One day you’re having the experience of a lifetime during Kentucky Derby Week, and the day you return to work from the experience of a lifetime, your GM says this: “From now on, you’re doing all of our private events.”
I have enjoyed the past three years working as a bartender and server. No work worries except making customers happy, making money and making rent. Time off was time off without a thought about work except being on time for my next shift.
Yet, in the back of my mind a peculiar restlessness was beginning to shake me awake at 2 a.m. And when I am shaken awake at 2 a.m., I’ve learned I need to listen to the thoughts nagging at me.
How long, really, could I keep doing this? How long before off-season income uncertainty and working alongside 20-somethings made me uncertain about all of this Restaurant Gal fodder? In my way, I knew it had been long enough.
On a quiet evening, just before I left for the Derby, I snuck a smoke outside the entrance to our beautiful private dining venue. I’d worked several events back there, both as a server and a bartender. I’d watched the revolving door of event planners spin one, then another, then another out of that door.
I’d liked all of them. I’d worked for each one of them. But I’d wondered at their few at-work hours, missed appointments and seemingly carefree attitudes about menus and staffing and just about everything else about private dining that drove me to endless hours and much after-work worry to make sure all went just right, when I tackled that same job in D.C. and again when I moved to SoFla.
As I stubbed out my cigarette, I saw my gravely stern GM round the corner, camera in hand, and watched as he furiously snapped pictures of our quaint courtyard, our lush foliage and our colorful water views, mumbling to himself, “I’m doing this, why?”
My first thought was: Shit, I shouldn’t be out here smoking. My second thought I spoke aloud: “You know, if you need some help with anything back here, I have a little experience in event planning.” My third thought was: Shit, I shouldn’t be smoking back here, and now I’ve opened my big, fat mouth.
“Really?” he growled, seemingly unconcerned about my smoking. “Because you might just be doing it all.”
“Ha ha ha,” I laughed quietly aloud. “Oh no, I didn’t mean THAT,” I nervously laughed some more. “I just meant, if you need a little help…”
“And I meant you might just be taking it all on,” he barked.
Well, shit. Why had I said a word? Why would I rock my carefree world?
When I cashed out later that night, he said nothing more about my taking on event planning. He reviewed my credit card receipts, palmed my cash out for the bartenders and bussers, and said goodnight.
Good. He’d forgotten all about my inane comment.
At 9:30 a.m. the next morning, I groggily answered his call. “Can you come in at 11 this morning and talk more about private events?”
But was it really? Because I had been awake since 2 a.m., once again, wondering what to do with my carefree life.
“Uh, sure,” I said, trying to sound awake.
I showered, dressed in something casually cool yet professional, cranked my real resume out of my computer–one he’d never seen when I’d applied for a serving position–and decided to just go for it. For real.
It is not easy to surprise my GM. But my resume surprised him. “You really have done this,” he said as he scanned it.
“Yep,” I smiled. “And I brought you some menus and pricing information from my previous jobs and those I think might be close competitors in our realm.”
He looked down at the stack of paper I shoved toward him. “Thank you,” he said, and I think he meant it, because I’ve had the feeling all along that this guy doesn’t thank many people.
“You start tomorrow, but I need you on the floor, too, until I can get people trained to replace you.”
“Uh, you remember that I’m going out of town for five days,” I said, not a little surprised. “I can start when I get back?”
He kind of glared at me, caught himself, then said, “Yes, of course. And we’ll ease you into this part time.”
Except the events held while I was away were a disaster, not to the customers, but behind the scenes. Thus, when I returned from my experience of a lifetime, there was nothing part-time or easing into anything.
“Here are the files, there’s the phone, use that computer, and you have two rehearsal dinners and two weddings over the next four days.”
That was almost a month ago. That is why I haven’t written a word since my experience of a lifetime at the Derby. I have been working 60-hour-plus weeks and triple shifts, placating worried brides to accept me as their new coordinator, trying to book as much new business as I can, and picking up the pieces of a revolving door that I hope not to pass through myself. It is a tall order. My carefree work life is over and done.
And everyday I have wondered, what the hell was I thinking to do this again?
Then today’s mail call brought me this note: “I want to thank you so much for making my rehearsal dinner and wedding as wonderful as I’d hoped. I know I only met you a few days before, and you were kind of assigned to me at the last minute, but I feel like you were my coordinator for the past year. Thank you for everything. It was perfect.”
As I left for the day today, I placed that note alongside my brochures and new business cards that I have carefully displayed for those who wander through our private event space when I am not there. I smiled at the shameless display of all me, touched the raised silver letters that spelled “THANK YOU” on the face of the notecard, and marveled that a bride would hand write a note to me so quickly, when surely she had a 150 other thank yous to share with those who’d given her actual gifts.
But here’s what I do know: I did a pretty good job stepping up for her wedding, and I am fortunate that she was incredibly understanding and the antithesis of Bridezilla when I introduced myself as her third coordinator three days before the most important day of her life.
Coming on the heels of my experience of a lifetime, I am humbled that I could ensure one day could come close to being the same for her.
Deep breath. The rest shall be revealed, right?