered a drink and relaxed, enjoying our time together and the excellent atmosphere.
"Do you smell smoke?" my perceptive partner asked.
Yes, why yes, I very certainly smelled smoke. I looked around. There was no one else on the patio. We were early diners this Friday night; we wanted to make the 8 o'clock movie. So who was smoking? Coughing and curious, I got up and peaked around the wall of arborvitae. There stood two members of the staff of the restaurant smoking their brains out - one in a chef's coat and one in a black tie. Oh busboy.
Reporting to my partner, we decided to inform the waitress.
"Oh yes, I know," she asked. "It's where the staff takes their breaks. Their breaks are their own time so they are allowed to smoke."
"Oh," I said. "We'll have the check for our drinks now, thank you."
We paid the check and walked away into the parking lot.
The line was very long and only one station was opened. I looked over and there were two staff, in the restaurant's uniform, sitting at a table and laughing and talking. I mentioned it to the person waiting patiently behind me. "Oh, they are on break."
Sitting in the comfortable booth, I ordered some iced tea as I settled to read my paper while I waited for my longtime friend to join me for lunch.
I couldn't help but listen to the lively conversation in the booth behind me.
"No, it's your turn to get the [expletive] laundry. I did it five extra times. Why [expletive]" etc, etc.
I had to peek around the high booth chair. There, holding a cell phone, was one of the waitresses from the restaurant. I recognized the uniform.
I motioned my waitress over. "There's a waitress on a cell phone in the both behind me."
"Oh, I know," she replied. "She's on a break and is allowed to talk on the phone."
I paid for my iced tea and met my friend in the parking lot then moved on.
I walked up to the vacant station in front of a cash register. The employee or crew, as they are sometimes called, was moving about packaging food and filling drinks. She appeared not to notice me.
"Oh miss," I spoke directly to her after some time. "Would you please take my order?"
As she bagged her bundle, she looked up and said, "Oh this is my lunch. I'm on break." She then walked away.
I turned and left the restaurant. In the parking lot I thought, "Thanks for telling me!"
I am always an advocate for the restaurant staff. They work hard, don't get paid enough and get few breaks during the busy periods, but
To the staff I say: Whether on break or not, you represent your employer when you are in the restaurant and sometimes when you are not. Your manner, attitude, language and habits directly affect the customer's perception of their experience. We are a people profession and our guests, clients and customers have a personal connection to you. They view you "as" the restaurant no matter what you are doing. Realize that the customer thinks you are working if you are within sight.
To the restaurant management I say: Please provide an appropriate location for the staff's break and meals. Provide a smoking area that does not interfere with people who are eating, be it staff or customers. In many instances, the staff must take their break in the area with the customers. This is perfectly OK. Please recommend appropriate staff behavior when around the customers. It is helpful to designate an area in the dining room that is used at all times for staff breaks so the customer doesn't feel snubbed by the relaxing staff. Also, try to hire enough staff so the staff on break can freely enjoy their time off.
To the customer: Restaurant staff works hard and deserves their mealtime and break time.
Restaurant Watch: Note the break location of restaurant staff.