Thursday, March 30, 2006 by Ospite.
2 notations

Tonight was one of those nights that you don't see coming. A Thursday rush that nearly crashes our line, pisses off customers because everyone had the idea of a quiet Thursday night out. I was understaffed by almost a third of my floor and we had reservations out the wazzoo. On top of that, I was training a new host tonight.

We got hit early, about 5:30pm. That's about an hour earlier than usual for our place. Word of advice: If a restaurant takes reservations, book it. If they don't, call ahead and see how long the wait is. Don't randomly walk into a place and be pissed that they're making you wait 45 minutes for a table. On that note, always expect at least a 30 minute wait.

During the hubbub tonight, there was a beacon in the dreary eve. She was maybe 22. Tall, thin, overly attractive. You know that kind of girl that's trying to convince the world she's a supermodel. The kind of person you can tell gets her way because of her looks and pissy attitude. It wasn't her appearance that was the beacon, but the words that formed in her mouth without attaching to her brain first that were so horribly delightful.

Dre was waiting on this oppressively perfect girl and her boyfriend tonight. As I pass the table I hear:

Dre- "Would you prefer soup or salad with that?"
Girl- "Hmm. What's the Supersalad?"
Dre- "Um. You can have either salad or soup with that entrée."
Girl- "Yuh, I heard...but what's the Supersalad."
The Boyfriend (without skipping a beat or looking up from the menu)- "It's a really big salad with like everyting on it. It's a meal in itself. But don't get it, it's like $20."

Dre tried not to burst out laughing and I had to walk away because I almost wet my pants. Needless to say, I have a feeling I might dream of Giant Salads fighting evil while I sleep tonight.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006 by Ospite.
2 notations

Italians have this thing with wine. Last time I was in Siena, I ate at a tiny little hole-in-the-wall type of trattoria. The best kind. They brought over a huge jug of their own home-made house red and set it on the table, allowing me to drink as I pleased and I simply needed to inform them as to how many glasses I had. It's an interesting idea. The Italians have a flare for honesty...well, more like they'll just tell you like it is. Americans, on the other hand, will attempt a scam whenever possible.

So when I found out that the restaurant I was now going to be working in has their own vineyard and a similar policy, I was interested to see how well it works with Americans. In-house wine production certainly keeps costs down, and the mark-up is, of course, ridiculous. But no matter, we place the wine on the table just the same if they request a house jug.

Several nights ago, one of my waitresses wanders over with a confused look on her face.

"What's the problem?"

"I think I got ripped off by the 3top at 17. I brought them their first bottle of house which had maybe two glasses left. When it was gone they requested another, so I brought it to them. When they asked for the check, I inquired as to how many they had had...they said '3.' Now I know for sure they had at least 5, but I can't exactly go over there and call them liars."

"No. Unfortunately, you have to kind of bit the bullet on this one. We have to take them at our word. But before you do, let's see what we can do about it."

From across the restaurant. I could see she had placed the bill on their table and it was sitting there as they chatted away over their desserts. She was bussing a table two spots away from theirs. Now this was getting relatively late and her section was empty save for theirs. I wandered over, leaned close to her and whispered "watch this" in her ear while making direct eye contact with the youngest one at the table, and then the elest man at the table.

Our dear friend Waiter has discussed the 1000 yard waiter stare and it's miraculous effects on bad customers, so I decided to give it a whirl.

The man is right. It's a fabulous tool. Mine needs a little work, but in this instance, it smoothed things over quite nicely. The looks on their faces was something along the lines of shame and dread mixed with a touch of drunkenness. I had the waitress go over and retrieve their check while I was standing two tables away.

"May I take this sir?"
"Yeah. We forgot...we each had two glasses of the wine, so it's 6 total....not 3."
"Alright. I'll adjust accordingly. Thank you."

She brought the check back, and left them to thier now complete lack of conversation. Their exit was almost in the style of emergency evacuation and their facial expressions were roughly the same as well. The waitress returned to the table and came back to me with the check.

"How's their tip?"

"Um...32%."

Thanks Waiter
by Ospite.
0 notations

We get a phone call. One of our regular customers is celebrating his son's 21st birthday and would like to pop in with 9 people. Normally we don't cater to parties, but this was a special circumstance, so I readied the table. The party arrived and informed us (with an apology) that the number jumped to 11. This now means I need 3 tables thrown together for such a number and I have only two available. The table next to the party's section is a 20-something couple on a date.

I discuss the situation with their waiter, inquiring as to their location on the date timeline and when they might be leaving.

"5 minutes...tops."

No problem. I approach the regular and let him know the present situation and that there will be a brief wait while the couple leaves and we finish preparing the festivity proximity.

"No problem at all, sir. I figured we might be throwing a stick in your spokes when we dragged the other two along. We'll wait off to the side."

I love this man.

A minute passes. And another minute. And another minute passes. And still another minute passes. And a new minute passes which felt like an hour but was, in fact only, a minute. ... A minute passes.

The couple shows no sign of leaving. I inquire again.

"Well, he decided to get his food boxed up and her dessert to go."

"OK. See if you can expedite them in any way possible."

I wander to the front, go about my duties and then seat another table near said couple. They are now officially arguing. Slightly raised voices that can be heard a couple tables away. Lovely.

M. "That's not at all what I said, nor how I said it!"
F. "The hell it's not!"
M. "You're implying that I am now a jack ass?"
F. "That's exactly what I'm saying!"

I walk directly behind the woman and attempt to make eyecontact with the man. He is clearly ignoring me. So I meander back to the awaiting party where I inform them that the couple has their check. They simply need to pay and leave. No ripples, all glassy smooth.

I hear the aformentioned woman from across the restaurant.

F. "The hell with this!"

I work my way to their section.

F. "All you ever do anymore is yell at me, and swear at me, and be horribly sarcastic."
M. (with ridiculous amounts of slimy sarcastic tone) "Sure! Yeah! That's me! Shit fuck shit fuck shit!"

The woman bursts into tears...

Now, I'm going through my possible responses in my head and also trying to figure out what would make a couple go out on a date and errupt into a shouting match in the middle of my restaurant. One would think privacy would be ideal. Apparently my thoughts are way off.

I stepped directly behind the sobbing woman so she couldn't see me. The man made the mistake of looking up. I gave him my best "Shut up or get out" look. He actually flinched. I held eye contact for about 5 seconds before he turned too red to focus and dropped his head. I then retrieved his bill from the table, along with credit card and handed it to his server. It was the clearest motion to accompany the "get out" portion of the stare. I returned about 5 minutes later to find her head buried in her hands and a stupid sheepish grin on his face as he was petting her head. Stepping passed them, I made a loud comment to the waiter that he'd be receiving his 11-top party as soon as table 31 was available and then immediately shot the man another look. His last warning to take her out of here or I'm getting involved in their relationship personally.

The couple stood up and retrieved their coats. As they were exiting, I went to the regular.

"I greatly apologize for both the wait and the scene."

"Are you kidding? I'm glad I don't have your job and have to deal with retarded boyfriends on a nightly basis."

I couldn't help but chuckle. Now, every time I hear the word "sarcastic" there will be a string of 5 four-letter words screaming through my mind.
Monday, March 20, 2006 by Ospite.
1 notations

Lunch is an interesting time for any restaurant. Every single person in a 5 block radius has the idea to go to one bistro for salads and panini. Every single one of those people expects to get in, not wait in line, and receive immediate service...each of them is, of course, more important than everyone else.

There is a pleasant little place about 5 minutes from my abode with wonderful salads. Early this week I had a hankering for that very leafy delight so I strolled in at the peak of lunch hour. Looking through the glass I guage a 15 minute wait to order and a 15 minute wait for the food itself. This is typical at this time of day. I swing the door open and the tiny bell rings out tacky as I enter. As if someone could hear it over the din.

Stretching from the door to the counter is a line composed of business professionals, art students, hip 20-somethings, remarkably nerdy engineers, a couple soccer moms, and one child circa 5 years old. 12 people in this crowd look relaxed, 5 of them are smiling. It's an endless wonder to me that 50% of these people are regulars and yet they always seem shocked and put-off by the wait.

I inch to the counter and place my order for a large salad with grilled chicken, a plethora or lettuces, generous helpings of tomato, sprouts, pine nuts, green pepper, and mushrooms. And a Snapple. It's amazing what you can find for $8 in the right location. I hear the woman next to me order the soup of the day (a rather blah chili). I then proceed to the second line to await the order.

As I lean against the wall, happy tunes pumping from my iPod, one of the aforementioned nerdish gentlemen walks by with two bowls of the chili. His left bowl slips on its plate. Trying to right it, his right arm reflexively moves to balance. Both bowls spill a quarter of their contents onto the floor, which splatters about equally in all directions. A well-dressed youngish businessman suddenly looks appalled at the spill and the fact two drops of the chili hit his apparently expensive shoes. He sighed with a passion, making a big fuss about getting a wet papertowel to wipe his shoes immediately. I've worked in one of the nation's most prestigious country clubs in my younger days, making a buck shining, dying, and polishing some of the most expensive shoes the world has to offer. Looking down at this guy's soles it was abundantly clear his cost him about $95, as opposed to the $2000 he wanted everyone to think they cost. I despise people who make a huge hubbub just so people think they have money. Buddy, think about the fact your lunch cost $12 and you waited 40 minutes for it. You're not as well-off as you're trying to appear.

It was obviously the bistro's fault the man spilled and their fault this guy's shoes were now dirty. He demanded the manager refund his meal (all $12) and apologize.

"I'm sorry sir, I cannot comp a meal because another patron accidently spilled something on the floor. As you can see, you were not the only one effected by the spill." (he motioned to my shoes) "I will however get someone to clean it up immediately."

This bistro drama turned comedy as the young employee summoned for clean-up emerged from the back...with a dustpan and broom.

"I think you're gonna need a mop." giggled one soccermom.

"Uh..." awkward pause....

He then put his head down and swept the solid bits of chili into the dustpan and walked away. This did not clean up the chili by any means. Next came a young girl with a wet rag. She threw it on the spill and pushed it around with her foot for a while. Satisfied the floor was sufficiently slimy, she placed a "wet floor" sign and walked away also.

We all stared at the sad attempt at a clean up, trying to stifle our laughter. My name was called and I retrieved the food I had almost forgotten. The red-faced manager emerged from the back with a mop... I then realized I had an 8 hour shift of my own that afternoon.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006 by Ospite.
0 notations

There are three primary reasons for a restaurant to crash: Host/Front End staff set a bad pace. Wait staff is weak. Kitchen is pathetic. Combine any of those and disaster tends to ensue. As I've mentioned, I was brought on board to deal with the first one. We are almost done. After removing two members from their place and hiring two new and training them adequately, we are well on our way to successfully preparing a floor for a solid meal. The wait staff still needs a little work. So does the kitchen.

I've made a habit of walking to the line and discussing the kitchen pace with the culinary manager so as to better guage the influx of customers on any given night. If I seat the floor too hastily, or bog down certain waitpeople the kitchen will collapse from a business perspective. If the floor lacks a groove and instead feels the jarring thumbs-out, kicking motion of an Elaine dance move, the kitchen falls to pieces. When this happens, it is required that I creatively hold back the droves.

There are few things as humiliating as open tables that cannot be sat because our kitchen cannot contain the load of a 70%-full dining room.

"Good evening. There will be a 15 minute wait for a table of two tonight. Your name please?"

"Can we simply go to the bar and order food from the bartender?"

"I apologize, but the food service itself has nothing to do with the floorplan tonight, nor which waiters are where. Our kitchen has run into some trying times and thus I must hold briefly at the door."

"Oh."

At least honesty works with most people. I have moved past making excuses and have settled on just telling it like it is. I have found only 1 in 10 gives me a hassle. When they do, and if they leave, I am not hurt. They are the type that finds some tiny insignificant thing to complain about so as to either feel superior or get things free. They are the patrons whose business I would gladly lose. They end up costing us money. No matter what the circumstances at the front door, I will give the patron my best answer.

Sunday evening was running smoothly. The groove was good, the floor was full. The wait was only 5-15 minutes depending on party size, and the turnover rate was wonderful. In walks the 27year old queen of the world. I could tell upon her entrance that I was supposed to bow. Clearly I should have received that memo. Eye contact shocked me. Meaning that she made any with the Help. I swear I saw a leash on the puppy of a boyfriend, but when I blinked it was gone.

"2. Table for 2."

"I have the perfect table for you. The two occupying it now are leaving as we speak. It shall be bussed and I will take you to it. I suspect a 5 minute wait at most as the other party departs."

"I don't want to wait. If I can't be sat immediately we're not eating here."

"I'm sorry for the inconvenience."

She stormed out to her car: 1.5 minutes. I assume the following they did as well... Drove to a nearby restaurant of similar menu: 2.5 minutes. Walked from car to door: 1.5 minutes. Demanded to be sat immediately: 1 minute. If they were in fact sat immediately: 45 seconds to walk to the table and sit. Total: 7.25 minutes. It is times like these I wish the waitstaff could see what I really do for them each and every night.
Sunday, March 05, 2006 by Ospite.
1 notations

It was a long night and after 9 hours on the floor and 2 more to go, I was beginning to become a tad weary. The trattoria was running an 80-minute wait with no sign of stopping. The floor was in a whirl that took me back to the classic:

There's no earthly way of knowing
Which direction we are going
There's no knowing where we're rowing
Or which way the river's flowing

Is it raining, is it snowing
Is a hurricane a-blowing

Not a speck of light is showing
So the danger must be growing
Are the fires of Hell a-glowing
Is the grisly reaper mowing

Yes, the danger must be growing
For the rowers keep on rowing
And they're certainly not showing
Any signs that they are slowing

1971chocolate

Part of me wished I was on whatever the director was on when they shot that scene. Three tables of ridiculously difficult people two of whom wanted our new guy (Tony) fired due to his poor organizational skills when it came reservations. There was apparently some discrepancy on the front end as to whether or not the reservations were held, and then each table had to wait half the average quote time of the evening. Desserts or drinks comp-ed, the steam ceased exiting their ears.

Still another table complained:
"Listen, I'm Italian, and this is NOT how they cook it. I don't like it at all and I'm not going to pay for it."
MY response was less than professional...well, the response in my head:
"Well, tell you what....I know a great place where you can get legitimate Italian food the way you like it... IT'S CALLED YOUR KITCHEN!"

Luckily they made the brutal mistake of saying they didn't "like" the food. Not that it was undercooked, or found hair in it, or the waiter was rude...but that they didn't "like" the food. Personal taste preference doesn't change whether or not you are required to pay for the meal. The check was paid in full, and the tip, luckily, was enough as if to say "We're trying to cover up the fact we made complete fools of ourselves."

10.5 hours of wine, bread, pasta, and fatuous demands brought me to a semi-jovial 8top that wandered in. A birthday requiring two tables be joined to accomodate their numbers. This unfortunately meant tight quarters in the back of the restaurant and I stepped back to allow two ladies take their seats as I gave the nightly speech. Now, I have a tendancy to talk animatedly in Italian style (i.e. with my hands). My left hand went from raised/open position to lowered/opened position just as woman #2 backed up...right into my open hand. The unintentional goosing of this patron lasted a mere 0.2 seconds and was ended with a brief apology and "Excuse me, please, ma'am." She shot me a pleased look and what my exhausted eyes believed to be a wink and a smile. My face red, and Mr. Harry Connick, Jr. now crooning in my head, it was clearly time that I clock out.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006 by Ospite.
0 notations

While acting as the Two Bobs, Rob (Gen Manager) and I have brought on board another front end employee. A twenty-something male, Tony. New to the business, he's taking cues from two girls up front as well as myself. From customer service to assorted trattoria duties, we're training him from the ground up. While noble and polite, he has a supercilious air at times. We enjoy having him on the team.

Last weekend I abstained from my normal hours and took 2.5 days off. During those shifts, Tony had the opportunity to work strictly with Angela and Becca. These are the jackals of the front end. I adore them both, but they can tear even the strongest man to shreads if his skin isn't thick enough. Tony is still working on his callouses, so I requested the girls soften their blows, though only if lightly. I stopped in late the other night to reorganize a station and peruse our newest menu items. Angela was working.

"So, how'd he do this weekend?"

"My god, man! He IDOLIZES you!"

"What? How do you mean?"

"You know how you do silly accents and speak in Italian and stuff? Well, he's trying to do all that. And you have conversations with the patrons, polite, keep them interested. He does that too, but they're stupid conversations about nothing and those dining simply seem annoyed."

"Really? It can't be all that bad."

For the past two days I have been working with Tony and assessing the situation. We decided several experiments were in order to see if he might be coming up with his own material or if he was sampling mine. New Italian words...he took and used. The Irish and British accents I use to piss off our bartender from time to time, he sampled those too. Everything down to little tunes I get stuck in my head and then hum to produce sanity again. There was one final test. From time to time, one of our bussers and I do a little 'bit' involving the patented highly-effeminate lisp and dramatic hand motions. We waited until Tony was nearby and launched into our tiny one-act.

As sure as the toasted ant found in someone's Sicilian pizza last night, Tony picked up the voice and the hands. For two shifts now, he has randomly inserted this behavior into conversations. Our next mission: decide whether we should say something, or toy with him a bit...

At your service, Ospite

I am not in the restaurant business, I am in the people business. I use every opportunity to people watch, because to me, even the most mundane is fascinating.

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