Double Dip

Posted on Saturday 22 April 2006

Long post alert!

When I first interviewed with my restaurant, I told them I wanted to be an event planner. I like to throw a party. I’d even written about weddings at one point in my work life. What could be better than planning an elaborate event that someone else is paying for?

The managers could barely hide their amusement that I, with no recent restaurant experience, thought I could just come in and plan parties. But I am no fool; I knew I’d have to start out doing something else. And voila, I was hired to be a maitre ‘d. That was seven months ago, and I still maintain that hosting is the hardest–and most fun–job I have ever done.

Last night, however, I glimpsed the so-called greener grass. I was asked by the private event manager to be another “suit” at an extravagant rehearsal dinner for 100 guests.

It sounded fun. Great theme, cute decor, every detail planned accordingly. I had met the mother of the groom several times when she’d swept in to confirm various components of the event. What the heck? True, it meant a double on a Friday, but here was my chance to check out the glam side of this biz.

It didn’t take long for me to despair that I had agreed to this. Because here’s how my day started, and continued:

8:30 a.m.–I am told I have a new trainee to work with. This would be the guy who didn’t show up yesterday for his first day of training. Perfect.

8:35 a.m.–What, the daytime host staff is a couple of people short today? What a surprise.

8:37 a.m.–Copier down! (My laying of hands on the document cover was no longer doing the trick.) Chef is changing two of three panels. I cab it to another restaurant in our group to photocopy 500 panels, plus 50 carry-out menus. My day is an hour behind already.

9:30 a.m.–I return to our restaurant and the other hosts and I start stuffing menus. My trainee works as hard as any of us to complete this dreaded chore. I am encouraged by this rarely seen trait in a new hire.

10:30 a.m.–I skip menu class so I can set up my downstairs podium. An early bird walks in (the construction guys have left the front door ajar for the billionth time this week). She is frantic: “Have you found any sunglasses? They’re very expensive.” No, madam, we have not added an expensive pair of sunglasses to our overflowing bin of knock-offs. Sorry.

10:50 a.m.–The hungry are gathering outside the front door, peering through the glass in hopes I will let them in early. I warn my trainee, “Don’t make eye contact with them!”

11:00 a.m.–Show time.

Noon: Half-hour wait, but it goes faster. My trainee, who technically is only supposed to observe on his first day, quietly offers to seat guests, sweep menus, update my board, and restock pagers. I am in love, but will reserve full judgment until he has been on staff a month.

12:30 p.m.–I rip out the hem in one pant leg of my suit. I try to tape it back up, which proves useless. I trail black threads behind me as I scurry about seating and sweeping.

1:00 p.m.–The walk-in count is topping 550, my head is pounding, and my throbbing left heel reminds me of the importance of wearing proper, not stylish, footwear.

1:15 p.m.–A 1:30 reservation for 15 turns out to be a group of elderly women from a nearby retirement home. They trundle into my packed foyer, most wielding canes or pushing walkers. Their apparent leader announces their arrival by demanding, “Do NOT put us at the same table. We want as many separate tables as you have.” Huh? I ask them to step to the side of the foyer so I can figure this mess out. “Because you want us out of the way,” barks the alpha girl. “If you seat us at one table we’re leaving!” she shouts. I call for a manager.

1:30 p.m.–We break down the 15 top upstairs and start to clear the wait list. My manager tells the seniors they will have to sit in two big booths in one of the bar areas. They all agree, except alpha girl, who demands a third booth for her and another of the ladies. Good lord.

2:00 p.m.–Rush subsides, the trainee and I chat about how his first day went, he gets a training meal off the menu and I toss back a salad and apple brown betty. That should hold me until 10 p.m., right?

3:30 p.m.–I notice the hem in the other pant leg is half out, too, and I decide I can take the subway home, change, and be back by 5:00 to help with the set-up of the dinner.

3:45 p.m.–I nod out on the subway ride home. Not a good sign.

4:10 p.m.–I walk the four and a half blocks home from the subway, decide a shower is now in order, and beg Mr. Restaurant Gal to interrupt his work to drive me back to the subway so I won’t be a mess after the four-and-a-half-block hike back up the hill.

4:45 p.m.–I am on the subway, feeling time-warpish. I’m starting my day all over again, but it never really ended.

5:30 p.m.–Frantic activity in the PDR. Too many helpers, in my opinion. But I pitch in. Actually, the room looks perfect and all is good.

6:00 p.m.–Mother of the groom arrives. She is stressed, but doesn’t take it out on the staff. Instead, she mutters things like, “We’ll remove the salt and peppers from the tables. I don’t like that look.” Hey, that’s easy.

6:45 p.m..–I station myself at the top of the stairs in order to direct the party people back to the private dining room. Meanwhile, the rest of the place is filling up with dinner and bar patrons. I have to scoot people out of the way so the party people can get through. Some of the party people overtly frown at this. Right, sorry. No one should be patronizing our restaurant while your party is in progress. What were we thinking?

7:30 p.m.–Most of the party people have arrived. I help direct wait staff to tables as they serve salads, towering seafood platters in the center of each table, entrees, adorable make-you-own sundae desserts.

8:45 p.m.–Why aren’t these people eating? I am so hungry I feel faint, yet I am watching the party people pick at their plates.

9:10 p.m.–The party people are now on the third or fourth “toast” of the night. I watch the mother of the bride leave the room and head for the hallway. A moment later, father follows. Next, granddad wanders out, as does a young guy I assume is the bride’s brother. Uh oh. What gives?

9:15 p.m.–We ask the troubled family if there’s something we can do to help. No, they answer. The food and everything has been wonderful. Oh, I get it. Someone is upset over the toasts? Hmm. Should be a fun wedding reception tomorrow.

10:00 p.m.–I am free, blissfully free. I head downstairs for a glass of wine and to wait for a friend who is kind enough to meet me and drive me home.

Midnight–Several glasses of wine and appetizers at the bar later, I come to the conclusion that private event planning is stressful, while the events themselves can be kind of boring, despite the personal dramas of the guests.

I like my day job–the pager people, the early birds, the difficult office workers, the who-knows-what’s-next aspect of it all.

I also know one more thing: No more doubles for this gal.

2 Comments for 'Double Dip'

  1.  
    April 24, 2006 | 11:57 am
     

    So does this mean that you really don’t want to do private event planning anymore?
    Glad you like your day job. My husband has a desk job so he always thinks of how fun it would be to try something different– like work in restaurant.

  2.  
    Restaurant Gal
    April 24, 2006 | 5:09 pm
     

    Natalie–I guess I don’t know at this point. If the job were offered, I would have to consider it. But I don’t even know if that’s a possibility, in the near or distant future. But for the time being, I’m happy being Restaurant Gal–maitre’d extraordinaire.

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