The pre-Valentine’s Day doldrums have hit hard this week. Reservations for the weeknights are down a bit, and that’s being kind. Last night we did one deuce, a lovely British couple who really beat the crush we have coming this weekend with the dreaded Valentine’s Day/President’s Day harmonic convergence. They were very nice, ordered well, loved everything; but I couldn’t help thinking that all that was missing was Bill Murray coming out and saying, “And now my daughter, Elena, will play for you, the recorder…”
Valentine’s Day, of course, is one of The Big Three days of the year for the Amateur Diners to come out (Mother’s Day brunch and New Year’s Eve, being the other two), but the business it brings, with a full house three nights straight, is certainly welcome. In our area there are many smaller places that depend on the business this particular weekend will generate to pay the bills for most of January and February, and get them over the hump of the Winter slow season.
So it is particularly upsetting when I hear about stuff like these douchebags that are booking reservations here, in SF, Atlanta, NY, and Miami via phone and Open Table, then putting up a website and ads on Craig’s List, and selling the reservations to all the losers who waited too long to make their plans. We had two of these “scalper” reservations, as did many other local restaurants, all made with the same few phone numbers from Atlanta. Some of the reservations had been made as far back as mid-December. These guys were taking money via Pay-Pal from people and charging as much as $100 for their “service”. Being a former resident of Atlanta, I saw the proliferation of Atlanta restaurants on their website (which is down now) and started looking for the 770’s, 678’s, and 404’s in the phone numbers on my reservation pages. Busted! Well, the word is out now, and I just hope that there weren’t too many gullibles that actually sent these dickheads any money, as their reservations are now being cancelled en masse as more and more restaurants get the word. In the words of Jack Nicholson, “You fucked with wrong Marine!”
I’m not sure if I’m mad about this because they had balls huge enough to try to pull it off, or because I didn’t think of it first. Probably the former, because even though I believe in our capitalist system that lets clever and entrepreneurial types get ahead when they have a great idea about how to make some dough, this is taking advantage. This is along the lines of slum lords renting substandard housing to the needy, or the hardware stores charging $100 for a sheet of plywood when a Cat 5 hurricane is a day away. The restaurant equivalent of clubbing baby seals.
It’s hard enough dealing with Valentine’s Day for many reasons: the amateur diners mentioned above; it’s a “Noah’s Ark” night where the people come in two-by-two, so dining rooms have to be rearranged to accommodate all the small parties; in our area, we are in the midst of the slow season and many places are running on a shoestring staff, so to have a full house for three nights straight is a strain. And finally, in hetero couples anyway, it’s always the guy that is in charge of making their reservation at “The Perfect Place,” and men are notorious for screwing up anything remotely connected with logistics.
I really shouldn’t bitch about it though, because in our business if you’re not working on Valentine’s Day you are either unemployed or unemployable, or both. It’s like a band that doesn’t have a gig on New Year’s Eve.
It’s too late to save anyone now, so here are some survival tips for next year:
- Plan ahead: with all the Blackberries and Smart Phones out there these days, and apps like I-Cal, Outlook, and Google, if this day “snuck up you” you’re an idiot.
- Don’t try to scam your way in: I covered this topic in a previous post, but suffice it to say that there are no new scams to help crow-bar your way into a reservation at the last minute. Busting the guys from Atlanta who tried the “Scalper Scam” is proof enough of that. We are all on Open Table, so if you’re not in, you’re not getting in.
- Be nice: if you are calling a restaurant where you are a regular, or you’re a local, chances are we will work to fit you in if you are not some demanding, giant asshole. Maitre D’s and hosts get a little power-drunk when we are completely booked, and we take great delight in knocking you off you pedestal because, just this once, we can.
- Don’t make multiple reservations: this is a Cardinal Sin to us restaurant folk. Making several reservations at different places on the same night, then deciding who you will honor with your presence, is not cool no matter what day of the year it is. We will find out, and we will hunt you down like the dog you are.
- Don’t get mad when we call you to confirm: See Number 3.
- Show up on time: You are not really inconveniencing us. We get late parties all the time. By showing up half an hour late or lingering well past paying your bill, you are saying you don’t give a shit about all the other people who do show on time, or are now waiting for you to vacate your table as you sip your ninth cup of coffee.
- And for God’s sake, learn how to do the math and tip like you’ve been out to dinner before.
So, this one goes out to all you lovers. And I will never forgive Hallmark and the chocolate manufacturers for coming up with this manufactured “reason for romance.”