So I had my last day in the tasting room as a regular pourer on Friday. As usual, there were the awesome 99 percent of our customers, who I had wonderful conversations with and who were truly pleasant to be around.
And then there was the other one percent; two parties in particular who made my Last Day Memory List:
There was a huge party of 10 who showed up without reservations, ate lunch and wine tasted and really seemed to enjoy themselves until the bill showed up and they started bickering between themselves over who owed what (this after we even split it up for them).
Ultimately they thanked me profusely for my wonderful service (and it was, believe me) and left me a pile of money that "covers the bill AND your gratuity." As they drove away and I counted it up, they were short five dollars on just the food tab, which of course meant absolutely no tip on $240 worth of service. Ouch.
Since they were very sincere in their appreciation and I really do feel I "clicked" with them, I do know it was not anything I did, but rather their own inability to get along with each other and fairly contribute to the bill that caused the problem. But for me and the lone chef who worked so hard to accommodate a totally unexpected party of 10 people, it was a little disheartening.
Then there were the last customers of my day, two older gentlemen who knew a lot about wine and entered into a really pleasant discussion with me about it -- although from the get-go, there was something about them that did seem a little "off." They were very interested in our Cabernet, in fact to a point where they requested not one but TWO re-pours of it (meaning a total of three tastes, or a little more than a half-glass of just that, plus the other six wines we sample), the general indication that someone is about to make a serious purchase of wine -- maybe a case or more.
I happily complied and told them when I was considering buying bottles of wine, it was important to me that I knew what I was getting. One of them then mentioned that he was getting on a plane in a couple of hours, so I explained our shipping policy as well as how we can bag up a few bottles so they can be safely put into checked luggage
Of course when they came up to pay, they did not buy a single bottle, which means they occupied a table for the better part of two hours and basically asked for free re-tastes of wine instead of doing what most nervous flyers do and taking a freaking xanax or atavan.
And it occurred to me that pouring wine is not unlike teaching in this one way: while most of your students (or customers) are lovely and nice people, it's the no-good, horrible ones you remember. The student who throws tantrums. The customer who stiffs you on the bill or tries to take advantage in some way.
And the hardest part is smiling and continuing to present a professional face through that. Most of us have to do that (occasionally or regularly) with our bosses, but to have to do it with both our bosses as well as the general public makes for a tough job.
The good news is that after a period of time, the awful stories somehow all become terribly funny, which is why I love reading hotel/classroom/restaurant exposé books ("Heads in Beds" is my hands-down favorite, from a former hotel worker, as well as the blog "The Bitter Waiter").
In short, I'm happy to be moving outside to the plants, who never stiff you on the bill or demand more than what you are supposed to offer them. Because while I do recognize how awesome 99 percent of my wine pouring customer base was, it's honestly the one percent that you go home and think about at night.