I had written this back in May 2007…. and I am posting this here, inspired by Donna Harris’ recent experience with a restaurant in Texas…
You know, one would think that in 21st century America that the specter of racism would have already been banished to the corners of some distant forgotten memory. The Imus controversy certainly dispelled that notion, for sure. But that was an event that even though it was close to home, didn’t quite hit the mark for me. Yes, I was somewhat alarmed when I found out about what had been said, but at least one thing can be said about Imus: his racism wasn’t subtle. You couldn’t miss it, and it could not be dismissed. Nor should it have been. But what does one do when it stares you in the face and you can’t even put your hands on it?
Have you ever heard of Jimmie’s of Savin Rock? It is a nice restaurant in West Haven, Connecticut where people from all over the state, and even perhaps from out of state, go to enjoy some very delicious seafood. Of course, Jimmie’s of Savin Rock didn’t start out as a seafood restaurant, but I digress.
Every year, on my wife’s birthday and on our wedding anniversary, we make it our business to head to Jimmie’s of Savin Rock for our night to ourselves. We usually don’t diverge much from the usual order: fried shrimp, fries, salad, bread. Maybe fried mozzarella for an appetizer. Usually it is a pleasant affair for the both of us: the wait isn’t too long; we are served within a reasonable amount of time, considering the place is usually busy; and we leave a generous tip for the waitress/waiter serving us, even if the waitress/waiter is a little too long in getting our order to us. On May 6, my wife and I celebrated the magical 7 year mark of our marriage by taking the customary trip to Jimmie’s of Savin Rock (her choice, but again, I digress).
We arrived at Jimmie’s of Savin Rock at 4:25 and gave our names to the maitre’d to be seated. There was quite a crowd there. My step-son’s grandmother (who’s birthday happened to be the same day, lol) and her family were also there, as were several other groups of people waiting patiently to be seated. My wife and I, and our 3 year old daughter (not gonna get into that one here) sat down and waited for about 20 minutes before we were called. This is going great so far, I thought, as I asked the maitre’d to seat us at a booth by the window, and was graciously obliged accordingly. We sat down and waited for maybe 10 minutes before the waitress came to see us. The young lady took our order, then headed to her other tables.
My wife and I talked, and waited…and waited.
The young lady eventually arrived with our drinks 10 minutes later, then off she went again. About another 15 minutes had passed before we got our salad and bread; she arrived shortly after I had asked another waitress about being served because it seemed as if our waitress had disappeared. So now it is about 5:20 and at that time several other parties have been seated..and served their drinks, and their salads…and their orders!! Including my step-son’s grandmother! My wife looked at all of this in disbelief. I tried to put a positive spin on it by suggesting that the waitress did have other tables to wait on, but inside, I was slowing coming to a simmering boil.
The manager, Lisa, came out and spoke to the party seated diagonally across from us for a moment, then she walked off to see about something else. One of the ladies at that table (they had received their order and were enjoying their food already, mind you, after having been seated after we were by at least 20 minutes), happened to look at us and she asked me, “Y’all haven’t been served yet?” No. “And y’all were seated way before we were!” She called to the manager “Hey, Lisa, these folks were seated before we were and they haven’t gotten their order yet”.
Now, I am 33 years old. I have worked in restaurants, in dining halls, and for catering services. One thing I know from experience is customer service protocol in the food service industry. You would think that the manager would have approached us and asked us if she could be of any assistance or at least ask if there was a problem. What Lisa did, in a rather nonchalant way, was this: “Oh, I don’t know if their order was well done, we’ll have to see”, and walked off. That was at 5:35. When Lisa finally did approach our table, it was 5:45, the waitress had just brought our order out, and the three of us were nearly famished, not to mention a little put off by the whole affair. It got much, much worse. Lisa asked us if there was a problem, and my wife began to let her know that we had been waiting for our food for nearly an hour. Lisa proceeded to pull out the register receipt for our order and dismissively asserted that our order was put in at 5:27 and we received it at 5:43, so we waited only 15 minutes. My wife tried to explain to Lisa that we were seated before 5 p.m.; at that point Lisa dismissed my wife’s claims by saying “we’ll just have to see about that”, and asked if there was still a problem.
At that point I spoke. “Yes, there is a problem. First of all, my wife is trying to explain to you that we have been sitting here for almost an hour waiting for our food…” I get cut off with the line “but your order went in at 5:27 and you received it at 5:43, so you only waited 15 minutes.” Great customer service? No, this manager was rude and discourteous.
I continue: “We have been waiting for a while as other guests have come in and have been seated and received their orders. I understand that our waitress has other tables, but now the problem isn’t so much with her as it is with you, because one, my wife has tried to let you know what’s been going on and you’ve dismissed her; furthermore, when these customers over here..” and I pointed in their direction “…let you know that we had been seated before them and had not yet been served, you didn’t even bother to come over and see what the problem was or ask us if there was a problem, you just dismissed the complaint…” Again, Lisa cut me off, this time with all of the snobbery you could possibly expect from a Southern belle being addressed by an ‘uppity nigger’: “I’ve been knowing these people for a long time, and they always treat me with respect, and I expect the same from you”. WHAT!!!! You don’t provide excellent customer service, and when someone else points out that you haven’t done your job, you dismiss it and want me to show you respect?????
My wife had had it at that point. “Just leave it alone, William”.
I was having none of that. “Furthermore, as a manager, when the problem was brought to your attention, you should have at least came and seen about us…” Once again, cut off by Lisa: “You shouldn’t have been sticking your nose in my conversation with them, and I don’t have to do anything”…and she walked off.
I resolved to never patronize Jimmie’s of Savin Rock again – loudly. But after my wife and I had managed to eat a little, the lady that first tried to help us gave us a little laugh “Y’all must have had a hot service this morning, cause that was nothing but the devil actin’ up”. We shook our heads in agreement, then she went on to encourage us not to give up Jimmie’s of Savin Rock if we really liked the place. She related how she and Lisa had butted heads when she first started frequenting Jimmie’s of Savin Rock, and now they get along famously.
Truth be told, I did not want to – I love their tartar sauce (it really is out of this world) and their fried fillet of sole is almost to die for. So instead I resolved to write to the owners of Jimmie’s of Savin Rock about my experience that day in the hopes that it would never again be repeated. I requested the manager’s name from her, and several of the workers there. She outright refused to give it, and directed her subordinates to refuse my request, with the line “This man doesn’t need to know my name”.
I even waited a few weeks and called Jimmie’s of Savin Rock with my request, and was told that last names are not given out. “Besides, she’s the only Lisa here, so if you address any correspondence to her, she will receive it”, was the response I got. I suppose that since I have mentioned her by name more than a few times, it is obvious that I managed to get her name; as the saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat.
What really, really irked me about the whole episode was the sense that if I had not been an educated, articulate (let’s not go there on this one) black man, that the manager may have approached me quite differently. Or better still, if I had not been a black man who knows that, as a general rule, the customer is always right (especially in the food service industry) and who was unwilling to let that type of discourtesy go unchecked or unaddressed, that there was the distinct possibility that it could happen again. And again, and again, and again. No, I think that it is best that when people, regardless of race or gender are disrespected and treated in an unprofessional manner that those instances be addressed.
To this very day, over two years later, I have not yet set foot back in Jimmie’s of Savin Rock. I vowed NEVER to eat there again, and neither has my wife (who still loves the place, btw).