Want to know the worst place in Florida to wait tables or sling drinks?
Known for its pristine Gulf Coast beaches, champion golf courses and world class shopping, Naples, Florida is home to a whole bunch of wealthy retirees who became wealthy retirees by acting like cheap, petty bastards in the restaurants and bars. At first glance the town presents itself as a luxurious off-season bargain but soon after, it becomes obvious that its year round residents and retired regular visitors are simply the nickel and dime-ing types with discriminating tastes.
Our recent brief stay there began with surprise discount after surprise discount. Upon arriving at our hotel, we were immediately offered a discount which I attributed to the desk clerk being gay and my boyfriend being cute. When I told the clerk, “Thank you,” and that we were Florida residents, he interrupted me by further discounting our room. What the hell, I thought. It’s September and they must be desperate and friendly.
After checking into our half price fancy hotel, we went for a stroll down Fifth Avenue, where fine art galleries and designer clothing stores flank fine dining restaurants who all seemed to be offering three course bargain meals with free wine. Perusing the menus which offered lobster, chicken marsala, and sauteed snapper, not a single eatery was charging more than twenty bucks for three courses with a drink and some even advertised half price bottles wine.
My delusional bubble that we’d simply stumbled upon an off-season bargain was soon burst when we sat down for a beer at McCabe’s Irish Pub. An elderly gentleman was arguing with the bartender over the price of beers on his bill which were not discounted for happy hour. When the bartender pointed out that it was not yet happy hour, the guy cited that it was already happy hour at another neighborhood bar and his bill should reflect happy hour pricing. Although I was certain that the bargain hunting gentleman and his jewel-encrusted female companion could afford full price beers, I resisted the urge to interject, even though the young bartender was far too apologetic and kind.
At each subsequent restaurant and bar we went to, the same flea market mentality was in force. Apparently in Naples, it is customary to demand discounts and argue about the price of your bill and the server will apologize, smile and accommodate any and all of your thrifty bull shit. I’ve never seen anything like it and am now convinced that the service industry workers are suffering what I’ve labeled “Battered Bartender Syndrome.” They weren’t just being nice. They were whipped puppies. Abused, worn down and broken into submission. Trained to slash the price of your bill and apologize for underhandedly attempting to charge you full price.
At Verginia’s on Fifth Avenue we enjoyed a beautiful meal while seated at the bar. When I asked the bartender for a wine list she rattled off all the happy hour half price specials. When we asked for a dinner menu she steered us toward the three course twenty dollar meal. When we told her we weren’t necessarily looking for a bargain she made a joke about being accustomed to doing the “Medicare Shuffle.” As she poured our wine she reminded us that it was half off and we could enjoy happy hour prices all evening. When we paid our check she informed us that we’d received a free glass of wine as advertised, half price appetizers, and that she hadn’t applied the five dollar split fee for sharing an entree. We left her an obscene tip which I hope she used towards a ticket for the next bus out of there.
During our final breakfast on our way out of town, we were unfortunately seated near a nasal-voiced local woman who was hell bent on loudly telling the servers all about her pending divorce. She only shut up for a few minutes to scrutinize her bill. She called the waiter over to complain that the menu advertised salmon for $6 and on her bill it said $6.25 and when computing the bill with tax, she had not received her true ten percent discount.
I’d like to see that woman pull that kind of crap in my town.