I was just watching a video about an awful experience a man had at a restaurant. He was visiting New York City to celebrate Father’s Day with his daughter and granddaughter. They had lunch at the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden in Astoria. After receiving his food from the very nice waiter and eating his hamburger, he was horrified to see a disgusting message written on his receipt: “please spit in it too.”
He asked the waiter about this message. She had no explanation. After she revealed that she indeed was the one who printed out the receipts, he said, “So you did it. Why did you lie about it?” She walked away.
The man informed the manager of the incident and the manager fired the waiter on the spot and offered to try to make it up to him. The man said how could this possibly be made up to him? After watching the video, I got the impression that the man assumed that his food had indeed been spit in or that he had a reasonable suspicion that it had been. However, there was only a message. What, truly, are the chances that someone heeded the waiter’s request and spit in this man’s food?
The video left a lot to be desired. Apparently, one explanation was that the girl had meant to write “split it in two,” meaning the burger should be cut in half. Unlike many people, I actually think it is possible that she could have, in a hurry, mistyped such a request as “spit in it too” but boy what a terrible mistake to make. And if this was what happened, why didn’t she explain it to the customer instead of walking away with no explanation? An even better question: Was the man’s burger split in half? Had he requested this? If he had, then the explanation is given a lot more credence. The video ignored all these questions.
In these sensationalistic times, such information, or lack thereof, is often ignored.
The simple truth of the matter is that it is not clear whether anyone had spit in the man’s food. However, many people are convinced that this indeed is a regular occurrence at restaurants.
When faced with sensational and unsavory information about the restaurant industry we need to learn to think statistically. The problem with most people’s conviction that spitting in customers’ food is a regular occurrence is that they base this on either single experiences or simply widespread rumor.
In the comments for this YouTube video, a girl wrote that she had worked at a restaurant where she had witnessed the kitchen staff spitting in people’s food. After reporting this to the manager several times to no avail, she took a picture of it happening, showed the manager, and then quit. Upon recounting this story she said, “There are a ton of cooks in all kinds of restaurants that do that…”
This is a curious leap, don’t you think? She took one dramatic experience and generalized it. She used this as evidence that there were tons of cooks doing this in many restaurants. In fact, she witnessed this occurring once. If you’ve read about these kinds of incidents before, have you ever heard anyone say they witnessed it in many restaurants? The truth is, most news about disgusting restaurant incidents are based on anecdotal information. Stories told about singular experiences. Such disgusting and dramatic experiences are subject to what’s called an availability heuristic. They are easily called to mind and become representative of someone’s experience at restaurants in general.
Yes, this means that a person who has actually worked at several restaurants but has only seen one person spitting in a customer’s food one time can easily generalize this spectacle and report it as something that happens all the time. He or she can easily forget how many times they had seen food being served properly and cleanly with no such incident occurring. How many times? Hundreds if not thousands of times. While we all remember moments in our life which seem mundane, normalcy is often a “non-event.” The fact that we can easily recall such mundane and seemingly forgettable moments can itself cause us to misconstrue how our memory works in general. In reality, most of the mundane moments of our everyday lives are lost to time. By far, only notable events are readily recalled. The stories we tell ourselves are then based on our memory, and our memory picks and chooses those events that are locked in the vault. If the last time you worked in a restaurant was when you witnessed a cook or a waiter spitting in someone’s food, this event will likely color your entire experience in the restaurant industry. You can easily disregard the hundreds of workdays during which you did not see anyone spit in a customer’s food, or do anything else inappropriate.
Some of these assumptions are helped along by the many sensational books which aim to ‘expose’ the seedy underbelly of the restaurant industry. A great restauranteur or chef can write an encyclopedic tome about the restaurant world and hardly sell a book. A person who worked in one or two restaurants for a couple of years while in college can pen a book exposing the sleaze of the industry and become a bestseller. Face it, people are more interested in dirty laundry even if it’s reported by non-experts, than they are in mundane and boring facts and statistics.
For every person who reports that they have witnessed such an event while working in a restaurant, there is another who says they never saw anyone spit in food during all their years in the industry. In fact, there are many more people who will tell you this than there are who will tell you they saw spitting. But these folks who have nothing dramatic to report are ignored. While you’re reading “Waiter Rant” you aren’t reading “eh, not much to report here.”
While there is some anecdotal evidence that spitting happens, there is more anecdotal evidence that it does not. I’m not sure if that will sink in, so let me rephrase it: While its always upsetting to hear that this happens at all, why aren’t we equally gratified to hear that it doesn’t happen very often and is actually rare? I’ll let you ponder that, because, it’s a significant revelation. There are people handling your food and most of the time, they do it right.
So what are we to believe? It does and has happened. Restaurant food has been spit in. But we do not, at this time, have any evidence that it is routine and widespread. Chances are, you are never going to have restaurant staff spit in your food.