Trust Me

IMG_4044Several weeks ago my husband and I had lunch at a local restaurant. When we asked for the check, we realized that neither one of us brought a wallet. Mortified, we motioned the waiter over and explained that while we don’t physically have our credit card, we know our account number by heart.  He politely told us that he is not authorized to deal with this complication and sent over the manager.

“It’s not enough that you know the credit card number and expiration,” said the manager. “We need the security code.”

“Great!” I beamed.  “I know the security code.  So you can run it through, get the authorization and we can sign it.”

“I just can’t do it,” he said.  “We can’t take that chance due to credit card fraud.”

“But merchants accept credit cards over the phone all the time and you just said the issue is the security code,” I whined.

“I just can’t do it.” He said.

I couldn’t help but wonder — can’t or won’t…?

“It’s no big deal.  We live ten minutes away and I’ll go home and get it,” interjected my husband who had enough of the embarrassing discussion.

As my husband walked away, the manager looked at me without smiling and offered, “I can always put you to work doing dishes in the kitchen until he returns.”

“Or you can bring me coffee while I wait,” I snapped.

The coffee never came, in case you’re wondering.

I fully understand that it was our fault for forgetting our wallets. I also know that people skip out on checks.  But I don’t understand why the manager told me that he cannot manually enter a credit card number without a security code, and then immediately changed his reasoning when I explained that I actually knew my code. He didn’t trust me, and yet he lied without compunction.  Since we were at his mercy, we had no leg to stand on.  Still, I couldn’t help but wonder why his knee-jerk reaction was to come up with an excuse.  What happened next took the issue of trust to a new level.

For the sake of clarification, I’ve frequented this establishment at least once a month for the past three years.  I don’t know the rotating wait staff or manager personally, but I’m certain the hostess recognizes us, judging by her usual greeting.  As I sat in the large booth waiting for my husband to bail us out, I noticed several servers peeking in on me. I didn’t pay much attention to the first one, who popped his head into the booth, gave me a quick glance and went about his business.  Perhaps he was checking to see if I got my coffee…? 

The restaurant was fairly empty and I spent the time speaking quietly on my cell. Admittedly, I was distracted by my conversation, but not distracted enough to miss the redheaded server who casually walked by and looked at me.  Seconds behind her was the hostess (not carrying menus or seating another party) who also poked her head into the booth.  Was there a restaurant-wide alert regarding my potentially criminal status?  Quite alarmed and embarrassed, I realized they were checking on me to make sure I hadn’t left! By then I was in bad need of the restroom but was afraid to risk looking like I was escaping!

My husband walked in within a minute of the last “check-in” and I immediately informed him that I was being watched.

“You’re paranoid!” He laughed.  And just as he did, a fourth check-in occured in such an obvious way that he blurted, “No kidding!  You’re right!” He witnessed a server peeking out of the kitchen and when she caught his eye, she mouthed, “I’ll get your server.”  How did she know we needed our server unless she was in on it?  The manager certainly kicked it into high gear over this $30 check.  The Department of Homeland Security could come here to learn a thing or two.

Larry David could resurrect Curb Your Enthusiasm using this ridiculous storyline. We paid our check and left.  While I understand that they have every right to protect their investment and that we were at fault, we were unabashedly lied to and then treated like thieves.  Had the manager explained that under no circumstances could he manually punch in our card, I would’ve been perfectly fine — assuming the stake-out he orchestrated was less obvious. Was he afraid to offer me coffee to avoid adding an expense to a bill he was afraid we were about to not pay?!  He mistrusted me to such an extent that he had not one, but four different people watch over me as I waited.  Should I have expected him to trust me? I don’t know.  I do know that a little kindness goes a long way and even where money and trust are involved, there’s a way and then there was his way.

Without naming names, I relayed this story to a restaurant manager that we know in order to assess whether I was overreacting.  She explained that patrons forget their wallets at home often and that it’s her policy to let them leave and come back to pay the bill when they’re in the area again. She doesn’t even require them to return the same day!  She said that she has never been stiffed and that in neighborhood restaurants this is a common occurrence and not a big deal.  I thanked her for validating my feelings and assured her that I will not be visiting the other restaurant again soon.  “That’s what you get for choosing another restaurant over ours!” She laughed.  Indeed.

I was leery about sharing this adventure publically (because I’m still a little embarrassed) until this past weekend.  My husband and daughter visited a local sandwich shop only to discover that again, he forgot his card. We now know that this is the result of changing out of his early morning golf pants and leaving the cash and cards in the pocket, but I digress… The manager quickly came to his aid.  He took my husband’s card, expiration date and security code verbally, processed it and sent him on his way with sandwiches and smiles.

I drove by the scene of my crime the other day and noticed a huge banner on the side of the restaurant promoting their services to the surrounding businesses.  Ironically, I heard that they’re specifically targeting one particular place of business, in which my infamous husband has an office. Unfortunately, Karma is a bitch.

7 thoughts on “Trust Me

  1. I had a similar experience only mine proved to me that there are still people out there that are trusting. My wife and I were driving over to the coast and we stopped at a bakery that is well known, but way off the beaten path. After we ordered some items to go, I handed the lady my debit card only to told that they only take cash or checks. Well, we didn’t have any cash on us and who even takes a checkbook with them nowadays?

    I asked where an ATM might be, but the lady said don’t worry about it. She wrote out their address and told me to mail them a check when we get back home. We didn’t get back for another week and I worried the whole time that maybe the lady would be thinking that we stiffed her. The first thing I did when we returned home was write out a check which included a good sized tip.

    It’s nice to know that there are people around like the bakery lady.

  2. The name of the game is CIVILITY. The manager’s lack of communication skills and suspicion only got him “blacklisted” from an entire class of customers. Customers are sometimes rude, demanding, etc. but in the end, your business is dependent upon them. As a manager, if you create a mutually agreeable environment in spite of an altercation, you will win over the customer. I don’t need to learn credit card rules in order to dine in a restaurant; that’s part of the manager’s education. I need to be able to dine in a pleasant atmosphere on well-prepared food and drink and be encouraged to come again because of the above. If there is a problem, I expect to be treated as “innocent, until proven guilty…” and not imprisoned in a hostile environment.
    Years ago, my father used to travel to Rome on business. He would often find himself abroad on a Friday night. He would generally dine in a Kosher restaurant that did not accept money on Friday nights because of the Sabbath. He was told that if he wanted to settle his tab, he could come back Saturday night and then pay. An international traveler paying in cash was trusted to pay his tab. A couple, dining ten minutes from their home in Pittsburgh were denied this courtesy?!? It’s time for all of us to Mensch up.

  3. Just read your latest blog……………..you are such a creative and gifted writer, to turn that experience into something we can all relate to at one time or another in our lives. On a more trusting note, I was taking lunch to a friend who had just had surgery and went to pick up pizza and salad at Mineos in Squirrell Hill. Didn’t remember they only take cash, when I said I did not have enough, the manager showed me the ATM machine, I told him I didn’t have that with me either. He said just take it and pay me whenever. He did not take my name or phone number, and when I came back later that day with the cash, he said in a very surprising manner………”Wow, you came back.” The difference in good business practice and your experience.

  4. If the owner of the restaurant continues to treat his customers in this manner, his chances of long-term success are nil. Sounds like his only interest is maximizing short-term profit.

    Not at all uncommon in this business. He may not even realize the “trust busting” impact of his actions.

  5. Erris, I love your writing, and I enjoy most of your posts, but this one…I dunno, it kind of rubs me the wrong way.

    First of all, I think you are mistaken in believing that the manager was not being truthful. Many businesses have a policy of asking to SEE the security code on the customer’s credit card. I had this experience at Shoe Carnival recently, where I paid by credit card (yes, I had the card with me), put the card back in my wallet, and then the cashier asked to see the security code number on my card. I knew it by heart, rattled it off, and he said, “No, I’m sorry, I’m required to actually SEE it.”

    You may not be aware of this: “Security: Merchant services providers should adhere strictly to the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard, the debit and credit card industry’s rules and regulations governing how credit card information should be handled, used and stored. The standards set the framework for prevention, detection and reaction to security incidents. Businesses that don’t comply with the PCI security standards face significant fines from the companies, such as Visa and MasterCard, whose cards they accept.” (http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/4394-accepting-credit-cards.html)

    So, basically, you got angry at the manager for following a common policy which is meant to protect them from fraud and fines (and if you think restaurants are huge money-makers, you are mistaken–no-pays are fairly common, sadly), and then, when he tried to lighten the mood by joking about it (that’s how I read his dishwashing comment), you snapped at him to bring you coffee?

    And you only lived 10 minutes away?

    I guess I have a different perspective, having been stiffed in my waitressing days by a very nicely-dressed and friendly couple, who left without paying their bill. I never knew if that was a planned event, or if they just forgot to pay, but honestly, I was a little traumatized by it. As it turned out, neither the hostess who seated them nor I could describe the couple well, except to say that they were white, well-dressed and in their 30’s? 40’s? 50’s? I thought the woman had brown hair. The hostess thought it was blonde. Neither of us knew what color eyes she had, nor could we describe the man at all, except that he was clean-shaven and wearing a dark suit. We both thought the woman dressed professionally,but was she wearing a dress with a jacket or a skirted suit? Was it grey or blue? I was amazed and horrified at how little I was able to observe. So I think that might have been the reason why the wait staff was sent to check in on you.

    Yes, the manager could have trusted you, as the sandwich shop owner did. But in this day and age of common identity theft, I honestly don’t think the manager’s policy is unreasonable. It’s also possible that he might have actually been more comfortable with letting you return to pay later, rather than paying with a card number sans actual card.

    And yes, the manager could have explained his policy better. But I don’t think your disdain for how he handled the situation made it any better.

    As you say, a little kindness goes a long way.

  6. Sounds like you need to get your husband (or yourself) a special gift…an iPhone case with a credit card slot on the back. I’m willing to bet both of you remembered your phones, right?

  7. I truly enjoyed this post! On the one hand, it shows that you and your husband are human, capable of something like leaving your wallets at home when you go out to eat. On the other hand, it shows that businesses can be totally blind to the fact that it is their customers that are essential to keeping them in business.

    But more than anything else, Erris, is the fact that this post shows how incredibly talented you are in taking an ordinary event and transforming it into a very readable article that brings both a smile and a frown to the reader at the same time.

    I’m sure that Larry David is looking over your shoulder – this will no doubt appear in an upcoming episode of someone’s sitcom!

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