We had one of those Andy Warhol nights at work this week where “Everyone will be busy for 15 minutes”. It was one of those shifts that started out slowly, then BAM! We got the big smack in the face. It was like a fireworks show; it started out with a few pops and crackles, the occasional screaming streaky one, then the Grand Finale: Bam-de-bam-bam-bam-pop-pop-pop-pop, everything exploding all at once, then it’s over. Of course the crew was lulled into a false sense of security by the slow start, so getting up to speed when “Go Time” hit was a major effort. I always think of Jeff Goldblum at the beginning of Jurassic Park II, when the people are “oohing and ahhhing” at the peaceful Brontosaurus grazing along the riverside. “Oh yeah,” he says, “it’s always beautiful at first. Then comes the running, and the screaming, and the dying…” Wednesday night was one of those shifts that bring on the exhausting, crazy Waiter Nightmares during the next day’s nap; and you wake up thinking “Shit! The Diet Coke for Table 5…”
The 1st Law of Reservational Futility says that if all reservations are spaced out in manageable intervals over several hours, all late parties will come early and all early parties will be late. So despite my best efforts at spreading the reservations out, everyone ended up in the restaurant at once.
I had let one of the staff have the night off before I got to work and that, of course, turned out to be a big mistake. I should have remembered that thinking “It will probably be slow tonight” and cutting staff before a shift is one of the “Nevers” in the restaurant business: axioms and truths that are always learned from painful errors in judgment, yet often your brain ignores the logic later. It’s like allowing your penis to do the thinking when your psycho ex-girlfriend knocks on your door at two in the morning; experience should win out over instinct, but seldom does.
A few of the “Nevers” I have learned over the years:
• Never send a waiter home before 7:30pm (or before 1:30 on a lunch shift) because it’s “slow tonight”; and the corollary, that the only way to really generate crushing business volume is to do just that. Send two waiters and a busboy home, and the next sound you hear will be the “Psshh!” of a charter bus’ airbrakes as it pulls in, dropping off 40 blue-haired old ladies that all want separate checks.
• Never vocalize any kind of pronouncement about “getting out early tonight” before you actually do; because as surely as the fat kid will end up playing the tuba in the junior high marching band, you will end up with that 9:55 deuce walking in the door asking “Are you still open?” It’s as inevitable as the four-car pile up after saying “There probably won’t be much traffic on the bridge”…
• Never fart in your own station. No further explanation needed here. The logic is undeniable.
• Never send the waiter who just moved here from Canada to the grocery store to buy avocados unless you have three days to wait for them to ripen.
• Never drop your lighter into the deep fryer and then try to fish it out, unless you want to end up with a face that looks like fried chicken. Fortunately I got to learn this one by observation, not actual experience.
• Never beg the irritatingly gay waiter who knows nothing about sports to buy the last two squares in the Super Bowl pool because the game is about to start and you need to fill them in, unless you want to hear him crow about winning for the next two weeks.
• Never remove the automatic 20% gratuity from a large party and let them leave what they want to because you know “they’ll do the right thing”…
• Never tell one of your cooks he can “have Hanukah off this year” unless you are aware that it lasts for eight days.
• Never assume the tourists from Ohio know that Zinfandel is a red wine.
• Never say “Nice to see you again, sir” unless you know he’s with the same woman as the last time he was in.
• Never assume the man is paying when you drop the check.
• Never ask, “Can I bring you anything else?” as you drop the check on the table you needed to leave 15 minutes ago because you have an eight top waiting.
• Never take over that last table in someone else’s station that “only needs the check dropped” so they can leave 15 minutes early, unless you brought your sleeping bag and shaving kit to work with you.
• Never flip the bird as you finally pass that tourist that has been going 30 MPH all the way up Silverado Trail because they will ALWAYS end up being your first table of the night. “You look familiar. Do I know you?”