SAN DIEGO – Frankly, I'd rather have a colonoscopy, sans anesthesia, than ever again dine at a T.G.I. Friday's type of faux-friendly place.
All that forced perkiness can be death-dealing. All those too-cute buttons the servers pin on their jaunty suspenders make me want to scratch out my retinas with the salad fork. All the insincere comradely queries – "Are we still working on that?" – compel me to dine and dash just for spite.
So when I heard there was a joint here that not only eschews overly solicitous service but actively promotes outright waiter surliness, I was intrigued.
It's called Dick's Last Resort, one of 12 franchises nationwide. Since 1991, it's been offending customers – making snide, politically incorrect innuendos and refusing to even feign pleasantries – to tourists and masochistic locals in San Diego's trendy Gaslamp Quarter.
Dick's succeeds, apparently, by appealing to the worst angels of our nature – or maybe just our long- repressed inner curmudgeon. Dick's parent company, DLR Restaurants, has ridden the wave of this disservice- oriented shtick to $33.7 million in revenue last year, its 27th.
OK, so before crossing the sticky industrial concrete threshold of Dick's, there's one overarching server-diner rule you need to know: The customer is always wrong.
And should you have the temerity to ask for something, be it an extra napkin or even a plate, well, buddy, get ready for a heaping helping of scorn and enmity from a server spoiling for a fight.
Is it better to go in knowing these unspoken ground rules? Or does it have more impact, more shock value, to be blissfully unaware? Little matter. Regardless of your reaction, you get treated the same way – like lint on a server's sleeve.
No hostess greets you, naturally. In fact, I make the faux pas of entering by the back door, the bar area. Two servers – a hirsute 30-something in a moth-eaten T-shirt and a young bottle blonde in a Carolina Panthers jersey – yell at me: "Bar's closed. Get out."
The dining room consists of a series of long wooden picnic benches (same for the outside patio). You expected tablecloths? Ha! No one tells you where to sit, so I settle for a spot on the end, with clear view of the football game on TV and food choices scrawled on a chalkboard. Laminated menus? You must be joking.
My server – the T-shirt dude who of course wasn't wearing a name tag – flings a set of silverware rolled up in a napkin in front of me, then rips off two sheets of white butcher paper and throws that down, too. (That, I later learn, is my plate.)
I hesitate, scanning the board.
"I don't have time for this," he says, turning on his heel and storming off.
I give the menu board a quick perusal. No way I'm going to order the Dolly (two chicken breasts, get it?) or the Big Woody (I was afraid to ask).
He returns a minute later, just staring at me.
"I'll have the Half-Baked Chicky, please."
So accustomed am I to obsequious waiters that I wait for at least a grunt of affirmation, something along the lines of "good choice." Again, I have forgotten where I am.
"We're going to give you fries, OK."
It was a statement, not a question.
The young son of a family of four behind me asks my waiter for more napkins. The waiter grabs a handful and flings them like confetti toward the impudent snot-nosed brat. The whole family laughs. The waiter, not breaking character, flounces away.
Waiting for my food, I scan the room. Two rows behind me is a middle-age couple and their teenage daughter, all wearing white paper dunce hats upon which a server had written snide remarks.
The one worn by dad Robert MacKenzie of San Diego reads: "My thong itches." His 15-year-old daughter Kathy's hat reads: "Future Star of 'Teen Mom.' " The matriarch, Vicky, has a bawdy inscription too salacious to print in a mainstream newspaper.
"I love the attitude," Robert says. "I like getting hassled."
Vicky: "Later at night, people'd be dancing on the tables. Fun place. We were here one Halloween night, and everybody was all dressed up. It made the bar scene in 'Star Wars' seem like an IBM management seminar."
Back in my seat, I look at what passes for decor. It reminds me of T.G.I. Fridays with PMS. One sign reads: "People say I've got a bad attitude. I say, screw 'em." Above the bar: "Welcome to your liver's worst nightmare."
When my food arrives, let's just say the presentation lacks aplomb. My waiter slams down two tin pails – one with a barbecued chicken breast, thigh, leg and wing stuffed in it, the other overflowing with fries. I put the thigh on the butcher paper and tuck into it, knowing better than to ask for a second napkin.
At dinner's end, I snag another waiter – mine apparently is hiding in the back – who has been expertly hassling diners Candice Stratton, 28, and Larson Lee, 31, from Perth, Australia.
He says his name was Trevor Perinder. I ask if being consistently rude can get as tiring as being uber- perky.
"Yeah, we have our days," he says. "Whatever, you know. We are famous for service with sarcasm. It's the brevity of wit, so to speak. But this job is me winning, because, you know, I went to college to become a performance artist, and now I'm living the (freakin') dream waiting tables. In San Diego, no less. Winning!"
If Perinder has indeed been performing, Stratton and Lee give him raves.
"We first went to eat at a hotel and the atmosphere wasn't what we were looking for," Stratton says. "Too sedate. Too stuffy. So were walking up and down and heard this place was, uh, interesting."
As they walk off into the night, Stratton pauses to put on the dunce hat her ever- inattentive waiter made for her.
It read: "The dingo ate my baby."