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.”
“Yes sir, Rutherford.”
“Where the hell is that?”
“About a half an hour north of here.”
“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…”
“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…”
“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.”
“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?”
“And, do you see where it says ‘Middle Courses’?” Really wanting to get mad now, but keeping it together, barely.
“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.
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.