"A Chronic Case of Waiter-itis…"

May 31, 2010

Three of us went out after work the other night to a local spot for drinks and a late night snack. We were, of course, sitting at the bar, right next to the waiters’ service station.

My friend commented on how much he liked his drink, a “specialty cocktail”, and that we should taste it. The other two of us simultaneously reached for straws, stuck them in his drink, put our fingers over the end, and tasted his drink.  It occurred to me that “normal” people, with “real jobs”, would probably just pick up his glass and take a sip.  They would have no knowledge of the “straw-siphon” tasting method; it’s a technique only people in “The Biz” would know.

That got me thinking, and I started to notice a kind of sick pattern of behavior, due to my many years in hospitality and the restaurant business.  So feel free, if you are so inclined, to add to my list of the times that

“You know you’re REALLY in the Restaurant Business when…”

  • You’re at the gas station, or the dry cleaners, and you are handed your credit card slip, and you have a pen out of your pocket before the clerk can find one…

Or…

  • You reach for the pen and you pull a out a crumber …
  • You feel naked without a corkscrew in your pocket…
  • You straighten the barstools at places even though you don’t work there…
  • You find yourself stepping aside to “yield to the guests” but you’re not at work, you’re at the grocery store…
  • You are at lunch or dinner somewhere, and one of your tablemates puts an empty Sweet-Low packet on the table.  It totally breaks your concentration and you find yourself fixated on this little piece of garbage on the tabletop, and how can they just leave it there like that?  Isn’t someone going to pick it up??!!

Or…

  • You actually know that it’s “Sweet-Low”, not “Sweet AND Low”…

And…

  • …at the same lunch, you are completely distracted by the fact that your friend’s Ice Tea or water glass is over half empty, and you begin looking around to see if someone ‘s “on it.”
  • You re-fold the napkins at your dinner table at home when someone gets up during dinner…

Or…

  • You re-fold your own napkin as you get up to use the bathroom…
  • You are always wondering if you should tip someone like the UPS Man or the guy at the Dry Cleaners…
  • You are out to dinner and, after you order your appetizer, you look at your watch and begin timing your order …
  • You carry a Bic lighter in your pocket at all times, and you don’t even smoke…

And…

  • Wherever you are, you have said lighter out and ready if someone pulls out a cigarette, or there are candles to be lit at a birthday party…
  • You recognize bottles of wine in movies or TV shows, even if they are shown for just a few seconds in the background:  “Hey, that’s Charles Krug Chenin” that Kelly McGillis is drinking with Tom Cruise in Top Gun; or that Carmela Soprano seems to drink a lot of Clos du Val Chardonnay…
  • You can figure out immediately what 20% is when you are filling your gas tank…
  • You feel uneasy when you are away from your table in the restroom, wondering if they are holding your order until you get back…

Or…

  • …you’re on your way back to your table and, as you stand aside to let a departing group go past on their way to the front door, you stop yourself just before you say “Thank you, and Good Night”
  • You squirm, either mentally or literally, when you are out to eat, and another party leaves and no one comes to clear the dirty table…

Or…

  • You squirm, either mentally or literally, when your party has paid, there are people waiting, and no one is making a move to get up and go…
  • You know everything that’s happening on “The Soaps”, or who was on Oprah yesterday…
  • You snicker, thinking about all the white shirts and black pants and/or skirts in your closet, when someone invites you to a “Black And White” party…
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"17 Cents, The Easy Way"

February 25, 2010

I woke up this morning and told my wife that I really needed to post a blog today because

1)  it’s Thursday,

and

2) I have to get rid of the ads for the “Catholic Dating Service” that have been showing up randomly on my site.

I am a realist and know that I will never, repeat: never, get rich off of the content-generated ads that pop up on my site from Google.  And I have nothing against Catholics (some of my best friends are, etc…) or against any other organized religion, other than the fact that they have been responsible for more wars and death than any other group in the History of The World, outside of Genghis Khan’s hordes.  Indeed, there is something to be said for a set of beliefs that can be inspirational enough to encourage “God’s Cold Callers” to knock on random front doors on a Saturday morning, offering up the latest edition of The Watchtower, knowing that 9 out of 10 said doors will be slammed abruptly in their faces. (“But, sir, don’t you want eternal life?”  Not if it’s going to be with a bunch of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I don’t.)  Having dedication to a church strong enough to encourage virile young men to put on  short-sleeved white shirts and $5 clip-on ties and ride bicycles all over town, makes the inspiration behind dying in The Crusades look like a gentle nudge.  “Aw, Mom, do I hafta?  Can’t I just get a sword and shield and go invade The Holy Land or somethin’?”

But as a realist, I also know that readers of this blog are not going to “click” on the ads generated by my last post about being an Altar Boy that tout “Communion Supplies” or a book on the “Power of Prayer.”  If I can ever figure out how to manipulate the matrix Google uses in its Ad-Words Search, to generate listings for porn sites, free cigarettes, or coupons for Two-For-One cocktails, earning that 17¢ a week will be a breeze.  Strange, though, how a post titled “Slap-Yo-Mama-Good Fried Chicken” generated ads for Free Chicken, but not a link to an Elder Abuse Hotline…

Writing a post today will also give me an excuse not to attack the 8-foot tall wall of weeds that has grown up on our property after the what? 48 straight days of rain we’ve had?  Just when I think the mass of grass in my backyard has dried out sufficiently to allow a little lawnmower action, it rains again.  Damn.  Missed my window.  I’m afraid that when I do finally get to fire up the Weed Eater, I will uncover a bunch of pygmies boiling a Missionary.  I walked out to bring the trashcans in the other morning and had to pause at the road into our property to let a herd of gazelles bound past.

Speaking of being in the weeds, I was reminded last night of the “Andy Warhol Rule”, that everyone will be busy for 15 minutes, no matter how slow it might seem to be.  There will always be a point in the shift where you will be spinning like you have one foot nailed to the floor.   I constantly harp on my crew to do a thorough set-up every night, even if we have only a handful of reservations.  For me, it’s “Live By The Set-up, Die By The Set-Up”.  If that last deuce in your station wants coffee, and whoever set up the coffee station at the beginning of the shift picked up the Half and Half carton that had 3 ounces left in it, shook it, and thought, “Eh, that oughta do it…” there will be issues.  From the guest’s standpoint, service issues are magnified on a slow night.   On busy nights when the place is full, they can be a little more forgiving.   So that’s why I am standing here with two tables ready to leave that can’t; because a Back Waiter is in Dry Storage, trying to find To-Go boxes for them, that should have been stocked 4 hours ago when he was probably dicking around, or updating his Facebook Status.

Restaurant people are some of the most clever, inventive, and creative people around.  We can figure out in a hot second what works and what doesn’t, as far as making service smooth and easy; but “Laziness is the Mother of Invention” is often our battle cry.  I worked with a guy who was clever enough to figure out what modifiers he needed to put on his orders to make the printer on the Hot Line play “My Sharona”; but he never fully grasped the concept of stocking the silverware BEFORE service to keep him from running around channeling Chicken Little when he needed a Soup Spoon at 8:45.

So, let’s see, key words for Google to grab onto in this one:  Genghis Khan dicking around with pygmies and gazelles; Chicken Little playing My Sharona with Jehovah’s Witnesses; and Andy Warhol wearing a tie to go on The Crusades.  Looks like the Catholic Dating Service ads will be around for a few more days…


"Mike From Reno"

February 4, 2010

We were busy at work last night.  Not so many reservations, but one of those “all at once” nights where the several parties we did have were all scheduled within a half an hour of each other.

I had checked with the Front Desk of the hotel and found out we had only a dozen or so check-ins that night, so I didn’t think the Walk-In factor would be in play.  I decided to go with a lean crew to give us all a chance to make some dough on what looked to be a fairly quiet February weeknight.

Our Wine Director was off, out sick actually; and our other Somm was getting ready for his Master Sommelier’s Exam coming up later in the month, so I had let him have the night off to study.  So, it was just me, again, wearing the many hats of Manager, Host, Bartender, Sommelier, Expediter, Food Runner and Whatever The Hell Else Needed To Be Done Guy.  I would be walking the tightrope again; in a situation that is manageable, but can easily go all to hell if I get a stupid phone call, or get Tractor Beamed in by a table.

We had four parties all arriving at 6:00pm: three deuces and a 7 top.  Two of the deuces we knew (one an employee comp, the other a local vintner’s daughter) so I didn’t think it would be an issue getting them going. Usually, though, someone is late, someone is early; so it all tends to work out.  And whadaya know, that’s exactly how it happened.

We got them all seated, orders taken, and I had poured and explained the first course wines to the one table of the three that had opted for the Wine Pairing.  The other two ordered bottles off the list, so we were on cruise control.  I had even managed to take care of a local who had walked in to buy a Gift Certificate, which requires me to run back to the Chef’s Office and get on the computer, type it up and print.  Back to the POS to run the credit card, get them to sign and here you go, thank you very much.

The 7-top, which was due to arrive any minute, was a group from some of our “sister” hotels, although “Rich Uncle” would be a more accurate metaphor.  They were a bunch of GM’s from hotels in ‘The Luxury Collection,” a much higher priced group of properties under the Starwood umbrella.  They had proven themselves to be fairly demanding in their dealings with our Private Dining Department during their meetings earlier in the week, and with the crew at the other, more casual restaurant on the property, during breakfast.  But we deal with demanding all the damn time, so I wasn’t worried.  One of the seven was the GM from the 100-plus year-old Palace Hotel in San Francisco and was also the President of the San Francisco Hotel Council, a fairly high-powered trade group, and I wanted to show him some mighty Napa Valley Kung Fu. I could hear the sound of their voices from down the hall as they approached, but we were all set for them.  So it was all good, so far.  Just as the first of the group came into view, the phone rang.

“Thank you for calling La Toque, this is Patrick…”

Really drunk sounding guy on the other end:  “Who?!?  Is this La Toque?!?”

“Yes this is La Toque Restaurant, can I help you?”

“Didn’t you guys used to be somewhere up in North Napa?”

“Yes, sir we were in Rutherford for 10 years.”

“WHERE?!!?”

“Rutherford.”

“RUTHERFORD?!!?”

“Yes sir, Rutherford.”

“Where the hell is that?”

“About a half an hour north of here.”

“RUTHERFORD?!!?”

“Yes, Rutherford.”

“Rutherford.  Hey, that’s where you guys used to be, isn’t it?”

By this time my 7-top of Hoi Polloi Hoteliers had fully formed at the podium but were still occupied with their own conversations, and no one had really approached me to check in.  Etiquette in this situation demands putting the caller on hold, and dealing with the live bodies in front of you; and I could feel the quicksand of the drunk guy on the phone starting to pull me down.  I figured I had 30 seconds or so to see what he wanted or get rid of him before I had to deal with the GMs.

“How can I help you sir?”

“Your name is Patrick?”

“Yes sir.  How can I help you?”

“Patrick, this Mike from Reno.  Howya doin’?”

“Very well, sir.”

“Well, Patrick, The Wife and I,  we’re gonna be comin’ down from Reno next month and we thought we might stop in and see ya, ya know, have a little dinner, have some wine, visit some wineries…”

“Yes sir?”

“You know, Patrick, we were gonna drive on over from Susanville down across to Fortuna and then on down your way, so I figure what the hell, let’s go all the way down and have some dinner…”

“Uh-huh”

“So lemme ask ya Patrick…didn’t you guys use to be up North somewhere?”

Oh shit.  Circular conversation.

“Hey Mike?  Can I put you on hold for just a second?”

“So Patrick, you got some pretty good food there?”

I realized Mike from Reno wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  And much as I would have liked to, I couldn’t just blow him off, as the designated envoy from the 7-top of Hoteliers was now standing in front of me, ready to be acknowledged, and he was listening to my end of the conversation.

“So, Mike, did you want to make a reservation?”

“Well, ya know, I gotta talk to The Wife, figure out the days and alla that, so I’ll do that and give ya a call…you got a website or sumpin’?”

“Yes, sir, it’s La Toque dot com.  There’s menus, pictures of the restaurant (as I was certain reading was beyond Mike’s capability at this point) and links to maps and directions.”

“Oh, well, that’s great. I’ll take a look at that and I’ll talk to The Wife and I’ll give ya a call back…”

“Fantastic, Mike.  Thanks for calling.”

Whew!

“Good evening, are the seven of you ready for dinner?”

So the 7-top was seated, ordered some wine and displayed a real knack for the annoying tendency to all ask for stuff at the same time.  But being a pretty good multi-tasker/prioritizer, I listened to everyone at once then decided who got what first according to my own personal hierarchy of the table.  White wine?  Yessir, the Gruner would be excellent.  Red wine?  Sure, medium bodied Cab Franc.  Copy of the wine list?  Can I see the menu again?  Some lime for the water?  And a Campari and Soda, a Hendricks and Tonic, and ya-da-ya-da-ya-da.

I got the white opened and poured, made cocktails, served them, got the back waiters on the water and lime. I brought the menu and wine list as requested, and had retrieved the Cab Franc from the wine room, marked them with the proper glasses, and was on my way back to the table to present and open it.

Then it’s the phone again.

“Thank you for calling La Toque, this is Patrick.”

“HEY PATRICK!!”   Mike from Reno was back.

“So I’m lookin’ at this website of yours and it says ‘Three courses plus dessert, $78.’  What’s that mean?  How do I do that?”

Our menu is divided into three sections, first courses, middle courses, and main courses.  Desserts are listed on the last page.

“I mean, how do I pick stuff.  Do I just pick three things?”

“Well, Mike, do you see where it says ‘First Courses?”

“Yeah.”

“And, do you see where it says ‘Middle Courses’?”  Really wanting to get mad now, but keeping it together, barely.

“Yeah.”

“Well, you pick one from each of those, then a Main Course and a Dessert.”

“Oh, so that’s how ya do it…”

“Yes, that’s how you do it.”

“Well, that explains that.  Listen, Patrick, I’m gonna talk to The Wife…”

I got myself disengaged from Mike again, got the wine to the table, and the first two courses were served to my VIPs.

We are all at the table, clearing the second course plates, and as I am walking back toward the scullery with an armload, I hear the phone.  I dropped my load at the Dish Pit and hustled back to the podium to get the call before it went to Voice Mail.  My bad.  I looked down at the Caller ID window.

You got it:  Mike from Reno.

But me and Old Mike,  we’re way past the formalities of any kind of phone etiquette by now.  I pick up the receiver.

“Hey Mike!”

He doesn’t miss a beat.

“So Patrick, I talked to The Wife and it looks like we’re not gonna get by to see ya this trip, but we’ll be down real soon, okay?”

“Sorry to hear that Mike.  But give my best to The Wife and we’ll see you sometime real soon.”

“Okay, Patrick…”   Mike From Reno, ladies and gentlemen.  Let’s give him a big hand…

Good news and bad news, as I was now pretty certain that would be Mike’s last phone incursion for the evening; but had I been able to get a reservation out of him that night, I wouldn’t have to live with the Mike From Reno Sword of Damocles that will be hanging over my head until that happy day arrives when he and The Wife pack up the Pace Arrow and hit the road.

Oh God.  He’ll actually be driving.


"Party On, Garth…"

December 23, 2009

One of the more interesting Holiday Traditions practiced in Western culture is the Office Holiday Party.  When I say “office” I actually mean any Holiday get together that the company has organized, sanctioned, and most importantly, paid for.

We had our party last night and it was quite the enjoyable affair.  It’s always interesting, though, to observe the interactions of co-workers in an entirely social situation when you have removed what is often the only commonality for the participants:  the work.  Once you remove the work, co-workers often find they have very little in common besides the work. People, who normally have no other reason to interact with one another besides working at the same place, now find themselves making small talk and trying their best to remember their bosses’ wives names.

Read the rest of this entry »


"Taking a Dive"

November 3, 2009

What is the fascination that we restaurant people have with Dive Bars? Every great restaurant community has an “industry bar” where waiters, cooks, Maitre’D’s, and managers all gather after they shoo the last patrons out of their establishments; and they are always the divey-est, dirtiest, most outdated places around. Is it a knee-jerk reaction to the prim and proper atmosphere of our restaurants? Do we just need a place to completely let our hair down after being “on stage” for our guests, shirts pressed, ties straight, with all the “Yessirs” and “Yessmaams”? Or is it just that they are centrally located and never, ever, close before the absolute latest legal limit for last call?

Ray’s in St. Helena, Wright’s Corner in The Carneros, McTighe’s in Buckhead, Claudie’s Lounge and Pancha’s in Yountville, and The Alibi in New Orleans are/were classic examples of the genre; some are still there, but like restaurants that flambé tableside or drive-in movies, the true Dive Bars are an endangered species.

So what makes a dive bar a Dive Bar? I propose the following as basic criteria. Although not every great Dive Bar will meet them all, hitting the mark on at least two-thirds is required to make the cut:

1. Neon martini glass on the sign out front. Extra points if it has a neon olive of a different color.

2. Front door with no window; if there is a window it needs to be “Speakeasy” sized, like the little hatch they used during Prohibition to slide open so patrons could tell the bouncers, “Joe sent me”. And if there is a tiny window, it needs to be really filthy.

3. Dark enough so that if you emerge during daylight hours you have to squint like a prison inmate that’s been in solitary for a week.

4. A long bar with a brass foot rail and big, fat, wide Nauga-hyde barstools that don’t have backs and don’t swivel. People in dive bars need to be able to slide in and out and off their stools; and we don’t like (or need) to look around.

5. Don’t close until the latest possible legal last call, then have a “Shots only” call at 5 minutes to closing.

6. They are open for business at 7am in states that have 2am or later closing times. Extra points awarded if there is actually someone in there drinking at 7am; double points if there are people outside at 6:45am, waiting for them to open.

7. An un-level pool table with a “house roll” that gives the regulars a clear advantage over first-timers.

8. An old, floral print sofa by the pool table that is so nasty you need to be really, really drunk to ever consider sitting on it.

9. Pin-ball machines. Video game consoles don’t count unless they are at least 2 decades old.

10. Bathrooms that have one or more of the following: vending machines that sell condoms, combs, aftershave, or all three; well thought-out, creative graffiti (no gang tags or “dick and balls” drawings, although the latter can be good for a chuckle); and a bathroom sink that has been torn off the wall so many times it is either a) missing, or b) now sits on a too-low plywood box that the owner has built in a kind of “give-up” re-model. Bonus points for the matching plywood toilet tank cover.

11. Dust and cobweb-covered sports and trivia memorabilia hanging from the walls and/or ceiling.

12. Smoking allowed, even in states where it’s illegal. If you don’t meet this very important standard, your Dive Bar status is immediately revoked. Extra points awarded if they have a cigarette machine and it sells either Chesterfields or Lucky Strikes.

Down the hall, next to the pay-phone...

Down the hall, next to the pay-phone...

13. The have “Old Crow”, in both the 80 and 100 proof versions.

14. They let you run a tab; and I don’t mean leaving your credit card with the bartender until closing time. A real tab, listed in a little black ledger or a file box full of 3 by 5 index cards that is kept under the bar.

15. A clock with all fives for the hours and says “No Drinking Till After 5!”

If you see one of these, you are in the right place.

If you see one of these, you are in the right place.

16. A non-electronic, mechanical cash register for the till.

17. If they have any food it needs be sandwiches only and comes from a kitchen that is only visible through a pass-through window so tiny the light doesn’t expose the lack of janitorial services.

18. Last and most important criteria: you would never, ever go there if you hadn’t just gotten off work at the restaurant around the corner.

The Alibi Lounge on Iberville, New Orleans

The Alibi Lounge on Iberville, New Orleans


My "Fall Back" Position

October 24, 2009

There is an autumnal feeling in the air the past few days. The days are growing shorter, the nights longer; or is it the other way around? I get so confused with the whole “Fall forward, Spring back” thing. Back when I used to punch one, changing the clocks was a ritual that I managed to screw up consistently. I was the waiter (or cook) who would be sitting outside the restaurant for two hours, waiting for the manager to show up and unlock the doors, because I had set my clock AHEAD when it should have been back; and conversely, I made up for it in Spring by being appropriately late. It’s all about balance. When I was bartending, the “Fall-Back” scenario inevitably resulted in some drunk at my bar blathering about how they would get an extra hour of drinking time when the clock hit midnight. This usually resulted in other, sensible patrons joining in, entreating me to set the clock back. Wrongo! There is no force of time or space that could make me voluntarily listen to your drivel for another hour. Last Call is an immovable object. The Ugly Lights go up at 1:45 Bartender Standard Time (which was always 20 minutes ahead, anyway…)

There has always been a Love-Hate relationship between Fall and me. I am a Summer Guy. I don’t enjoy the “crisp Autumn air”; I don’t ski, I hate the snow. Sly and The Family Stone’s “Summer Days” is my anthem. Bring the heat, Baby! In fall, the garden I nurtured all spring and summer long starts going to seed, tomatoes and melons that arrived just a little too late are left sadly green and undersized; early autumn rains mean unsolicited weeds will soon make their appearance, and leaves need to be raked. At one house I used to live in, we had three of those gigantic Flame Ambers that would drop leaves that piled up waist-deep despite daily raking, and hundreds of those little spiky balls that grabbed onto my slippers every morning when I ventured out to get the paper. If ever a case were to be made for a Rock Garden landscape, that house was it.

Here in Napa, fall also means the end of the “Season” for restaurants. This has always been a “good news, bad news” scenario. As much as we love and need the tourists’ visits to drive our business and make our dough all spring and summer, I embrace the “Welcome to the beautiful Napa Valley, now go home” philosophy. The day we change the clocks is like a Ground Hog Day for the locals. It’s the day when the year-round residents poke their heads out, look for the tourists’ shadows, and if they don’t see them they know it’s safe to go up to the Auberge for a drink on the deck or maybe visit a winery without fighting elbow to elbow crowds. It’s like somebody throws a switch and the big, neon “Safe For The Locals To Come Out” sign is illuminated. In the restaurants we begin to see people we haven’t seen since March; the regular guests who are our winter bread and butter. Welcome back, we’ve missed you!

The end of real summer and the passing of Indian Summer brings to an end our supply of beautiful local strawberries, peaches, tomatoes and corn on restaurant menus; but it also means earthy squashes, bright citrus fruits (excellent Blood Orange Martini at Cole’s last night, thank you, Kelly and Eric!), local wild mushrooms and, my absolute favorite, fresh white truffles from Italy, all begin to make their appearances. Big pots of lentils and white beans and split peas are cooking on stoves; and even though the arrival of Fall means The Silly Season is soon to be upon us, it also means my favorite Holiday, Thanksgiving, is just around the corner. I can suffer relentless Elevator-Music versions of Christmas Carols if it means I get to have Oyster Stuffing and Blood Orange Martinis.

Blood orange martinis could convince me to like Autumn...

Blood orange martinis could convince me to like Autumn...


The Demise of The Fish Fork

October 5, 2009

As a former resident of Atlanta, I often peruse the AJC website to keep abreast of what’s going on down there. I read today of the closing of the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton in the toney Buckhead area of North Atlanta. The Ritz had been one of the first, and now last, bastions of true fine dining in Atlanta. Genteel Southern families and businessmen and women had been going there to be pampered by tuxedoed Maitre’Ds and servers for 25 years. Its kitchen has given rise to many young chefs who have gone on to open restaurants and influence the food scene not only in the Atlanta Metro area, but also across the country. The family tree of the Ritz’s crew would be as expansive as the 40 year-old Pecan that used to bombard my back yard each fall. This comes on the heels of the announcement of the pending closure of the Carnelian Room in SF; and while the Carnelian Room hasn’t been anyone’s ideal of fine cuisine for years, losing these types of establishments is like the beginning of the end.

Our Wine Director has loaned me a DVD set of the first Season of Mad Men. I have Tivo’d the current season, but wanted to be a purist and honor the writers and producers by watching it from the beginning, so I have been avoiding jumping in uninformed. Being old enough to be someone who was in grade school and high school during the sixties and early seventies (where it looks like Season 3 is taking place, judging from the dress and the cars) I can really identify with this show as a period piece. The producers have gone to great lengths to give it the true feel of the times; the dress, the current events on the radio and TV (“CBS doesn’t have color yet…”) and the shitty attitudes towards women and minorities. And the smoking, my God, the smoking! Being someone who hasn’t smoked inside a building of any kind except a casino in 20 years or more, I am blown away (pun intended) watching this show and remembering the prevalence of smoking: three switchboard operators (all women, of course) sitting in a windowless 10×10 room, pulling and plugging their connection wires, puffing away on Old Golds in a haze like downtown L.A. in mid-summer. Pitchers of Bloody Marys sit next to ash trays on conference room tables, instead of laptops and plastic bottles of Fiji Water; the account executives pour themselves a Scotch from the full bar that sits on the sideboard in almost every office, then reach into the cigarette box that sits on almost every desk, then reach for the butane lighter that was a matching part of almost every desk set. Man, those were the good old days!

But the scenes I really enjoy are the restaurant scenes. The gigantic curved, button-tuck upholstered booths; waiters in tuxedoes pushing guerdons carrying silver-domed plates through the dining room, serving guests in ties and jackets and evening gowns; cold cocktails before dinner (“I’ll have another one of these while I look at the wine list” one of the bosses tells his waiter, lifting his empty martini glass); and the waiters dutifully tossing salads and boning fish tableside.

I feel like such an old geezer (“Now in MY day…”) when I read about the closing of places like the Ritz or the Carnelian Room, or about Tavern on The Green in New York filing Chapter 11. While none of these places has been a temple of fine cuisine for years, and are closing because the “times have passed them by”, the important contribution they made was in the area of defining high style and fine service. While no one these days wants a waiter to cook their food, the standards of service followed by any of today’s true fine dining establishments all have their roots in that past era, at places like The Ritz.

Our kids have grown up during the tail end fade-out of these types of dining landmarks; but their children and grandchildren may never get to have their Steak Tartare chopped and mixed tableside before their eyes. They will never get to hear the “whoosh” of the Grand Marnier igniting while a waiter in black bow tie and white gloves skillfully tosses the crepes in it, or have their broiled Turbot de-boned tableside. Doormen in long wool coats and Captain’s Hats will never usher them from curb to podium to be looked at down the nose of a snooty French Maitre’ D. No, they will only get to have a busboy’s elbow pushed into their nose while he clears the empty plate of fried zucchini sticks as they sit in a booth at T.G.I Fridays. The “Special Occasion” places are disappearing, and many occasions may seem less special because of it. I mourn the demise of the fish fork.