Last Saturday was one of our best friend’s birthday, and we were invited along to celebrate at one of our new favorite restaurants. I already have a general unease dining out on a Saturday night; plus we had a cake to commemorate the auspicious occasion of her 2nd, 30th birthday, and a nice bottle of New Zealand Pinot Noir. So, corkage and a cake plating fee which means, essentially, little or no alcohol sales and no dessert sales on our table of six. It wasn’t a conscious conspiracy but we had become a Waiter’s Nightmare before we even walked in. Fortunately, we got our favorite server at the restaurant; and, like a pro should, she didn’t bat an eye at either concession.
The alcohol sales part didn’t concern me much. I knew the personalities at the table; and I knew there would be at least some cocktail sales, if not a bottle of white to go with the apps. So our server wouldn’t be completely shut out. It was the cake that I was just a tad uncomfortable with, and it wasn’t simply because it would negate any possible dessert sales for the server. Desserts at this place were only $6, so how much could they really be out in sales? But, bringing in a cake, or flowers, or an engagement ring, and leaving the item with the host or manager at the front door to be presented later on is much more of a leap of faith than most people realize.
As a manager, I was confident that I could handle any and all special arrangements needed for such items; it was what happened to said items after they left my sight that always worried me. If you had a hidden camera, and followed your cake into the dessert station and/or walk-in box at many restaurants, you would probably see things like a Pastry Chef or Sous Chef pimping on your cake (even if it was the most beautiful cake ever made by the hands of man, they didn’t make it; and so ridiculing it is required); you may see it taken out of the box, and stored near buckets of cooling Lobster Stock, or some other pungent product, allowing your Red Velvet beauty to fully absorb the garlic, onions, or fish smell in the walk-in. You may see a dishwasher or busboy removing a frosting rosette or chocolate cigarette, and smoothing over the evidence with their fingers. And, as it goes from host to manager to Chef to Pastry Chef to walk-in, the potential for someone dropping or losing it, and effectively taking a dump all over your special occasion, is huge.
We arrived, they took the cake, and we watched as it disappeared behind the kitchen doors. We thought nothing more of it until dessert time arrived and, as our server was putting dessert menus down, I reminded her we had a cake. Well, not so much reminded, as obviously no one had told her word one about it. It had gone from our hands to the fridge without anyone opening the box or even mentioning it any further.
After being informed by us that we had brought the cake in, our server went off to investigate. I watched as she disappeared into the kitchen and came back out a few moments later, beckoning to the Chef. Chef disappears into the back kitchen, and soon after returns to the hot line. I can see him gesturing wildly and ranting on and on about something, getting the full attention of everyone on the kitchen staff. They are all shaking their heads and looking very worried as the Chef goes off on them. Next, the Chef summons the floor manager and our server for a serious-looking discussion. They look like a pitcher, catcher and third baseman deciding how to pitch around a bases loaded, one-out situation; and discussing all the possibilities for disaster. They are talking, arms folded, glancing furtively over at our table, then back to each other. I can see our server shaking her head, Chef shaking his head; and the manager with that “I’m about to eat a big Shit Sandwich” look on his face. Now what can be going on here?
The manager sheepishly approaches our table and, kneeling down next to the hostess for our group, asks “Uh, excuse me, but was that cake untouched when you brought it in?”
Up until that moment it never occurred to us that telling them the birthday girl had taken a two-fingered dip out of the cake earlier in the day might have been a good idea. They hadn’t opened the box until it was time to present it to us; and I can only imagine the terror our server must have felt when she opened it and found it looking like Homer Simpson had gotten to it first.
We explained our guest of honor’s pre-dipping to the manager, and his head drops in a silent prayer of thanks, looking like a guy who was already strapped into the electric chair, rubber thingy between his teeth, and the guard’s finger on the button as the phone from the Governor’s office rings.
They presented the cake, having nicely shaved off the finger-craters and smoothed them over with the cream cheese frosting. The lesson here: Always check, as you just never know when someone might want to have their cake and eat it too…