Monday, April 30, 2007

George:"What is it that you do for a living, Newman?"

Newman:"I'm a United States Postal Worker"

George:"Aren't those the guys that always go crazy..."

Newman:"Sometimes...Because the mail never stops. It just keeps coming and coming and coming. There's never a letup. It's relentless. Every day it piles up more and more, but the more you get out, the more it keeps coming. And then the barcode reader breaks, and then it's Publisher's Clearinghouse Day..."

"I'm not saying it's right...but I understand..."--Chris Rock

A day in the life...part 2

4:00pm--a quick drive home and change of clothes leaves me with roughly 40 minutes of cherished solitude. As the restaurant is closed to the public and I plan to be back by 5pm, emergency possibilities are limited and I leave my cell phone in the car. Now, I am not a huge fan of TV as a rule, but it does come in handy during these mid-afternoon breaks [when I get them] and in the dead of night when I am home and trying to block out the horrors of the evening just ended. Obviously, however, these aren't exactly the "prime time" viewing hours and I rely heavily on TiVo. As the pace of my TiVo recording far outpaces my viewing, today I take a few minutes to thin the herd of waiting programs before the system memory gets full and I miss the chance to record some upcoming favorites. A commercial-free Simpsons, most of a Family Guy, and diet sodas #15 and #16 later I am back in the car

5:10pm--back in the restaurant....several guests already in the lounge using alcohol to block out the horrors of their days just ended, as well as a party of 8 with a 5:30pm reservation [first available of the evening]. The 8 is demanding to be seated early because, the host tells my simpering maitre d', "I see waiters and I see tables and people are already DRINKING, there is no reason for us to have to wait". This maitre d', who is my second-in-command in name only, and not much more in reality than an unattractive male hostess, would normally cave in but sees me watching him out of the corner of his eye. The party of 8 continues to wait.

Popping into my office, my assistant gives me a thankfully positive report on lunch, lets me know that none of the 7 voicemails waiting for me sounded urgent to her, and watches with me as my hung-over young waiter dashes past my office window [that looks out on the kitchen] en route to the bathroom to expel the stubborn remnants of Mexico's finest.

two quick phone calls from the beverage director and restaurant manager of our other property.

The beverage manager is having a problem with one of his salesmen who is not giving him or the property the respect they deserve--even though a new restaurant, it is already very busy as well as the little sister of one of the most prominent properties in town. The salesman is treating our manager like a newbie running a pizza parlor--trying to ransom allocated items with "suggested" companion items or holding them back entirely while dropping his discount rate and tacking un-ordered stuff on the deliveries. I give my associate two suggestions--he can tell the salesman that I am unhappy with the way the program is being run and am threatening to take it over myself. This should scare the salesman straight--he will realize that I will bring along my own salesman and that he will lose a top-rated new account and the attached income. This scenario also allows my associate to retain his public autonomy and forge a useful, if false, sense of alliance with the difficult liquor/wine rep. The second option is that I throw the salesman off the property--simpler and more straightforward but likely to create a situation whereby my associate is constantly being asked by successive people if his decisions have my blessing, and the distributor people will automatically include me in their dealings with my associate. I am in favor of the first option, but leave the decision to him and time to think about it.

The restaurant manager's problem is a trip down memory lane. He and I have known each other for about six years, and have worked together nearly eighteen months. He is intelligent, charming, and efficient--but he is not me--meaning our respective employer has not come to know and trust him over the course of nearly a decade. Our new restaurant has made its name and great initial success on seafood in a town where "seafood" means catfish, crawdads, and tilapia--we built the cowtown version of Aqua. It is packed nightly with people eating what one of our regular guests described as "vacation food", meaning fish and shellfish that cannot be self-caught via nearby river, stream, or bog. This unqualified newborn success is owed in great part of the competence of my manager friend, but he is not hearing it. What he is hearing are the facts that the restaurant was nearly $1 million over budget opening [before he was even hired]and that the monthly fedex bill for fish deliveries is nearly $30,000.00 not counting the cost of the fish. He knows they are full every night, and that both revenue and check average are well beyond predictions, but what he is hearing is that he is running a wasteful restaurant, and that things need to be corrected. My advice is simple--calm down, have a good night, and we will talk [and drink] after the shift and I will give him some tips. Diet soda #17 and half of #18 went down during the converstaion.

5:40pm--still thinking how nice it would have been to have had someone to call when I was starting out, I grab my jacket and head to the floor. Once guests are seated in the dining room they become my single focus, and I can't get anything else done. As I walk toward the front I pass the seated 8 and hear the host telling his server that "they deserve something extra for being made to wait so long". Nearing the front desk I make the maitre d' admit to having read and understood the notes I placed in the system regarding limits while I was on the phone--watching Open Table from my office I could see him taking all comers and risking smooth operation later on in the evening. I inform him that no more reservations will be taken between 7pm and 9pm unless they go through me personally. I make sure that he sees me check the pending arrival counts each half hour and write them down--the implication being that if they go up any more during prime time that I will know I was disobeyed. We are already dangerously over-booked in four slots--all he cares about is the extra money this may generate for him tonight. No thought whatsoever about the big picture.

6:30pm--I am rolling. For the next three hours I am in a constant state of motion throughout the entire property. However, before I get into my groove, I have a face-to-face stand-off with my "best friend" with the inpromptu party of 26, who wants to wait to order. So far this guy has given shit to the valets, the maitre d', the hostesses, and the bartender--his guests are all arrived, they are in a good mood and ready to go, but this 5' 5" bundle of self-importance decides to go Napoleon on me for putting him "on the pay no mind". My little buddy thinks he's marching through Paris, but he's actually at Waterloo--my lounge is full, someone needs a wine suggestion, and the drug rep hosting one of the private functions is flagging me down from across the room. Little Guy wants to wait--fine. I inform him that the hostesses will pick up the menus now, and bring them back at 8:45pm. Now, I need this guy's tables back no later then 9pm, but he doesn't know that. All he knows is that he's important and has a brand new Cadillac and I am a head waiter who can't be allowed to get the best of him. He informs me that if that's the best I can do, he has to find himself a new favorite steakhouse, to which I express disappointment, then ask whether he wants to eat now, at 8:45pm, or if he plans to find that new favorite with his 25 guests right now? The order is in 8 minutes later. I am at diet soda #22 or #23 but am not sure--what I am most concerned about is that I am on my last 6pk--I grab my pad and put "buy soda" at the top of the page.

Early evening dickheads out of the way, I go on to open roughly 45 of the nearly 70 bottles of wine ordered in the dining room, using that unobtrusive time at the tables to guage how things are going with various parties. I chat with regulars at our bar and in our lounge--clear glasses, replace napkins, ask after children, buy the occassional round here and there. One of our best guests stops in just to give me $100--we did a great job with his wife's birthday party during the previous week, but he forgot to see me on the way out--he is apologetic. I am more honored by his courtesy in making the special trip than I am the benjamin, but am delighted with both. The guy with the 8-top hits me with $50 on the way out, announcing largely that the "birthday dessert made up for the unacceptable wait"--once again I love the $50, but am equally delighted with the fact that we charged for the dessert and that this tool felt it worth $50 to grandstand in front of his guests. I routinely pit stop at our front desk, adding to the hellos and goodbyes as guests move past and joking with the hostesses to keep up morale--under the best of circumstances, hostesses are hard to come by and good ones harder to keep. Mine are the best, but hate to work with the incompetent maitre d' and require constant diversion to keep their spirits up--I change my $50 from Mr. 8-top and split it between the two girls. I save Napoleon $25/btl on his wine selections by suggesting equally good but cheaper bottles.

7:30pm--I have sweated through my collar right on schedule, and the expanding moisture is working its way outward--on a busy night it can get halfway down my back. You try walking twelve miles a night in a business suit and dress shoes while at Restaurant DEFCON 2. Soda #24 is history--I pop the others out of the plastic rings, cut the rings open and throw them away, and promise to ration the last few cans.

8pm--kitchen is holding up well. A few steaks have gone back--one we undercooked, one we overcooked, and two were perfect, but not how the guests wanted them. We have a funky prep for our salmon entree that I hate and that causes me a fair amount of annoyance, but so far only one complaint. The drug rep who flagged me down earlier to tell me he was going to overflow his room and needed either a larger room or at the very least a table for 12 "nearby" actually ended up 6 people short of his guaranteed attendance. He is now just as angry over having to pay for the short six as he was earlier about us not being able to accomodate his extra 12. At least he's consistent.

8:30pm--The bottle of wine I brought from home for our anniversary guests is from a winery the guests visited during their honeymoon twenty-six years ago. The husband is speechless that I remembered the story from years ago when we were discussing wine tasting, and his wife bursts into tears. The bottle is very expensive, but was a Christamas gift to me from a distributor many years ago, and while a world-class wine it is not to my personal taste--I won't miss it. The guests themselves are wealthy, but not the type to drop the kind of money on a bottle of wine that purchasing this one from my list would require. In one moment, I forget all about Napoleon, the drug rep, and even my maitre d', as I am able to actually do the kind of thing that makes this business so wonderful. Dinners are going out to a number of large parties. I am splitting my time between checking on meals already served, helping to carry trays out, keeping the noise level down, and continuing to open bottles of wine. Drinks start to back up at service, and I come up to find the bartenders burning down the huge ice well after breaking a glass--while they are burning, orders are piling up. I direct them to fill clean buspans with ice, set them atop the bad ice, and work out of them till the end of the night--they look at me like I'm Galileo back from the grave, but I just don't need to hear anyone bitch about a late-arriving rob roy right now.

9:30pm--starting to slow down. I send home the opening bartender and a hostess, check on our valet parkers to make sure they aren't too backed up [nothing worse than waiting in the cold too long for your car to make you forget about a great dinner]--they aren't my employees, but I can have them reassigned, and it is a very profitable gig--they respect my concerns. Valet looks good, maitre d' tells me everything was a piece of cake, closing hostess fills me in on a few missteps when maitre d' walks away [nothing too serious], and then two guys at a cocktail table near the front door flag me over. The guys are good-natured, and buzzed. They hand me a napkin with a number count on it, line counts totalling 36. When I joke that I hope that isn't a beer count, they counter that they wish it was, but that in actuality that is the number of times the maitre d' greeted arriving guests with exactly the same phrase--word for word. I am embarrassed, though I know the guys were just goofing. They are local brokers who stop in on occassion, and knowing that as well as the fact that they are slightly over-served, I try a little joke. With a thick, vaguely Eastern European accent, I respond "thank you to tell me what I already know..."--a line from the "Citizen Kane" of stockbroker movies--"Wall Street". They get the joke, break up laughing, and I escape.

10:00pm--I am trying to wrap things up so that I can get over to our other restaurant--while I am rarely there during service, I am technically it's general manager, as all the other managers report to me. I promised to have a drink with my friend the restaurant senior, and also need to meet about some menu and wine changes as well as staffing. My feet hurt, as they have most nights for the last six years or so, and I have a headache--when Napoleon flags me down from the bar, the headache gets worse. Steeled for another assault I approach, only to have him put $200 in my palm and apologize--everything was great, my guests loved it, I dropped the ball with the party, I know you did your best, etc. etc. I make a mental note as I have many times before to steer clear of anyone who needs to be hammered to be decent.

10:30pm--say goodbye to our anniversary guests, collecting the husband's extremely generous gratuity in the process. I make sure the wine steward is up to speed with remaining service on the floor, hand him half the money I collected while opening wine [making his night in the process], tell the maitre d' that I am leaving but will be returning [to keep him honest], close the kitchen, make sure the chef is already at or en route to our other property, and, grabbing lonely last diet soda #29, head out to my late night staffer.

1:30am--with a placated if still slightly frustrated restaurant senior in my wake, I leave our sister restaurant after a few beverages, and with the bonus result of a very efficient manager's meeting concluded in addition to my personal talk. Back to my restaurant to confirm proper closing, and then one last nightcap at a neighborhood place that somehow manages to stay open an hour later than everyone else. I am both exhausted and wide awake.

2:20am--home, changed, and watching TV in bed, diet soda #30 on the nightstand. Right before nodding off around 3:30am I double-check my alarm and write one last note on top of the pad I have had nearby all day to chronicle my events for this post--"buy soda".


Blogger Janejill said...

Wow ...excellent. I am now exhausted.. Hope you have a lot of readers as this shouldn't go to waste.

11:03 AM  

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