Monday, July 31, 2006 by Ospite.
9 notations

Saturday. Packed solid as usual. Our walk-in wait was roughly 85 minutes and our reservations booked completely with no room to spare. I was up front covering for an ill co-worker.

She very slowly and dramatically. About 40, black tank, khaki shorts, hair pulled up, and two crutches to support her broken ankle.

"How long is your wait for four?"
"About an hour-fifteen."
"What?! That's crazy. Can't you see I'm on crutches? My ankle is broken!"
"I'm sorry ma'am, but without a reservation, I can't bump the rest of the wait list to get you a table."
"Can't you just ask someone else for their spot in line?"
"I can't do that. Reservations are the only ones that aren't effected by the walk-in list, and reservations must be taken 90 minutes in advance."
"Fine. I cannot stand around for over an hour with crutches. If you refuse to do anything then I'll do it myself. I'll ask around and see if people will give me their spot."
"Be my guest."
"Can I see the list so I know who to ask?"
"No you may not."

She then proceeded to ask around hoping someone would relinquish their relished position in line. It's like being chosen for the promised land. Obviously most people simply stared at her as she milked the injury for all it was worth. As time passed, she convinced her children to come up to the podium every five minutes to check on the status. You'd think I'd be exaggerating...but I'm literally not. We started timing them.

Finally their time had come. We brought them to the first available table.

"Wait, what is this?"
"The first available table. Is there a problem?"
"Where am I supposed to put my foot up?"
"We can pull up an extra chair here so you can keep it elavated."
"No no. We need more room. Isn't there a table with more room?"
"This is the first thing we have open. I don't know when the next one will get up. So it's this one, or you can wait again in the bar."
"Fine. FINE! We'll stay here. But our service better be damn good!"

I strolled past her waitress on her way to greet the table."

"Have fun with that one."
"Bossy?"
"Yeah watch out. She's the Crutchmaster."
"What?"
"You'll find out."
Wednesday, July 26, 2006 by Ospite.
4 notations

Typical Sunday late lunch. Not remarkably busy, but steadily rushed. The bored Sunday diners, the bustling post-church patrons, the "we only eat out on weekends" customers, and the run of the mill "I have to get what I want now because we're out on a special day and we deserve more than anyone else" guys out with their mothers.

I'm holding a small section and have decided to keep it that way, turning other tables over to other more spirited waiters today. I'm tired and my feet hurt. I want a nap. I suddenly feel old. Stretched. Like butter scraped across too much bread. I need a holiday...

Standing idly next to the kitchen I see my table for four become a table for two. Excellent. My lucky break. As I approach I realize something is awry here. The couple has not spoken a word to each other since entering the trattoria. With most couples, this tends to mean they are fighting and it will be a tense meal.

I do the greet, the speech, the drinks, take the order. Still bare minimum from these two to me and nothing at all to each other. They simply look around the restaurant rather than at each other. Neither seem upset or irritated. Just apathetic. They eat is silence, drink their coffee in silence, and I realize that my role too, should be silent. These folks have become my oasis on the dry and weary land that is my dining room. I grow to love them deeply. I learn to love the silence. I am sad when their check is ready and I must send them on their way. The hour of verbal abstinence was lovely.

Part of me was still awake, and I was curious about their take on the dining experience. I glanced at a note scrawled on the receipt they left:

"Thanks so much! It was a wonderfully relaxing lunch. We'll be back!"

I await their return with baited breath.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006 by Ospite.
3 notations

Just so everyone knows, I disabled the requirement to be a blogspot member for comment. Now anyone can comment, member or not! I love the feedback. Ciao tutti!
Saturday, July 22, 2006 by Ospite.
11 notations

We are booked solid and I take 5 seconds to gaze across the dining room...my battlefield.

I actually prefer a smaller section where I can attend to the guests' every whims, making witty conversation, and make sure the dining experience is flawless. I come off as the people-pleaser type, but really, underlying it all, I'm a manipulative goal-setter who looks at each table as a personal conquest. The goal is to make them more happy than they've ever been at a restaurant, which in turn makes them give me the most money possible. It's a win/win. They're happy, I'm happy. Until I'm running around like a chicken with my head cut off.

At a certain point, there's a level of being terse that's required in order to spend only the bare minimum of time at each table so you can tend to the others just long enough to cover what's required and hurry off to do the next.

I have 3 minutes before the steak comes up at table 30 for the man who's been a waiter's bane all night. Before I retrieve it, I have to check on a nearby table who recently received their main course...the quality check.

"How is everything?" What I want to hear is 'Fabulous.'

"Um, well, my pasta is cold." The exact opposite of fabulous. I'm taking heavy fire, being flanked.

"Would you like my to have it reheated?" Trying to push back the onslaught.

"No, no. It's ok. I'll order something else. May I see a menu to refresh the choices in my head?" The fire is too heavy, my line is pushed back. The steak for 30 is up. I've lost the high ground.

This is when I declare it too busy for anyone's good. When I approach a table and pray I need to spend only 5 seconds there. Anything longer breaks my groove. That's not a groove really, that's simply hysteria...running on adrenaline.

After getting him a new menu, a new main course, getting 30's steak, going back and checking on the new main dish, going back and checking on the steak, running an assorted 15 beverages all over creation and stopping back at my first table of the evening, I find the man of the man/woman couple glaring at me. I had forgotten their tiramisu. Wait for it. The most clich├ęd pissed-off diner's line:

"How hard is your job?"
I paused, turned and gazed across my battlefield again, men wounded and crying out for their mothers. The enemy setting up camp in our domain. I turned back to the livid man with a huge smile across my face. I laughed. No reply, I laughed all the way to the kitchen to retrieve the dreaded tiramisu, all the way back, and was still chuckling as I placed the dessert on the table. As I placed it in front of his wife, I looked at him, still smiling and asked,

"Do you want to take over for me? Those two kids need chocolate milk. That guy's going to need a perfect manhattan straight up and no cherry in two minutes. Do you know the specials for tonight? because I got sat again. Don't worry, it's only a 5top that looks angry they had to wait 40 minutes for a seat. That guy's about to wave for their check. There will be two pesto dishes and a grilled halibut up for that 3top in about 30 seconds, but don't you dare forget to bring more bread with that, or your tip will drop by 5%. There's a 4top reservation due in 5 minutes right here next to you. Oh, and don't forget to please everybody all the time. How hard is your job?"

Yes. I cracked.
No. I didn't comp a thing.
Yes. He stiffed my tip on his pathetic $38 check.
No. I don't care about losing his business.
Yes. It felt fabulous.
Yes. I had regained the high ground.
Sunday, July 16, 2006 by Ospite.
3 notations

I spent a chunk of this past week in Philadelphia visiting my sister. She does a lot of work in Kensington and I was getting the grand tour. We saw the touristy things only briefly and then moved onto real Philly. There was no way we could wander through Center City on South. and not stop at Jim's Steaks for quality cheesesteaks with mushrooms and whiz.

While Jim's is a landmark in the cheesesteak world, I have to say that the dining experience that hit the spot was La Lupe. If you're in the mood for some serious Mexican food it's the place for you.

We grabbed a table outside around 9pm and our waitress was a little slow so I scoped out the joint while conversing with my sister. One cook. One waitress. 18 tables. Wednesday night. Only 6 tables were occupied.

Most of the patrons looked like locals and regulars, specific with their orders, knowing the menu well (my sister falling into that category). One of the 6 tables, however, fell clearly into the tourist category. They were rude, demanding, and couldn't understand why the waitress couldn't say more than "hi," "ok," "thank you," "you're welcome," "yes," and "no" in English. As the meal went on, I watched her table interaction closely...her nervousness is what first drew my attention. She greeted the tables with "hi" and that was it, waiting for the customers to speak first, giving their order. She then wrote the entire meal names on the ticket, no abbreviations...which is waiter suicide depending on table size. She was obviously brand new at this. But at least her body language had charm.

She held her 6 tables well and the food was fabulous. My enchiladas hit the spot with the Manzana Verde soda accompanying. Should you be in Philly and want some good Mexican, find Geno's Steaks and then head east for La Lupe.

Also, if you decide to chill at Geno's make sure you speak English, or don't expect service.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006 by Ospite.
6 notations

Stuck at the door. Yet another hostess pulls a no-call, no-show so I get shoved to the door alone for the evening. It seems our host staff is dropping like flies.

Early evening a tiny man walks in holding the hand of his son who I presume to be around 8 years old. I give the father the quick read and then the son. Father was about 40-45, high cut khakis, plain brown shoes, and a cream oxford shirt. His hair was askew and he held that prominent professor look. The son was clearly tentative about entering and seemed completely nervous about the prospect of eating out. He had the appearance of a boy who has never seen the Sun. His skin was a remarkably pale, dark circles around his eyes, as if he'd emerged from a cave. His navy blue polo was tucked into his shorts and as he gripped his father's hand with his left, his right held tightly to a Purell hand sanitizer that was in a special holster, strapped to his belt. This was going to be interesting.

Three table tries before I found one suitable for the boy who was quite particular about the position in the restaurant. Not too close to the kitchen. Not too close to the bathroom. Not too close to the front door, but not in the middle of the restaurant.

Finally sat, I ran through my small speech and then let them be. I watched from my post as the boy used the sanitizer on his silverware, his hands, and then replaced it to it's holster. Part of me wondered why he ever left the house, and part of me wondered where you get a Purell holster. He proceeded to rearrange the silverware exactly to his liking...twice. His father and he never spoke a word until after the waitress had taken their orders.

To my surprise, they sent their food back only once because it was not flawless. Actually, because there was a small sauce splatter on the rim. Sadly, the kitchen probably stirred the pasts was a spoon, wiped the rim and sent it back as a new meal. Either way, the kid ate it.

How does someone so young face the world so paranoid? I pondered that he could have a sickness that has weakened his immune system, but if that were the case, I would think his parents would then cook for him at home, not taking him out. The constant rearranging of his chair and things on the table led me to believe in a germaphobic OCD. Whatever the case, the father tipped generously, obviously clued into his son's behavior as slightly abnormal. And to be totally frank, they were surprisingly pleasant people with whom to converse. Even the seemingly weird can be a pleasant switch from the normal demands of high-strung wannabe Italians.
Sunday, July 09, 2006 by Ospite.
1 notations

Even restaurant employees have the need to visit a different establishment besides their own. It was about 930pm and I received a call from one of my fellow waitresses informing me that most of the wait staff would be ending up at a particular bar after work. My wife is working on her grad degree at present and thus I was banned from my home. Well, it was expressed that my distracting presence could best be used elsewhere as she was behind on her work. So out I went.

After utterly destroying the aforementioned waitress in a game of darts, we congregated outside because most of my fellow workers wanted to chill with a cig in one hand and a brew in the other. Our state has a strict no smoking law, so they are banished to the out of doors, spilling into the parking lot slightly. We sat around sharing stories of the evenings, narrating our guests down to the size of peas and squashing their heads under our heels. It had been a bad night on the floor.

We are an animated bunch and our war stories took quite some time. As I gestured with my right hand, I realized I had yet to get a beverage from the bar. A colleague was kind enough to toss some cash my way and I wandered in, waded through the crowd up to the bar, and shouted out for a Johnny Black on the rocks over top of the overly loud, off-pitch live music. As I was praying to retreat to the smoker's haven of the parking lot I watched as something unfolded in front of me.

A girl entered the bar, showed the doorman her ID and proceeded to procure a beer from the bartender who was ignoring me and choosing the hot patrons instead. She went outside with her beer. As the barkeep finally poured the Johnny over the refreshing ice, clinking ever so nicely in the glass, the doorman walks over, showing the ID to the bartender.

"Did you just get this girl a drink?"
"Yeah, she's drinking a Blue."
"Is that her?" he points to a different, and clearly younger girl in the doorway.
"No. Looks like her, but that's not her. Sister maybe trying to use the same ID. Bag her."

The the bouncer goes over to the girl, escorting her outside. I retrieve my drink and head back outside as well. The older sister had a beer in hand, her boyfriend also drinking, the youngest one complaining loud enough for the county to hear. At this point in time, the crowd of people escaping the music had grown to about 25 or so. Her companions finished their drinks and all 3 prepared to leave. The youngest girl had parked reasonably close to the gaggle of cancerstickers. She mounted her RAV4 and pulled out of her space. Rather than turning the wheel right and angling out of the spot, she deliberately backed straight towards the crowd, dramatically slammed on her brakes, and screamed at the top of her lungs, "CAN'T YOU SEE I'M BACKING UP HERE, PEOPLE?!"

2 seconds of silence passed as she remained motionless with more than enough room to leave without killing bystanders. Those seconds were followed by an uproarious laughter from all watching. Her wheels squealed neerly as loud as she had.

Back in the trattoria yesterday, I found myself staring off into space as I walked passed the line, bumping into the co-worker who had bought my drink. I bumped her shoulder and she nearly dropped her pasta bowl. She wailed at full volume: "CAN'T YOU SEE I'M BACKING UP HERE, PEOPLE?!" ..and followed it up with a wink and a smile.
Monday, July 03, 2006 by Ospite.
3 notations

The day before a national holiday. You'd think my 'Powers That Be' (PTB) would have the common sense to staff well for a day like today. Of course I'm heavily connoting that they did the exact opposite.

We did about $2000 more tonight than we did Saturday night, and we did it with one host, no bussers, no one calling the line, and 4 chefs instead of our usual 6. We were also 5 waiters shy of a full floor. Our standard weakling of a Monday night staff got slammed with the onslaught of a full-bore Saturday crowd.

Our costs this summer have been sky-high and the PTB have felt the pressure of running a business and not simply a dining experience. Recently, they have felt the urge to not purchase items that are key to the very business they claim to "run:"

(1) dishes. At full capacity, we run out of side plates and pasta bowls.
(2) silverware. With a full floor, we often end up seating customers without the table being set. The servers are then required to procure place settings and bring them after diners have been sat and are often already eating bread.
(3) standard glasses. at three-quarters capacity, we run out of standard glasses for water, icedtea, and soda. Tonight I actually had to hold off on bevs until the dishwasher spit out more glasses. Needless to say, that was not a pleasant tableside chat

Tonight our Service Manager was the only PTB present. Usually if needed, he'll bus tables if we happen to get a little hectic. He reached new lows tonight when the line was crashing becuase of the lack of chefs, the tickets were falling apart because no one was calling food as it came up, servers were taking far more tables than they should have been because the host was freaking out and feeling mobbed (needless to say he should not have been left alone). Each restaurant failure pulled him towards its black hole. Finally he simply ran in circles like a chicken with its head cut off, being remarkably busy doing nothing at all. Then he hid in his office. To be totally honest, I'm shocked no one either got fired or quit tonight. ...but either way, I made out like a bandit in tips.

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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