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For the last several months, Steve and Lenny have been asking the bartenders and servers to collect customers’ email addresses; they say it’s so Stenny’s can alert them to events, specials, and any other type of happening. Most of the customers saw no harm in agreeing, and Steve and Lenny have built a fairly substantial list.
They have sent out a few emails. One announced the dining-room appearance of a local Frank Sinatra-style singer on an upcoming Saturday night; another introduced “January Chili Thursdays,” on those days endless bowls of chili and limitless garlic bread could be had for $10; and a third (inexplicably) contained a short bio of Steve’s wife Mary Ann, listing the improvements she has made to Stenny’s operational excellence.
Now, in mid-January, on one of the Chili Thursdays, Tara is discussing Steve and Lenny’s latest email with Joanna and Matt.
“It’s absurd,” Joanna says. “I’m not even sure it’s legal.”
“There’s probably no precedent to help decide whether it is or not,” Tara says, as she serves Joanna a glass of Merlot; it’s specially-priced tonight as a pairing with the chili.
“I know Steve and Lenny have come up with some preposterous ideas,” Matt says. “But this one is really out there. Is there something specific that triggered it?”
“That’s actually a good question,” Tara says. “There was. Has to do with Sarah.” Sarah is the cute and perky server who had a minor flirtation with Matt and Joanna’s son Russ on Christmas Eve.
“How so?” Joanna asks.
“You know how she’s pretty, in a girl-next-door sort of way?” Tara says.
“Yes,” Matt and Joanna both say.
“Well, the other night she came in as a customer, with a date.”
Joanna feels a quick pang of jealousy for her boy Russ; she realizes in about a half-second how ridiculous that is.
“Busman’s holiday,” Matt says.
Tara laughs. “Yes, especially because Steve and Lenny were both here and saw her.”
“Did they put her to work?” Joanna is only half-kidding.
“No, they were angered by her appearance.”
“How so?” Joanna asks again.
“She looked spectacular. You know how she usually wears her hair up on her head, sort of messy?” Joanna nods; Matt doesn’t respond; he has noticed Sarah’s breasts but not her hair.
Tara continues. “She was wearing it down, it was styled real nicely—soft waves and a peekaboo side bang. And usually she just wears a little mascara and lip gloss—but she was really painted up, but not in a whoreish way. She looked a little like Taylor Swift.”
“And that made Steve and Lenny mad?” Matt asks, still thinking about Sarah’s breasts.
“Yes, Lenny especially. He said if she can look that good on her time off, she can look that good when she’s serving his customers. I think he actually said when you’re serving my fucking customers.”
“And that led to the email that we got today,” Joanna says.
“Yes,” Tara says.
Semi-regular Kiki, one of Ben’s primary adversaries, has been listening to most of this conversation. She now says, “I never gave them my address. Don’t trust them. What did the email say?”
“I’ll read it,” Joanna says. “I have it on my phone.”
Joanna spends ten seconds finding it, clears her throat, and begins to read:
We have invested a lot of time and money since we bought Pogo’s, now Stenny’s, over two years ago.
“Really? And so what? How is that our problem?” Kiki says.
“Kiki, please, hold your comments until the end. Believe me, we’ll never make it through otherwise,” Joanna says.
“Okay,” Kiki says.
Joanna picks up where she left off:
We have tried very hard to make this a high-class establishment.
“Oh please,” Kiki says, and then says “Sorry, I’ll be quiet,” as Joanna shoots her a look.
So we have been somewhat disappointed in how some of our customers look when they come to Stenny’s. We’ve seen men in clothes better suited to a gym, and women in ripped, baggy jeans, making no attempt to style their hair or apply flattering make-up.
Joanna looks at Kiki, whose hand is over her mouth to keep herself quiet.
So, to incentivize our customers to “fix themselves up” and be more in sync with the “tone” we have tried so hard to set, we will begin to apply a 2% discount to the bill of any customer we feel has made an effort to look nice, and a 2% surcharge if we feel the customer has made no effort. This is effective immediately, and the discounts and surcharges will be applied at our sole discretion. We thank you in advance for your cooperation.
Joanna looks up from her phone, and says to Kiki, “That’s it. You can speak now.”
Kiki, for all of her earlier eagerness to jump in, is now at a loss for words. “I…it’s just…what the fuck …Jesus.”
“Exactly,” Joanna says. “They say at ‘our sole discretion.’ Who’s ‘our’ in that sentence?” she asks Tara.
“I asked Lenny that. He said he, Steve, Mary Ann, or their designee, which is all of us.”
Kiki has regained her words. “So what are you going to do?” she asks Tara.
“The only thing that makes sense. I know who got the email. I’ll give all of them a 2% discount every time they come in, no matter how they look. The other bartenders and the servers will too.”
“Won’t Steve and Lenny see all the discounts and no surcharges and catch on?” Matt asks.
“They may, but they’ll just assume their plan is working, and the customers are sprucing themselves up. They’re not here and circulating enough to know if that’s true or not. They’ll eventually drop the policy, saying it’s not needed anymore and probably replace it with something even more stupid.”
Joanna, Matt, and Kiki nod in agreement, and all three ask Tara to put in an order for the chili special.
Ben enters from the side door, and Kiki says, “I’m glad he’s here. I have a bone to pick with him. I’ll be back; save my seat.”
If you like this story, please check out my completed book, “Butts in the Seat”; one reviewer said it was “amusing, entertaining, and provides therapeutic value.”