In the era of swipe right/swipe left, the frequency in which your friendly waiter or bartender unwittingly finds themselves the mediator of a disappointing date secured through an app has reached unprecedented levels. And as a bartender/owner in NYC, exponentially more people on dates in my bar means I have exponentially more stories about people on dates in my bar, and a front-row seat to the changing dating world.
There's the woman who has repeatedly chased me down to pay for dinner before her date has the chance to because she thinks "it’ll impress him and make me look spontaneous." And there's the guy who will ask me to describe the same bottle of wine he's ordered a dozen and a half times so he can drop a travel anecdote that makes him look wine educated and worldly. But these are only two examples in a sea of characters.
She's developed a set of secret signals that she'll use when things aren’t going well.
The true test of a waiter's or bartender’s patience is the serial dater. Most staff will gossip about repeat romancers, complete with nicknames and codewords. When my coworker tells me that "Bruce Wayne" has arrived, I'll know to expect the guy who shows up on his Ducati, peels off his helmet just inside the door, and does a solid Top Gun-style hair sweep while casually walking over to his date. Naturally, he’ll pretend he’s never seen me before as he orders the same drink he did 22 hours earlier. When he didn't show up for an entire month, the staff assumed he had finally settled down with "the one." When he suddenly showed back up one day with a fresh date, he barely paused to take sips while talking about his epic four-week vacation to Southeast Asia. Have I mentioned that this guy never tips more than 10%?
I've had a regular customer who wanted me more directly involved in her dating life. She’s developed a set of secret signals that she'll use when things aren't going well. If a date walks in and she's not into it, she'll ask for a food menu which she'll immediately decline to order from. If her date is boring, drinking too fast, or all-around awful, she’ll order "a water with no ice," at which point I offer the bill. I suppose this is bound to happen when your only previous contact with your date is a set of heavily filtered photos. But if you're smart enough to work in a safety net with me, you're definitely ahead of the game.
Sometimes the chemistry is real... almost too real. Watching people who've met for the first time 10 minutes earlier begin straddling one another and making out in the middle of a bar? It’s never easy to see it coming. But when the passion is real, it's real. I’ll never forget serving a couple that was introducing themselves and having first-date chat. About an hour later, a customer came up to me to complain that someone had been locked in the restaurant’s only bathroom for over 10 minutes. I assumed it was someone passed out until I knocked on the door and the couple ran out laughing.
The sign of a good bar is one that will help out someone in distress. We’ve seen it all, and we’ll help you out.
Most often, my staff and I are actively feeling bad for the suffering partner of a bad date who can't stop talking about themselves, more than we're hating on anyone. I’ve fielded requests to split tabs while the other half of the date is in the bathroom, letting them bolt out the door while saying bye on their return. A coworker once told me she faked an emergency phone call from the basement to a girl who found out her date was 25 years older than his profile said.
These aren’t exactly cautionary tales; so long as you're not a slimy, awful person, we're not judging you, and we're certainly not out to spoil your night. We genuinely like to help out hopeful couples. There's something about seeing people I’ve served the night before getting coffee around the corner early the next morning that makes all of the horror stories worth it. Between the couples I've watched get engaged to the wedding rings I've seen slammed down on tables, it's all part of what makes the job a little more interesting.
But if you’re going to bang in the bathroom, just make sure it's not the only one in the restaurant.
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