Two summers ago, I was working two part-time jobs, neither of which paid very well. One of my jobs was as a hostess at Stanford’s in Tukwila, WA. I had been working there for about a month, and my manager had decided he would start training me to serve. I was supporting a 3-person family by myself at the time, so I was very much looking forward to the much larger cash influx my tips would bring and the financial security my family and I would enjoy as a result. Everything was good until suddenly it wasn’t.
It was a Wednesday night and the majority of the evening was relatively uneventful. People came, I seated them at open tables – you’ve been to a restaurant. But around 7PM, a group of 4 arrived – 3 white men, one white woman, all in their late 40s/early 50s. I seated them at a table and returned to my post at the host desk. Roughly 10 minutes later, I was approached by the woman in the group, as I was preparing to seating another group of guests, demanding that her party be moved to another table. The woman – I never did learn her name but we’ll call her Susan (thank you VerySmartBrotha.com) – wanted to move from her table because the couple across from them had their infant daughter with them and she’d started to cry. Susan was very upset about this because it was interfering with the “business” she and her group were trying to conduct at their table in a restaurant at dinnertime on a Wednesday evening. I apologized for the inconvenience and told Susan that I would move them to another table as soon as I finished seating the people that I was currently helping.
After seating the group, I headed to find Susan, but was stopped by a young black man who informed me that he was with the party with the crying baby (not his words) and wanted to know if I could find his server so that he could get his check and his and his wife’s food boxed to go. He said that their daughter was tired and he and his wife wanted to take her home. I told him that I would let his server know and, as we were talking, saw his wife leave the restaurant carrying their daughter. After talking to his server, I went to find Susan, who was waiting for me impatiently at the desk, wanting an update about their relocation. I let her know that I had just spoken to the family and they were in the process of leaving and asked if she still wanted to be moved. She snapped back, “no they are not leaving! They just got their steaks!” to which I responded telling her again that I had just spoken to them, and that they had asked that their food be boxed up to-go. I also told her that I had personally already seen the woman carry their baby outside to their car. I assured her they were in fact leaving and asked if she would still like to move tables. She hesitated then snapped yes, she still wanted to move.
We returned to her table and I asked that her party grab their drinks and follow me to their new table. One of the men at the table looked surprised and said, “oh no, it’s fine! They’re leaving!” to which I replied, “Yes, I know, but (Susan) has said that she would still like to move”. The father was still in his booth behind us and overheard this exchange. He leaned forward and told Susan and her party that he was sorry if his daughter had ruined their dinner/Wednesday-night business meeting. Susan’s associates insisted there were “no worries” as everyone got up to move.
As we rounded the corner and stopped next to their new booth, a very irate Susan turned on me and began to chastise me. She wagged her finger in my face and told me that I had “no right to cause a scene like that!” She told me that my behavior was unprofessional and disrespectful and “you embarrassed that poor man and he had to apologize!” I told her that I was sorry that she felt that I’d caused a scene, but that I’d only responded to the confusion her group had about moving tables. Apparently, I didn’t look embarrassed or remorseful enough for Susan and when I didn’t hang my head in sorrow and bend to her presumption of a right to discipline and shame me, she became even angrier. She raised her voice and called me rude, accusing me of having “had an attitude all night” and telling me that I should be ashamed of myself. I responded by offering to get my manager for her, to which she snapped, “that’d be great!” so I left to do just that but as we returned to the floor, Susan was storming out of the restaurant, the rest of her party trailing behind her. I attempted to introduce my manager and she turned and half-shouted “I’ll deal with this in the morning!” and stomped out the door.
As it was later summarized to me, Susan called the restaurant multiple times the following morning asking to speak to the day manager, the general manager, and our regional manager. She told a version of the story in which I was incredibly hostile and disrespectful to her, yelled at her and made her feel “threatened and afraid”. She also apparently closed with a declaration that, “as a result of the experience”, she wouldn’t be dining at Stanford’s again. Despite the fact that this completely contrasted with the version of events I told my managers and was completely unsupported by any conduct they’d ever seen from me as an employee, my managers informed me that I was being let go, while simultaneously insisting they weren’t taking her word over mine.
The loss I felt was devastating. It wasn’t that I particularly cared about the job – the hours were awful, the pay was shit and clearly the management was terrible. But it still sucked and it hurt. It hurt as the sole provider for a family of three with bills piling up. And it hurt to know that my entire world could be brought down at a moment’s notice, because all it took to cost me my job was for a “Susan” to say that I made her feel a way. And it hurt to realize that a stranger could hate me so much as to go out of her way to cost me my job for something so insignificant.
I’m sure Susan never thinks about that night at Stanford’s, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it. I thought about it as I scrambled – unsuccessfully – to find a new job in time to pay my rent. I thought about it as my family was forced to move out of our apartment and out of state when I failed to find work in time and could no longer support my family on a single, part-time income. I thought about it when my car broke down because I couldn’t afford the tune-up it so badly needed and I lost that, too. And I think about it today, as I watch white women in increasingly frequently publicized incidents weaponize their whiteness and their tears to subjugate black people who are so bold as to be living their lives in their vicinity. I’m sure that night had no effect on Susan and her actual life. I’m sure she doesn’t remember it.
I’ll never forget it.