Thursday, August 28, 2008

"How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours..."--Wayne Dyer

"My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand..."--Thich Nhat Hanh

"Helena is looking for you..." Great. Helena is one of our bartenders, and if she's looking for me that means there is a problem--its also the middle of a Saturday night and I am busy--no, I'm more than busy--I'm in the weeds big time.

Steeling myself for the worst, but still hoping the problem might be as simple as her needing a back-up bottle of something, I head for the bar. Getting up there I see our other bartender busy in the service well, but no sign of Helena--however we are a big restaurant and she could easily still be looking for me--as I turn to go hunt her down a guest at the far side of the bar starts frantically waving to get my attention--assuming that this person is the reason Helena was seeking me out in the first place I head over to see what's up.

"Yes sir, how can I--"

"It's tangy. It's vinegar-ey. I don't like it!", interrupts a tiny, pinch-faced woman sitting next to the gentleman who had waved me over.

"There's clearly something wrong with the wine. Try it. You'll have to agree." Now this is the waver, gesturing disgustedly toward a decanter sitting on the bar before his party of three. In an instant it all starts to come back--about ten minutes before I had dropped a bottle of Quintessa off at the bar, and then about five minutes after that Pete the other bartender had come to me and gotten a decanter for it. I remembered thinking at the time that the decanter was odd, as Quintessa is a pretty soft wine, but just wrote the request off to a "Wine Spectator" expert and went back to digging myself out of the weeds. It was now clear and obvious that I should have brought the decanter up myself.

Looking quickly I see that most of the wine is still accounted for, dismissing one type of scam perpetrated when a small party will quickly drink half a bottle between them and then attempt to return the rest, usually getting a much cheaper bottle as replacement.

Reaching over I grab the decanter, lift it near my face, and inhale deeply through my nose. Just as I expected--the wine Not corked wine or maderized wine, but perfectly good over-priced California blended red wine.

"Well sir, the wine doesn't seem corked, but as a courtesy you're welcome to make the choice of another wine from the list", I say, politely and with a smile on my face.

"But you didn't even taste it! It's vinegarrrreeeyyyyyyy!"--pinch-face again.

"Sir, miss, I'm terribly sorry you didn't find the wine to your taste, and as I mentioned, you are welcome to choose another from the list--I would just ask that you not choose another bottle of Quintessa, because this bottle seems sound."

"You didn't taste it"' --waver this time.

"He didn't taste it...he didn't even taste it"--pinch-face yet again, first to the waver, then to the so far blessedly silent third member of their party.

"Listen", waver starts again, this time throwing in the finger wag for emphasis, "We've had Quinatesta [sic] lots of times, and it doesn't taste like shit. This tastes like shit. I think so, she thinks so, and my brother-in-law thinks so [as waver says this, brother-in-law immediately hops off his stool with neither word nor backward glance and makes a bee-line for the men's room]. I've only sent about ten bottles of wine back in my entire life, and I've never had to deal with anything like this. And you won't even taste this shitty-tasting Quinatesta [sic].

Now, right here I knew I was fucked. Anyone who admits to sending back "only...about ten bottles of wine" is, first, lying. A person who is a big enough cock to admit sending back ten bottles of wine, even over an entire dining lifetime [this guy was in his mid-forties], is a serial offender who has probably done it [or at least attempted to do it] scores of times, so much so that admitting to the ten no longer seems horrific and unacceptable, which of course it is. But, I was already hip-deep in this quicksand of douchebaggery and there wasn't much to lose by slogging forward.

"I don't want to seem dismissive, sir, and I have no doubt you have had this wine before as you state, but the smell of a corked wine is very often much stronger then the taste. This wine, which I have also encountered numerous times, smells perfectly fine to me. Taste is subjective in everyone, and can be effected by a wide range of outside factors--that's why I'm happy to offer you any other bottle of wine--but if I bring you another bottle of Quintessa I am quite sure that it is going to taste no different than this one , which means you will do one of two things. You will either fight your way through it without enjoying it, or you will attempt to send that bottle back as well, and I can't endorse either of those results I'm afraid. I'm sorry if it seems like you're being subjected to unacceptable treatment, but while we are a hospitality concern, we are also a business that must have reasonable controls over its valuable inventory.

"What do you mean, 'corked wine'?"

Seeing the chance to possibly explain to this retard why he wasn't getting his way, I was delighted to answer, "In almost every case of a wine being bad sir, the reason is an improperly sanitized cork [for purposes of my brevity and his idiocy I elected not to mention the rare cases of cork taint being caused by contaminated winery facilities, and also skipped over the very rare cases of maderized wine]. If the cork isn't properly sanitized, an organic compound can form on it that will interact with the wine, destroying it. The result can be dull and muted flavors, but more obviously the smells that result from this contamination are moldy, wet smells--some describe wet dog, wet newspaper, and wet basement smells. The aromas are usually strong, sometimes overpowering, and aren't to be found in this particular bottle of wine we have in front of us".

As I finished speaking, I looked up hoping to see the dawning of understanding, but should have known better.

"So, I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about, is that what you're telling me, hotshot?"

"He didn't even TAAYYYSSSTT it", again Pinchie.

"By all means, ma'am, let me allay your concerns". I grabbed a glass from the shelf behind me, poured an inch of wine into it, smelled it again, and drank. Once again I found perfectly good over-priced California wine.


"Like I said before, all taste is subjective, but this tastes like perfectly good Quintessa to me."

"Then you fucking drink it..."

Suddenly my Saturday night came to a halt in an instant. Here I was again in the place where I am finding myself [and all my friends are complaining of the same thing] far too often of late, thinking with a smile on my face that you can't spell 'hospitality' without 'hospital', and wondering how long this guy would be eating through a straw once I finished with him and if I could find a lawyer good enough to impanel a jury full of restaurant workers.

"I'm not asking you to drink it, sir. I'm offering to take it back and let you choose another bottle from the more than 800 other choices on the list. If you don't care to do that, you are welcome to enjoy your dinner without wine. If neither of those two choices are acceptable, I will cancel your entrees, have you checked out just for your cocktails and appetizers, and you may seek "Quinatesta" and dinner elsewhere, with our regrets of course.

"No sir, that won't be necessary", brother-in-law finally breaks the vow of silence. "I'll be happy to make another choice from the winelist and I'm sure it will be fine".

After handing brother-in-law the list I headed back to the floor for what would prove, as a result of my five wasted minutes with the sphincter twins, to be one of the hardest Saturday nights in memory as I ran behind for the next two hours.

As I was leaving the bar Helena grabbed me, "I'm sooo sorry--I was trying to get to you first, I had a back story to give you that explains everything."

"Great", I said, "Save it for later--it'll be entertainment while I drink myself to death--give the rest of the Quintessa to the McIllnenny's [a father and two sons, all firefighters, who come to our bar once a month for a guys night out]".

As the night came to a close, I did indeed return to our now deserted bar to bask in the soft, non-judgemental glow of my new love, Three Olives flavored vodkas [two flavors specifically that will remain top secret lest I be identified by my newest liquid vice]. The first glass I emptied in a matter of about a minute. Halfway through the second Helena came over to fill me in...

"Well, I've actually got two things about that dick to tell you now. The first thing I wanted to tell you before you went behind the bar was the story they told me when they first sat down. When they first sat I hadn't gotten busy yet, so I was chit-chatting and I asked them if they were locals and they said no, they were in town for [no big surprise, a labor union event that I will redact]... I asked them if they had been to any other good restaurants, and they said 'no good ones'. They went on to say that they had gone to Asshat O' Herlihy's last night and had had a horrible meal [our self-proclaimed 'biggest competition', this is the restaurant I had mentioned in an earlier post that seemingly set out for no good reason to directly challenge us and has not been doing well--it is probably costing its misguided owner $200,000.00 a month in losses and is rumored to be closing any day]. They said the service sucked, the food sucked, the dinner took three hours, and then the guy said, 'and we had to send three corked bottles of wine back before we found one we liked', then--"

"WAIT--he said 'corked'. You're sure, he said 'corked'?", I asked.

"Yeah I'm sure, but I'm so sorry. What happened then was that party of fifteen came in and that other eight came in and they all hit the bar and I got weeded and I didn't even know they were going to have dinner and Pete took over with them and the next thing I know they've got wine and it wasn't till they started to complain and want to talk to someone and I tried to find you but then you got there first and I'm so sorry."

"Forget about it. What you just told me takes the guy from being an entitled moron, which is bad enough, and promotes him to a lying, conniving piece of shit--shit like that is obviously how he gets his jollies and I didn't let him get away with it this time and what you told me lets me know I made the right decision. Cocksucker knows all about corked wine, real or not. Of course he does."

As Helena turned to get me glorious drink #3, I remembered the other thing she mentioned, "Helena, what was the other story?"

"Oh, that's the best. You remember you had me give the bottle to the firemen--oh yeah, they left this for you [she hands me $50]--well, once we started to slow down a little they asked about the bottle, and they come so often and they're like family so I told them the story [I frown a little here, but I don't really mind], and did you know Joe [the dad, sort of a cross between R. Lee Ermey and Randy Savage--big and bad, though unfailingly courteous] worked on a cruise ship when he was a kid? So anyway, they'd already had beers and a bottle of wine when I brought the Quintessa over, so they were feeling good, and when I told them the story Joe got a weird look on his face and he got all quiet and--hey Pete, come 'ere. Pete actually heard what he said, Pete! What did Joe Fireman say to that tool down in service 1?"

Pete walks over, a big smile on his face, "Joe walked up behind the guy who gave you all the shit and tapped him on the shoulder. When the guy turned around he had a nasty look on his face, I think maybe he thought it was going to be you. When he turned around all he could see was Joe Fireman's chest and the look on his face went right away and Joe said, 'Mister, I just wanted to let you know, I've been drinking wine for forty years and that bottle of Quintessa is one of the finest I've ever had. Thanks for being such a terrible jackass. Make sure you tip my daughter real well, now!' And then he slapped the guy on the back like you see guys do sometimes, but it looked really hard, and then he came back to his side of the bar. Man, it was great."

"What did he leave?", I asked.

"$200 on $500. That slap must have really loosened up the prick's wallet."

Normally such an exchange, even in our favor like that, would trouble me. But in all honesty I'm just glad the good guys came out on top for once.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantastic post! Been reading your blog for a fair amount of time and love your writing.

I love to hear about people having the nerve to speak out when outrageous behavior is seen/heard from other even if they are strangers. The look on jackass's face must have been priceless when confronted like that with the back slap!

6:32 PM  
Anonymous Syd said...

Another lurker de-lurking to applaud this post. I will NEVER understand why people feel it's acceptable to be...well, you and Helena pretty thoroughly covered what they were!

I have to say that while I've received poor service on occasion, most of the folks who've waited on me have been above average to excellent. It's got to be one of the world's toughest jobs, and I admire all who can do it well and come out with anything remotely resembling their sanity intact.

Again, thanks for the latest in a long line of terrific posts!

9:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for posting again. I love your stories. I can't beleive you don't have so many more comments. If you were to change anything I hope it would be for you to write a book. You are that good. I know you have lots of stories you haven't shared. Thanks again. Bob

12:56 PM  
Anonymous William Keleher said...

LOH - a bit off-topic, but since you probably try more different wines in a week than most of get to try in a year, I think it would be very interesting to hear some of your wine recommendations should you be willing to share them.

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really like your blog. I'm an American expat living in Germany. Although Europeans have a bad wrap in the US, (bad tipping, which I totally understand pisses you off), I can honestly say that in restaurants here I have never see the bad behavior that you and others (waiterrant) describe. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, I've just never witnessed anyone throwing any sort of hissy fit in any restaurant, especially in a fine-dining restaurant. How you take it is beyond me!


5:54 AM  

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