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Over-the-top rude service as shtick--I don't get it

I went to Peterson's in Kenilworth NJ- a hotdog joint- today, where one of the two order takers was downright abusive! My friend had warned me to know my order before I got to the front of the line. This counterman character starts berating his coworkers and rolling eyes at the customers. The guy behind me chuckled to his 10 year old son, "isn't he great?" The guy to my right tipped a buck. Tipped him! For listening to the order, repeating it to a cook, and doing the cash transaction. Oh, and I guess for barking "Next(1/2 second pause)...NEXT!" This place has been around since the fifties and I guess everyone in town likes it more than they should... and I'll go along with that. But I don't understand how normally non-masochistic people can enjoy rude, nasty service as "part of the charm."

Ratner's in NY was that way the one time I went. Had an experience at Carnegie Deli like that once too, although other times the staff was civil. Guess I better stay away from the Soup Nazi.

If anyone likes this treatment, please explain why!

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  1. Yeah, I'm not a fan of that either. I understand if the server is quick and efficient. Fine. But when it's rude, I don't return. Esse Bagel in Manhattan (the one near 21st street) has this going. Others will say "it's part of the charm". Charm, schmarm. It's rude.

    1. I totally agree with you. I was reading a review about a bbq restaurant I was thinking of visiting but the review said the line moves fast and that you better know what you want because the staff has no patience if you don't. Not for me.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Velma

        Is it Gates BBQ in Kansas City, by chance?

        1. re: Katie Nell

          No, definitely not Gates. I do live in Columbia but, I travel a lot and it was further afield than KC. I'm racking my brains trying to remember where it was. I will come up with it eventually I'm sure!

          1. re: Katie Nell

            Just ate at Gates last month and definitely did not have a negative experience.

        2. Agreed.

          I have never understood why that sort of treatment is so appealing to some people. I did some consulting work in NYC for a few months in the late 90s and knew people at the place I worked who would take an extra hour of person time at lunch so they could go up to get soup from the Soup Nazi. After a while, I just sort of rolled my eyes and thought about the fact that if anyone ever talked to me like that, I would simply leave the line and walk out, never to return.

          I guess I don't find the humor in it.

          1. the order takers at pat's cheesesteaks in south philly are like this. when you are 'up', you must know exactly how to order what you want ... whiz wit' [basic sandwich w/cheese whiz and onions, provolone wit', whiz without, you get the picture] and heaven help you if you order a drink or fries while in the sandwich line ... my husband has witnessed folks being scolded and told to go to the back of the line and order only when they know what they want.

            2 Replies
            1. re: ericalloyd

              When I was in Philly my sis took me to Pat's. I had heard about the need to know your order when ya get to the window. My sister ordered...when the guy gave her lip..she gave it right back and all was well. Hey, she's lived in Jersey for 30 years and her hubby grew up in S. Philly. They take no guff.

              1. re: ericalloyd

                i always forget and order fries at the sandwich window. i was just told to go to the next line. never had an attitude. i guess i got lucky and have only been on good nights. the closest thing that came to a bad attitude was when the fry lady rolled her eyes at me when i asked her for a bag.

              2. there's a place in greenville, sc, the beacon drive-in, where treatment of this nature is common. when you get to the counter, the guy there yells "TALK", you place your order (double chili-cheese plenty, etc.), then he yells "WALK", and you move on to pick up your food. it's loud and brusque, but i wouldn't call it rude, and it's not directed at anybody personally; it's just the way the place operates, and, yes, it's part of the charm. the only time it might get rude is when the place is really busy, then they'll send you to the back of the line if you take too long. given the volume they do, a couple of people diddling around when they get to the counter can really back things up. if it's not so busy, they'll give you a few moments to gather yourself, and, generally, the other people in line with you will clue you in on how it works before you get to the counter. and, in the end, it's still the south; manners and decorum ultimately win out. little old ladies get called ma'am, and aren't told to "WALK".

                the only person i've seen get really flustered by this is my wife, who startles easily. the first time she went there, the guy yelled "TALK", and she flapped her arms like a bird and didn't know what to say. i ordered for her, and since then she's been fine (although she does rehearse her order).

                i've never been to the real soup nazi, but if the seinfeld depiction is accurate, i think i'd have a problem at a place like that. noisy and boisterous is one thing, but refusing to serve because someone orders incorrectly, smiles wrong, or talks too much is another. also, like the op wrote, if they're berating coworkers/customers, i'd have an issue with that, too.

                so, i guess, for me, there's a level where this type of treatment is part of the fun, even kitschy. hell, given the pedantic pace and required niceties of most diurnal interactions, i enjoy a burst of refreshing, cut-to-the-chase efficiency. but, it can go too far, and then i can't condone or find the humor in it.

                1. Years ago I went to Ed Debevic's in Chicago- a place that is ALL about shtick and put on attitude. I am gluten intolerant and will get very very ill if I have anything with wheat, so I always ask, even when it comes to the fries. The server had real attitude and declared that nothing that I had ordered had wheat in it, but she would check- even telling me that it was a waste of her time. I looked at my food and the fries where obviously coated in batter. Told the manager, who confirmed that they were. Server came back and actually started yelling at us like a bad actor for making trouble. It was a really bad scene and even the manager thought that she had gone too far. Manager comped our meals, and gave us free meal coupons, which I promptly passed out to a homeless man on the next corner. Nothing like being poisoned AND abused.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: carfreeinla

                    The server at Ed Debevic's probably WAS a bad actor. They go out of their way to hire them to do the abuse schtick. Doesn't help that there's so many unemployed actors in Chi.

                  2. Durgin-Park (est. 1827) in Boston used to be famed for this.

                    1. Many people, especially those with little regard for themselves, think it's cute, or a privilege, to be subject to abusive behavior.

                      1. I have a very low tolerance for rudeness. If I were paying for a meal, I would expect civility. If not, I'll take my business elsewhere. It's not cute or eccentric, rude is rude.

                        1. The *only* time I've enjoyed this service is when we ate at The Cozy Cafe in Fairview, KS. The waitress was about 75 and called people hon! My great aunt, who happens to be a bit of a busy-body and quite rude in her own right, changed her mind about the kind of pie she ordered after the waitress brought it to her. The waitress told her to go back to the kitchen and get it herself!! She also had us write our own order down on the order pad... I imagine that it's been this way for a loooooong time!

                          Other than that though, I hate the whole rude schtick! It really can be quite traumatic... I can remember almost being in tears at Gates BBQ in Kansas City when I was ten!

                          1. This type of behavior doesn't bother me near as much as when I'm in a very busy place and a customer gets to the front of the line and looks at the menu for the first time and mutters, "Let's see, what do I want..." And typically it's because he's been on his mobile or yakking it up with his buddy next to him and is oblivious to the long line of people behind him who DO know what they want.

                            Or to trump that, is the family of four in the same situation and Mom is debating with little Johnny, "No you can't have both Coke and ice cream because you won't eat your french fries." Then she orders a cheeseburger with the meat and the cheese on the side. Everything is a major ordeal including fishing around in one of her many bags for a wallet and then deciding if she has enough cash or which credit card to use. Again, oblivious to all of the people behind her who at this point, just want to slash their wrists.

                            4 Replies
                              1. re: mark

                                Agreed. I'm usually much more p.o'd at the behavior of some of my fellow customers, who seem totally clueless that they're in a line and therefore have time to prepare to order, pay, etc., than I am with the help, who are generally underpaid and in busy places under a lot of pressure as well. The ones that really kill me are the folks who get to the head of the line only to make all kinds of special orders and then quibble and negotiate over the prices. And of course the inevitable person who painstakingly and achingly slowly counts out change to pay the tab and spends seemingly forever fishing around in their bag/pockets for those last couple of pennies.

                                1. re: Woodside Al

                                  Just ran into this yesterday. A woman was emptying out her purse at a take-out place trying to pay for her food. I couldn't stand it -- I asked the cashier what she owed and paid it. She protested and I insisted.

                                  Why didn't she get it together why standing in a long, lunch-rush line?

                              2. re: Scagnetti

                                Actually, I think they want to slash HER wrists.

                              3. Maybe it's an NYC thing, but I don't mind brusque service as long as it's reasonably fast and efficient. As I said above, it's slow, seemingly lost and unprepared, customers who drive me nuts.

                                1. I've been told that some years ago, a "New York-style" deli opened in Houston, complete with stereotypic "New York-style" behavior from the staff. That dog don't hunt down here. I think they dropped all that stuff and were able to stay in business.

                                  1. The Soup Guy in NYC -- years ago, at least, pre-Seinfeld -- wasn't popular because of the curtness, he was popular because the soup was great. And while they could go overboard -- some questions from customers certainly are reasonable -- they at least didn't cater to morons who hold up lines.

                                    1. who is going to give you better service? the waiter at peter lugers who will come up to you and state brusqely you will have steak for two,medium rare,an order of bacon and fried potatoes, thank you for your order or the server at the local new trendy joint that comes over and says hi my name is sunshine let me recite tonights specials.
                                      i'll take the old curmudgeon any time.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: byrd

                                        Why does it have to be either/or?

                                        One can be friendly or polite or charming and still get the point across or make a request that someone step out of line until he or she is ready to order.

                                      2. Peterson's, more commonly known as the Galloping Hill Inn in Union, not Kenilworth, is a hot dog joint for goodness sakes! I live down the street and have been going here for years. One of the guys there can be sarcastic at times, but the whole point is to move the line. There are actually 2 or 3 lines of people next to each other. At least 2 order takers when it gets busy, which is often. The place is known for terrific hot dogs, which is what most people order, although there are other options and a sit down restaurant inside. They are also known for very fast service, which is great when you have a lot of people in front of you. The great majority are repeat customers. I would rather have someone continually yelling "next!" and moving the line along, than to be stuck behind inconsiderate people, the majority of whom have been there a million times and should have an idea of what they want when they get to the counter, especially after waiting in line.

                                        1. This wasn't exactly rude, more the staff taking care of themselves: 20+ years ago, we went to Pink's late one night with a few friends.

                                          It was a warm summer evening, the bars had just closed, and the place was mobbed. We had stood in line for about 10 minutes and were almost to the front, when the lights went out and the whole staff walked away from the windows. When a would-be customer asked what was going on, the guy who looked like Chuck Berry (you old-time customers know who I mean) said that we should all just chill out for a bit - they needed a break.

                                          Everyone waited patiently, and after about 15 minutes they turned on the lights and went back to work.

                                          1. I am a native New Yorker, but moved to CA in my teens, only to get back on business trips over the years. On one such trip a visit to the Carnegie Deli gave me years of "New York Attitude" conversation.

                                            There were three in our "party" (parentheses intentional). While we waited to be seated we were witness to the quintissential discourse between a counter-man and a server over an order that a customer had complained about. The counter-man had plenty to say, mostly in four-letter words for all to hear. Then the server returned fire.

                                            We were finally seated at the long, family-style table that ran down the middle of the Carnegie; my two associates opposite each other and me beside, opposite a stranger. A server soon appeared to take 'our' order, took those of my two companions, but absolutely refused to take mine because I was "not at his station". Imagine my joy!!!! It took about ten minutes for 'my' server to take my order. Pretty unbelieveable I thought then, and still do today. Only in New York??? I suppose I should have sought out the manager, but we were so amazed at what had happened that it took a while for the shock to wear off.

                                            1. I think some people are missing the point of the original post. It issue isn't rudeness (or brusqueness or efficiency), it's deliberately being rude for no other reason than "schtick," and people going to a place specifically for the experience of having the famously rude person(s) be rude to them (thus, the tip).

                                              It seems to be mostly an East Coast phenomenon, but there was one famous example of it in San Francisco: Sam Wo's in Chinatown with its famously (or perhaps infamously) rude waiter, Edsel Ford Fong. His schtick predated the Soup Guy by several decades.

                                              Anyway, I agree with the original poster: I go to a place because of the chow, not the schtick.

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                Actually, I really do believe that what happened at the Carnegie is schtick. Either that or I come from a city where people are just plain crude and rude by nature. [some may think that's true..... I really don't.] It seems to me that the attitude evidenced by my experience is like a colloquial accent, if you will. Maybe there's a very thin line between rudeness and schtick in New York, but I think most of it just comes with the territory. When I moved to CA, the best pizza joint I found was run my guys from Brooklyn. The best part was the un-deleted expletives that were just a normal part of their speech. [that and the way the slices slid off the paper from the oil]. Felt like home. JMHO

                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                  It is odd, isn't it? We have one of those famously rude people at one of the restaurants I work in. Not only is she requested by name constantly, sometimes people will leave if she's not there. Granted, the food there sucks so there's got to be some kind of diversion, but sometimes it's over the top.

                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                    Thanks Ruth, you read me right! But I don't mind the conversation drifting...

                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                      FYI... the places I was referring to I think do have the whole "schtick" thing going for them, but I could be wrong.

                                                    2. If you hate this, I would like to suggest that you never, ever go the Weiner Circle after midnight here in Chicago. I've seen them berate "Chads" and "Trixies" w/ some of the foulest language and ugliest insults you could possibly imagine. And they just keep coming back for more. For some reason they always leave me and my fella alone. Perhaps it's 'cause we're not stinking drunk.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: bryan

                                                        I don't hate it, I just don't get it. But thanks for the tip!

                                                      2. I never got it either. In the early 90s I worked near what was later to become the world famous Soup Kitchen and stopped to check it out one day at lunch. Saw a line, wondered why, so checked it out. After peering at sign with the "rules" and then standing and staring a few seconds at the guys behind the counter, I walked away. Since I never got into Seinfeld, it took me a while to realize the place had got famous. All I can is "people are weird."

                                                        1. Yeah, this subject has been up for over a week now, and nobody really explained the "allure" yet.

                                                          Related but off-topic: I have never bought a book that was called "X For Dummies," or "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Y"

                                                          But I do have a sense of humor...

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: The Engineer

                                                            Okay, here's one explanation: many Americans (especially those with blue-collar backgrounds) are uncomfortable with the idea of being waited on. So when people who are waiting on them act the opposite of "servile" it makes them feel less uncomfortable with the class issues attached to people serving them. (This is based on my Dad, who even though he's been firmly ensconced in the middle class for over 40 years, claims he's still uncomfortable with "service" because of his blue-collar roots, although in his case, his preference is to have as little interaction with servers as possible.)

                                                            And the opposite side of the same coin: people from backgrounds where they are used to being treated with a solicitude/obsequiousness that sometimes feels fake see having people be rude to them as being more "genuine" (even though, as you pointed out, it's often "schtick" and therefore no more genuine than fawning would be). It's actually a form of being patronizing, since it implies that blue-collar people are naturally rude -- ooh, look, we're seeing them in their natural environment and behavior ... how quaint, let's tip them!

                                                          2. I'll take brusque efficiency (but agreed, not rudeness) over the all-too-common, completely lackadaisical, incompetence that I witness every single day.

                                                            How many times have I stood in line at a restaurtant, deli-counter, pharmacy, retailer and it's some glassy-eyed kid's first day at work, and he's got about as much sense of urgency as a stiff. Throw anything at all out of the ordinary scan the price/swipe the card and they're lost. I'm maybe third at the register and I simply put my items down somewhere and walk out because the system has come to a total standstill and no one has any idea what to do. Combine this with the attitude that I'm bothering them and I'm lucky they're waiting on me at all.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: Pappy

                                                              Some venerable restaurants and bars can feature older staff members that come across as crusty or slightly surly but I usually don't mind because it's like walking into a time machine. PJ Clarkes in NY got a facelift a few years back and the old man staff were replaced by younger guys more on the friendly side. Some of the fun of visiting went out of the place after that, for me.

                                                            2. I guess my original rude waiter was the famous Edsel Ford of Sam Wo's in SF Chinatown. It was fun when you are going to college and get a bunch of your friends to go down and get abused. It's more fun when you take someone who is not aware of the shtick. (BTW it's not a shtick with Edsel. He is for real.)

                                                              Now that I am older, it won't be as much fun anymore.