The Association of Hungarian Waiting Staff last week launched a yearlong “Scowlathon” to raise money for waiting staff forced to retire early after years of bad service.
“We plan to tap into what is clearly a natural talent amongst our members,” said Attila Szomorú. “Hungarian waiters and waitresses are renowned worldwide for their surliness; we hope to use this to rake in millions of forints.”
Szomorú said that money would be used to help support waiting staff forced to retire early with facial spasms brought on by constant frowning, scowling and glaring at customers who had the temerity to interrupt a discussion about how bad tips are these days to ask for a coffee.
“This is a major problem for our members,” Szomorú said. “People don’t realise the strain that appearing miserable 40 hours a week can put on the facial muscles. Many waiters end up with faces only a mother could love.”
Buckets will be placed in every bar, café and restaurant across Budapest, and Szomorú urged customers to reward surliness with an absolute minimum of 10% on top of the usual tip.
“We’re only asking for fair payment,” he said. “After all, we have to tend to customers’ every need, sometimes having to stop flirting with the cute barmaid or texting our friends to take orders, bring food and other such menial tasks.”
Waiting staff will have their existing skills - such as avoiding eye contact with customers, sighing when receiving a large order and starting derisorily at a tip less than 10% - maximised at special training courses.
Szomorú said that the campaign had a dual purpose, and that it aimed to raise not just money but awareness of what a pain in the arse it is to wait on people. “Let’s be honest: we’re doing you a favour serving you at all,” he said. “Don’t you people have coffee machines and ovens at home? Slavery was abolished in the 19th century. Make your own damn coffee.”
Waiters at many cafés on Liszt Ferenc tér enthusiastically joined in the campaign last week. Erszébet Tóth, speaking on a break, said that she was relishing the chance to be as rude as possible. “This morning alone I made two tourists cry and spilled soup all over somebody’s Calvin Klein jacket. When they asked me to clean it up, I threw a napkin the size of a postage stamp at them and stalked off,” she said. “I’m feeling pretty good already.”
However, many customers seemed unaware of the campaign. “I’ve been trying to get the waiter to bring me a menu for twenty minutes, but he seems more interested in the contents of his nose,” said John Timmons, a businessman who regularly dines out. “To be honest, that’s about average.”
Nonetheless, Szomorú said he was hopeful of raising “more cash than you can shake a stick at”.
“We’re expecting to bring in at least HUF 500 million,” he said. “Failing that, we aim to drive away as many customers as possible so we can sit about and watch TV all day.”