Monday, June 29, 2009

"What a heavy burden is a name that has become too famous..."--Voltaire

"Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever..."--Napoleon Bonaparte

"Someone on the phone says they need a private room".

"No problem, let them know the events coordinator will be back in the restaurant on Monday morning--they can call back, or leave a voicemail now--also ask them if they would like her email address."

"They want a private room at 5:30..."


"Yes, tonight. He says there is someone very famous and very important in the party and they need privacy."

With a sigh, "I'll be right there...

This is Last One Home, how can we help you?"

"We'll be at your restaurant in about two hours for dinner and I need to make sure we have absolute privacy--and believe me, this is as much for you as it is for us--if people see my client your restaurant will be mobbed, absolutely mobbed."

"I'm sorry, sir. All of our private accommodations are booked for this evening--I'm afraid I just don't have much to offer--"

"Move them!"

"I can't do that, sir. What we might be--"

"Just move them--we'll pay for their dinners--just tell them someone more important needed the room, but was nice enough to pay for their dinner--I don't care how big the party is."

At this point in the exchange I have to admit that I was struck dumb with surprise--and after nearly a quarter of a century in these trenches almost nothing remains that has the power to surprise me. In all the countless instances of blustering, staging, and social wrestling that I have endured, no one has ever actually put their money where their mouth was in the way that this man was doing. As soon as he uttered the words, I knew he meant them. And if I agreed to his terms, and showed them into a room that was supposed to have hosted a wedding reception for 80 guests, and later handed him a bill for $15,000 in addition to his own dinner bill, I am sure he would not have blinked. This guy's tone was, while somewhat abrasive, absolutely matter-of-fact.

It didn't mean he was going to get what he wanted--but it was impressive nonetheless.

"I believe you, sir. And I would like to help you. But I simply cannot do what you are asking--it would be betraying everything we are about."

"My client wants to eat at your restaurant as soon as we land. He simply MUST have privacy. We are at an impasse, and I am paid very, very well to make sure we do not EVER encounter an impasse. I presume you are paid...paid to make your customers happy. How can you make me and my client happy under these circumstances? By you not doing your job you are making it impossible for me to do my job.

Fifteen to twenty seconds of silence on the phone, followed by...

[sigh] Very well, what CAN you do for us?"

"Your party is arriving very early in our evening, sir. We can seat you in the very back of the restaurant, and most likely no one will be seated in your vicinity for the greater part of two hours. The earlier you arrive, the longer you'll have to yourselves."

"Back of the dining room? I'm afraid that won't [voice in the background]...hold on, please...[more voices]...very well, it seems that is acceptable. We're seven, we'll be there at 5:30."

"May I have the name, sir?"

"You won't need it." Click.

The gentleman on the phone was right, too--we didn't need a name. At 5:25pm two blacked-out suburbans pulled into our driveway and one giant man got out of each vehicle. One giant made a perimeter walk of the outside of the building while the other bounded though the doors of the restaurant and silently surveyed the interior.

"We're good," he said into a small microphone, and a moment later after the occupants of the vehicle apparently heard the same report from the exterior giant, the doors of the two vehicles flew wide--expelling first two more giants, then four devastatingly beautiful young women, and then three nondescript looking men--or more specifically two nondescript looking men and one man wearing a gigantic white panama hat.

The hat itself was a magnificent indicator of things to come. Think regular panama hat-- white, straw, almost fedora-like--and then literally make it as big as a Mexican sombrero. A caricature of a panama hat really--so big and floppy that I was oddly reminded of the Rick Moranis character "Dark Helmet" from Mel Brooks' Star Wars spoof "Spaceballs". True, the gentleman beneath this monstrosity was properly hidden from view, but the hat itself would automatically draw the attention of anyone within sight of it. The only thing that could have made it worse was if one of the giants had started screaming, "move along, move along, nothing to see here..." to the empty street adjacent to our driveway.

As this spectacular group entered the restaurant I retreated to a safe distance, wanting to observe the festivities without being personally involved.

The group was shown to their table and began to sit, until "phone guy" saw the arrangements.

"This won't do, we can't be exposed to the windows."

My maitre d', a pro's pro, smoothly began to respond, "Sir, if you're concerned about the security of the glass, it is ballistic and over an inch thick--tornado-qualified for all office buildings in this area."

"No, not bullets. Cameras. Papparazzi. We need to move--we'll sit in there," gesturing to a room filled with balloons, wrapped gifts, four tables of ten, and a huge banner reading "Happy 60th Wendy".


Apparently my polished maitre d', a bit off his game after the "papparazzi" comment, decided "direct" would be the best approach from that point forward. And for the next three minutes as he toured the entire restaurant with "phone guy" and the rest of the party in tow [exposing themselves to all of the other guests already in the restaurant, all 20 of them] he continued to say "no". "No" to the room with the AV crew setting up an LCD projector and the long table of twenty covered with literature, "no" to the small one-table room with a party of eight already seated in it, and finally "no" to the empty room that had been reserved for a party of six--a little odd in itself because those guests had readily agreed to the $2000 revenue minimum for such a small party just to have the privacy.

"That room is empty--why can't we sit there?"

"The reserved guests will be arriving within the hour, sir."

"Then we will sit here," gesturing to a hemispheric booth usually used for parties of four, with direct sight to the empty private room and in clear view of 80% of the restaurant and its soon-to-arrive guests, but away from the windows and those pesky papparazzi.

"If you believe your party will be comfortable there, sir, you are welcome to the table."

And so the six members of the party [all but "phone guy"] squeezed themselves into the booth, while "phone guy" made a beeline for my position about thirty feet away.

"I know you're the one in charge, you're the one I talked to on the phone [part of this guy was utterly ridiculous, but part of him was very impressive]. I want you to know that if that empty room doesn't get sat with a private party, I am going to be very troubled. Very troubled."

"How did you know I was the one in charge when we were speaking on the phone--I could have just been a host, or the maitre d'?" I asked the question out of real curiosity--another rarity for me these days.

"I could tell."

"Phone guy" proceeded back to the both, squeezed himself onto one end, and they all proceeded to have, presumedly, lovely meal. "Mr. Hat" turned out to be unfailingly polite, to the point of making sure everyone at the table, speaking a foreign language amongst themsleves, all spoke English whenever my staff was present. He chose two excellent $600 bottles of wine with dinner, tipped extravagently, and joked with me about the world record for the greatest number of people ever seated at one table for four.

And, when one of our closing [and foreign-born] cocktail servers arrived about an hour into his meal, we finally found out who the utterly unrecognizable man in the gigantic hat actually was. When I googled his name, here were over 6 million hits--mostly in other languages. I have no doubt that "phone guy's" concerns would have been perfectly valid--in New York, Rio de Janiero, Jakarta, Mexico City, Johannisberg, or even Miami. Here, however, he was just another guy in a ridiculous hat. Someone may have wanted to take a picture, but not of the man, just of the hat itself.

And when, also about an hour into his meal, a very well-known US governor [not ours, and not Mark Sanford] walked into the vacant private room as a guest of the host, and everyone in the restaurant recognized him--I was even off the hook with "phone guy".


Blogger G.H. said...

Oh. How exciting.
What was this mysterious guests name? You never mentioned it.

And what governor?

Love the blog.


12:40 AM  
Anonymous William said...

Awesome. Damn your blog is good, LOH.

9:15 AM  
Blogger last one home said...

mentioning either the governor or the celebrity would be possibly damning to the anonymity currently necessary. Some time in the next year I may actually retire from this business--at such time, should it occur, I will identify myself and answer any and all questions so long as i don't believe those answers would unduly wound someone I had described.

2:27 PM  
Anonymous d said...

That's hilarious! And, believe me, I sympathize because I work in the sort of place where this sort of thing happens very regularly, sort of (we deal with celebrities almost every day but we rarely get run over...but see below).

I don't think we've ever had quite the pomposity that you experienced, unless you talk about one specific very big country star demanding that we play Frank Sinatra in our private dining room (we don't have a PA in our restaurant abd never have, but we DO have an AV system in our private rooms so that people can do Powerpoint stuff). One of our managers actually had a Frank CD in their car and we brought it in.

We were there for a certain recording star's post-marriage hanging out (after he had married a certain jiggly VERY famous TV star renowned for her slow motion running skills). We have been there for very famous movie superstars-turned-musicians "dining-in-residence" weekends. We've been subjected to reality show food fights (which I was unfortunately not only on camera for but also had the delight to accept a 13% tip from their production crew after having to wait on their spoiled asses for 3 hours).

We routinely serve governors, presidential candidates, NFL stars, and people who have sold hundreds of millions of records as well as the people who manage them. Fortunately for us servers, these celebrities are usually very cool and generous (our aformentioned recently married guy went back to the kitchen and gave a line cook $200 as a thank you for staying late). I can only imagine what demands our managers have to deal with on occasion though.

Shame that you and I must be the models of discression though. Oh, the stories we could tell...

"So You Want To Be A Waiter" blog

5:39 PM  

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