A few days ago, a friend and I drove to Santa Fe to have lunch at a place where I’ve eaten several times. The food is very good and reasonably priced, the view is calendar-picture perfect, and the service has always been fine. But this time, the service was not so fine.
The two of us had set out to have an early lunch. But after one mishap, a little dillydallying, and an unplanned side trip, by the time we got to the restaurant our early lunch had morphed into a late one. We were both pretty hungry, and I was in a state of caffeine deprivation. We were seated immediately—and then completely ignored. Servers passed us by, to and fro, but our server was nowhere to be seen. Enough time passed that I was about to go over and buy a to-go cup of coffee at the front of the restaurant.
He Makes an Entrance
When our server—a young man in his 20s—finally showed up in our general vicinity, he was moving with a pronounced limp. My dining companion, a Type 2, decided to give him a pass based on the limp. I reserved judgment, still focused on getting that cup of coffee. Eventually, he made it over to our table, and that’s when things started to get interesting.
He stood next to the table, pen and pad in hand, and did not make eye contact or say a single word. We simply recited our orders, which then seemed to trip a switch. He expressed approved of my friend’s choice and remarked on its appealing presentation; he asked me if I wanted the optional ingredient with mine. We both requested water to drink (one with ice, one without), and I, of course, asked for coffee.
When he returned with our drinks and set them on the table, he had to switch the water glasses to get them right. Then he put the coffee mug in front of me. “And decaf for you,” he said. I reared back in mock horror. “No, not decaf! I need real coffee.” I was trying to be funny—or at least as funny as I could be in my caffeine-deprived state.
Our server quickly assured me that he had been mistaken and that the coffee was, in fact, regular. (It was.) And then he actually explained why he had misspoken, which was not information I wanted or needed.
We did not have any interaction with him again for quite some time. Another server brought our entrees, and although our guy passed our table a number of times, he never once made eye contact with either of us.
At one point, a very uncomfortable steady, low-pitched hum suddenly filled the room. It was unpleasant enough that I was considering stepping outside. Just as it stopped, our server passed by our table again, and my friend asked him what that noise had been. “Feedback,” he said, sticking around long enough to inform us that it’s theoretically possible to create a black hole from electronic feedback and to give us the name of the scientist who supposedly came up with the idea. I kept my rejoinder about black holes to myself.
It took some effort to get his attention for a coffee refill. But when he returned with the carafe, he assured me the coffee was not decaf. Fortunately, the place had pretty much cleared out by then, so we didn’t have to wait long to deal with paying our bill.
What I observed was someone who did not greet his customers, did not apologize for or even comment on the lengthy delay in service, never checked up on us while we were eating (no matter how often he walked past our table), and never made eye contact. He did, however, have opinions, explanations, and information (extraneous though it may have been) to provide us with. He seemed to move about the room with an air of detachment from the hubbub.
I have no idea whether his limp was temporary or permanent or whether it was painful. During his brief interactions with us, he didn’t appear to be in pain.
For me, what had started out as an annoying wait turned into an interesting character study. I would think that server in a busy restaurant would be the job from hell for a Type 5 with a limp. Yow! But what do I know? Maybe he had just figured out how to do it his way and was sufficiently detached that the job didn’t particularly impact him or bother him. I do wish I could have gotten a peek inside his head. At least I think I do.