Has It Really Been Six Years?

Posted on Thursday 19 January 2012

On January 21, 2006, I posted my first entry as Restaurant Gal. I called it “First Course,” and all subsequent posts that are more about me than about the industry are filed under that heading in my archives. I had forgotten that I had titled my first post as such until I decided to undertake an introspective look at the winding path that both I and this blog have taken since 2006.

If anyone had told me then where and who I would be now, I’d have told them they’d written me quite the vivid dream about which I would laugh when I woke up. Thing is, I never did–wake up, that is. Thus, here I am, and here is RG, and here are you whomever of you remains out there as my beloved readers. If, by some quirk, there are those of you who have been with me since the beginning, I would love to heard from you in the comments. God love you.

I took time these past few weeks to look back at the beginning of a writing project I never thought would last a month, much less years. I was at once struck by my energy to write so often as I was by how differently I might write many of those stories today. Over the next few weeks, I’ll revisit each year of RG before offering a look forward. Enjoy this post’s 2006 retrospective.

2006: First Year’s Firsts

Without knowing it, I talked myself into my first adult hospitality job in decades in D.C. with one simple answer to a simple question asked by the GM who was interviewing me:

“What do you know about Cy’s?” he asked.

I knew I was supposed to answer that their outlets offered great food for a great value. I also knew I was supposed to remark on the beauty of the various locations, about the incredibly on-point combination of casual “Cheers” saloon ambiance that meshed “just so” with with a certain Georgetown fine-dining decor that those folks hauled out of their attic and barn collections to create a look no one will ever replicate. If you know this highly successful group, you know exactly what I am talking about.

Instead, an answer came to me out of a clueless nowhere, something I had heard from a teenager I’d been tutoring who was applying for a job as a Cy’s host.

“Well,” I said, “I know that if you are a kid applying to Cornell University’s hospitality program and you have the grades, and you say you worked at Cy’s, you are pretty much in. Your training program is legendary.”

With that, a man who’d previously paid no attention to me whatsoever turned around and stared at me. I stared back. I would later find out he was the regional manager.

“I went to Cornell,” he said, almost glaring, but seeming more surprised than anything else.

“I’d appreciate the opportunity to take advantage of your training,” I replied, wondering how dumb luck had found its way into this interview.

With that, I was hired.

I was also in over my head, which I am sure all the managers knew when they hired me. But I finally managed to “get it” as a maitre d’, and I never looked back at the office life from which I’d merrily escaped.

Favorite 2006 post: Where You Can Get Anything You Want (Check out the comments, too, because I heard from a very special someone.)

Runner-up 2006: Ladies Who Lunch (For the record, I almost got fired from my fine-dining job for writing this. Not long after, I simply got got fired/given a chance to resign for writing RG, period.)

Other fun 2006 posts: Doing the Drunken Swirl, Does This Happen Often?, The Proper Topper

My next post will remember 2007–the year of life changes, endings and beginnings. For now, enjoy readings from when this blog first took shape.

Restaurant Gal @ 9:42 pm
Filed under: First course
Holiday Cheer’s Tears

Posted on Saturday 24 December 2011

‘Twas the night before the night before Christmas and all through the restaurant, families broke bread together, then let their tears flow…and flow….

My Christmas wishes to each and every one of you who made someone cry tonight (and you are far too many for comfort!) are as follows:

To the family of 10 assorted mid-30s adults whose very nice father and mother (yes, I know, to some of you they are in-laws) took you out to dinner tonight: Alcohol is a depressant. If you are prone to depression, and you don’t like this very nice father and mother, drink soda or water, not shots of Jack”and keep the rounds comin’.” Not only will you rage about the food then cry about your life, you will reduce the very nice mother and father to tears, and I can tell that this stoic dad doesn’t cry ever, except around the holidays when all of you are around. Merry Christmas, Mom and Dad. Next year, leave those surly, whiney boys and girls at home and enjoy the night out–just the two of you.

To the very handsome family of eight, whose oldest two children of the six are home from college because they have to be because you are paying more than six figures for their private institutions’ tuitions–let them eat! Let them eat the fries and have mayo on their burgers. Let them dip the shrimp in butter. Let them have dessert. They ordered club soda with lemon instead of a sugary cola. They dutifully dipped their salads’ lettuce in the dressings carefully placed on the side. They looked hopefully to you when the bread basket was placed in front of them, refusing to nibble a single piece because they knew you would disapprove. The holiday season is not the time to remind them how many calories they have consumed today prior to coming to my restaurant, and how an even longer run is in order tomorrow if, “You’re really going to finish that?” Your kids come in all shapes and sizes. Quit being a food coach out of fear for your own aging and girth-size growth, because I saw the one at the end of the table crying in the ladies room. Merry Christmas kids. Each of you is beautiful. ‘Tis the season to finally embrace that truth.

To the parents of the single male child out with you tonight. For just one night, talk to each other. Talk about the weather. Talk about the traffic. Talk about anything remotely mundane and utterly boring. Long silences punctuated with sighs and downcast eyes usually lead to tears, if not in public, then later while alone. Because this is how he feels–very alone. Merry Christmas my three solitary, very silent folk. I hope you find your voices very soon.

To the adult kids out with Mom. She doesn’t think your stinging sarcasm is funny. She doesn’t know where and how she went so wrong that you feel you can talk to her this way. I know, she ordered and drank three vodka rocks. I also know that this bothers you. I fully appreciate that those likely were not the only three vodka rocks she’s drunk this day, and now the sum total has led her to cry her tears in a most unattractive way. I don’t know much beyond that except this–she needs your help and support and guidance. That’s right, you might have to step up and parent your parent. Merry Christmas everyone. I’ve walked this walk. It’s brutal.

To the couple out with their one big dog and one tiny dog. Please do not let the holiday season prompt you to question all that you accept as just fine the rest of the year. Okay, you don’t have kids. Okay, the dogs are your kids, but this time of year…I get it, they are just dogs and there are no kids in your life at all. Merry Christmas. Really. It’s okay.

To the couple with the baby who pass him off to each other in shifts so one can gulp down dinner in three bites. Wow, has your life together changed this year. No one ever told you how much work it would be, how selfless you would have to be, how much of yourselves would have to be put on a back burner that seems forever without a pilot light. And how tonight you just feel like sobbing. Look around you and don’t worry. Keep the pure love in your hearts that you have for that baby, and all the parenting mistakes and missteps that you make and take will matter not. Merry first Christmas together to the three of you.

And so, another holiday season reaches its familty-gathering crescendo,exacerbating the seemingly bad and the ugly as it exacts its sad toll, despite how hard we work to imagine that all is perfectly hung by the chimney with care.

Come on now folks, shake it off. Do what I do on yet another emotional holiday that finds me wishing I were with my kids, wondering how it is I am working a thousand miles away from them and the life I once knew. Watch “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the billionth time. Then track down and watch an ancient Saturday Night Live skit called “The Dysfunctional Family Christmas.” Merry Christmas to all who then discover how great it feels to laugh after you cry.

Restaurant Gal @ 1:47 am
Filed under: Guests
First Night Out

Posted on Sunday 11 December 2011

The cab pulled up fast, then halted just as fast. Two heads in the back seat lurched forward. I think I saw two hands clutch the head rest of the front seat.

Both back doors of the cab opened almost before the cab came to its quick, complete stop. Two men emerged, one clutching a brown paper grocery-sized bag carefully folded down at the top. I couldn’t read the printed numbers and letters printed in black marker on the side of the bag.

“This is it, this is perfect!” exclaimed the taller, very fit of the two as he pushed his long, dark, wild curls off his forehead with enough care to not disturb the expensive sunglasses perched just so on the bridge of his nose.

“Yeah, dude. Yeah!” exclaimed his far shorter but equally thin, muscularly built friend. “We’re here!”

It was an almost slow night, which was fine. I was battling my once-every-three-years-I-catch-one cold, and I don’t care what they say about DayQuil, it makes me feel loopy. I may not have been coughing, I may have been able to breathe, but I didn’t feel at all well. A slow night from which I might get cut first was the best medicine, at that point.

“Ma’am,” smiled the sunglassed one at me. “You sell cigarettes here?”

I regarded the paper bag that he clutched to his chest, his perfectly laundered baggy shorts and plain whit T-shirt. I wondered why he was wearing such expensive dark glasses after dark.

“Yeah, you know, cigarettes?” echoed his bloodshot, yet curiously bright-eyed pal who sported a fresh raspberry scrape on his left cheek. “You got change?” he asked, waving a twenty too close to my right cheek.

My get-these-guys-outta-here instincts immediately catapulted to high alert.

“Machine’s back there,” I nonchalantly waved toward the back of my restaurant. “You have to get change from that bartender, though,” I said gesturing toward my service bartender, who is the nicest of guys as much as he is always weeded and screaming at us for ordering anything more complicated than a draft beer. These guys asking for change could put him in the big weeds for good. Better order that second Long Beach Iced Tea for table 221 before they got his attention.

I watched the two for less than 20 seconds as they explained their need for change to my service bartender, and then I watched my manager watch them for 20 seconds more. Okay, I was off the alert hook.

For the next 15 minutes, I kept running into and sidestepping the tall sunglassed one. He must have made four trips to the men’s room in that time, never without his carefully folded brown paper grocery bag held tight to his chest, and always with a “Sorry, ma’am” or “Excuse me, ma’am” to me as I hoisted trays of food and drink around him. With luck, my manager was still keeping this guy and his buddy in his sights, because I was now too busy to think much more about either of them.

“Hey ma’am,” the shorter, scraped-up one called to me a half hour later, waving an empty Heineken bottle. What? They were still here? And being served?

Apparently yes and yes, and now they were very much seated at a deuce in my section.

“Do you already have a tab at the bar?” I asked him.

“No ma’am,” he grinned. “I pay cash each time.”

“One more for me, too,” smiled Mr. Sunglasses. “Corona.”

Huh.

Hmm.

Huh.

Oh, whatever.

“Sure,” I told them. “Be right back.”

As long as they were paying cash and not running tabs, as long as they were just hanging out….

“Yeah, man, our first night out!” the short one said to folks seated at an adjacent table when I returned with their beers.

“Good luck to you,” said one of the folks, raising his drink in a cheers gesture toward the two.

“Thank you,” nodded both men, both to the folks cheering them and to me as I handed them fresh beers.

As they had promised, both immediately offered me cash to pay their tab. I made their change, and each handed me a dollar tip.

Huh.

I served them three more rounds, each time collecting their cash, each time thanking them for thanking me with their dollars. I watched them engage with no other customers, now seemingly content to keep to themselves, smiling and talking only to each other.

Hmm.

“It’s the smallest I got,” smiled the bright-eyed, shorter man, handing me a ten dollar bill. He had been paying exact cash until now. I laughed to myself at the sight of my service bartender counting out so many ones to each of these characters while the printer continually spit out drink orders from a full staff of servers.

“Me too,” shrugged the taller one.

“Okay, no problem,” I said. “I’ll bring change.”

I was still busy with other tables beyond theirs, and felt rushed to make their change, knowing I had food to run and orders to take. I shoved their tens in the back of my book as I do with all cash given to me so I always know which are the most recent denominations handed to me, counted out ones and quarters for each of them, and pretty much returned their change to them on the fly to take care of customers three tables over.

“Excuse me, ma’am?” asked the shorter one as I dashed back by his table a few minutes later.

“Be right back, two seconds,” I told him, nodding to the stack of dirty plates I held in my hands, and not pretending to stop. He still had a full beer; he was fine.

“No problem, okay,” he said, his tone still very pleasant.

I promptly forgot about his latest “Excuse me” request, and tended to other tables.

“Ma’am? Please, ma’am?” he asked a third time when I finally had time to address whatever it was he needed now.

“Oh yeah, sorry. I got busy back in the kitchen. Another round for you?”

“No, ma’am. Actually, I think you owe me some more money.”

Ah ha. I knew it. I knew it!The change scam.

“I gave you a twenty,” continued Shorty. “You gave me change for a ten.”

“Really?” I asked like I meant I was surprised, not like I was about to prove him wrong. I dug out the bills from the back of my book. “Here’s the money you gave me–a ten and a…a…” Crap. A twenty.

“It’s okay,” smiled the bright-eyed man whose friend simply stared at the table. “We all make mistakes.”

“I am so sorry,” I said, pulling a 10 out of my front-of-the-book cash. “I thought you guys gave me two tens. I’m an idiot.”

“No, you’ve been great,” he laughed. “You’re not an idiot.”

And he handed me back the ten.

Two cabs pulled up. The tall, sunglassed one clutched his brown paper bag to his chest once again. He briefly hugged his shorter buddy the way guy friends do, barely making contact with him. “Later,” he said. And he was gone.

“Bye pretty lady,” smiled the scraped-up one. “You did okay.”

Not really, with my first impressions smugly based on knowing it all. Not really.

He gave me a last smile as he climbed into his cab.

Bye guys. Good luck. Glad I didn’t ruin your first night out.

Restaurant Gal @ 1:04 pm
Filed under: Guests
Desperate Turkeys

Posted on Wednesday 23 November 2011

Two weeks ago, I bought a frozen Butterball turkey. If I buy it, I figured, they will come for dinner.

Two weeks ago, the pleas from the various caterers I work with began in earnest:

“$25 bonus to the first three servers who will work a Thanksgiving dinner in Delray.”

“Extra $20 to anyone who can tend bar on Thanksgiving in Lighthouse Point.”

Tempting, but I had this turkey in the freezer….

A week ago, friends I’ve known for a quarter century announced they’d bought an RV and their first stop was my house for Thanksgiving, if that was okay. Okay? Hardly. Incredibly wonderful? Absolutely.

A week ago, the pleas from my caterers had dwindled to a handful of freaking-out-because-I-am-serving-30-for-dinner requests:

“Cash plus 20 percent gratuity to work Thanksgiving.”

“Gas money plus extra cash tips to serve Thanksgiving dinner north of West Palm.”

Again, tempting, but I had this turkey thawing in the fridge now, and my friends were coming….

Today, as I baked my third gluten-free pie and hoped for the best taste-wise, I got a call from one caterer:

“She’s willing to pay three servers $100 each on top of the gratuity to serve dinner tomorrow. Is there any way you can do it?”

Wow. Seriously tempting, but my turkey is thawed, my house is filled with the wafting scents of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. And a few more friends say they might stop by….

“I’m sorry,” I told him. “I would, but I’m cooking at home.”

“I know, I understand,” he sighed. “It’s a day for family.”

This year, my Thanksgiving family consists of six good friends, my great guy, possibly a second cousin from Mr. RG’s side of his family and said cousin’s girlfriend because they just moved here and I’m it for their SoFla family ties, along with my two Boston Terriers, three Cavalier King Spaniels and one Springer Spaniel. A bartender from work might also show up.

I wouldn’t pass up the first Thanksgiving dinner that I’ve cooked in years to serve dinner to strangers, regardless of how high the ante is raised.

It’s a day for family, and although I will miss RG Daughter and RG Son this year, I am so very thankful for the family joining me in my home tomorrow.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Restaurant Gal @ 2:20 pm
Filed under: Guests
Quit Occupying My Section

Posted on Tuesday 15 November 2011

Monday is not normally my busy night, but yesterday was. Monday night is not a shift I expect to make much money, but I had the potential to make much last night.

“We’ll be 7 or 8 when everyone gets here at 6:30,” said the man struggling to pull two of my best tables together.

“No problem,” I smiled. Love a big party. “Let me help you.”

“I’ll take a glass of red while I’m waiting for them.”

All good.

After serving his wine, I asked the gentleman if he’d like to order an appetizer or his dinner.

“No, I’ll wait for the others,” he said.

A half hour passed. My guest still sat alone. Still, he did not order anything else. He almost got testy when I asked him a third time.

“I’m fine for now!”

Okay, okay. Just trying to check on you every ten minutes or so.

Finally, 45 minutes later, two other gentleman showed up.

“Hi folks, can I bring you something to drink while you look at the menu?” I asked.

“No, we’re not having anything,” one replied for both of them.

Wonderful.

A fourth gentleman appeared 15 minutes later and asked for a menu and a beer. By then I was busy with several other tables, but managed to get him his drink fairly quickly.

“Do you have any questions about the menu?” I asked the latest arrival.

“Give me a few minutes,” he almost growled. “I just got here!”

Geez, easy there pal. “I’ll check back in a few minutes,” I said.

Not 30 seconds later, the first gentleman and the just-got-off-work man flagged down my manager to complain saying, “We want to order food; where is she?”

Uh, I was just at your table every 5 to 10 minutes, trying to get orders out of your table for an hour, and now you complain to my manager? Nice.

No problem, said my manager. Just get their orders. Which I did. One sandwiche and one salad.

“Another round?” I asked those with beverages.

“No,” they all said.

A fifth man showed up and ordered, you guessed it, water. A sixth followed 10 minutes later and ordered a beer. Two others completed the group 15 minutes later–an hour and a half after the first guest had pulled my best tables together and been seated. The newly arrived ordered the night’s drink special–waters with lemon.

As I constantly refilled water glasses, ran the limited food orders that nevertheless constantly needed extra this or more of that at different times, I got the gist of this table’s conversation: how to effectively “occupy” a big city location. I couldn’t tell if they were actually planning to occupy a nearby city, or whether it was a discussion based upon conjecture.

“I’ll clear that for you,” I told the sandwich eater who’d placed a napkin and cutlery on his plate, a fairly universal way of indicating, “I’m done.”

“He’s not done! Don’t take that plate!” yelled (yes yelled) one of the water-with-lemon drinkers.

I looked at the plate: one balled up napkin, some smeared ketchup, and half a dozen cold fries remained.

“Leave it,” barked the lemon-water man.

Fine.

Again, I asked if anyone wanted another drink, dessert, etc.

“I don’t have money,” said this lemon-water man to the others, “So I’ll finish his,” he continued, nodding to the guest’s plate I’d tried to clear.

“No thanks, nothing more,” all the others agreed.

And so they remained for the duration of my shift, planning a real or imagined occupation to protest and lament all the financial ills and politicians of the world, but they couldn’t buy their moneyless pal a burger?

They needn’t have questioned their success, however. For on this night, they had effectively occupied my best section for three and a half hours, ordered virtually nothing, and protested about me to my manager.

When I finally managed to clear the final plate at the table, I was approached minutes later by the irate lemon-water man in another section of the restaurant.

“Miss, seems like you resent my being here because I’m only drinking water.”

Are you kidding?

“Sir,” I said, “You are not the only one who has been seated at two of my tables for three hours and ordered nothing to drink or eat.”

“Well, I don’t appreciate you throwing out my cigarettes! Why’d you put them on the dirty plate anyway? I think you really singled me out.”

No really, are you kidding? Just go away.

“Sir, I cleared a plate that had two dirty napkins, several used forks, and what I assumed was an empty cigarette pack left on it. I certainly did not place your cigarettes on that plate to take them on purpose.”

He blankly stared at me. “Oh, you didn’t? You didn’t? Oh. Uh, my mistake, I guess.” Then he extended his hand.

Oh for God’s sake.

I am sure you can predict the tip outcome at this table of know-it-all, protest-it-all, 1960s throw-back wannabes: the food eaters left just under 10 percent. So much for helping out one of your 99 percent brethren.

One man, however, the single beer drinker, appeared almost embarrassed by the rest of the group’s dining-out manners. “How much?” he asked, quickly fumbling with cash in his wallet.

“Just one beer,” I smiled as I handed him his check, because he, at least, seemed to get it.

He gave me two fives. “Keep it,” He said, slightly exasperated, somewhat frustrated. I hoped he wasn’t with me. I don’t think he was.

“Thank you very much, sir,” I said to him. He nodded back.

The group remained long after I had been cut, and they were still there when I clocked out–gesturing and making pounded-fist points to one another. “Don’t worry, I’ll clear their table before I leave,” said my great busser.

“Not much left on it,” I said. “Well, except the water glasses.”

“It’s okay. You go. They kind of a big pain, yes?” he laughed in his accented English.

They came, they occupied, they camped at my best tables, they ran me, and they pretty much stiffed me. Yeah, you could say they were a big pain–annoying representatives of the one percent of customers that ruin your shift. Happily, I get along just fine with the other 99 percent, 99 percent of the time.

Restaurant Gal @ 3:58 pm
Filed under: Guests
I Won! I Won!

Posted on Saturday 5 November 2011

“Sure, I’ll buy a ticket,” I tell the local Keys organizer of a military charity drive. “But do I have to be present to win? I’ll be at work in Fort Lauderdale when you have the drawing.”

“No! Just leave us a phone number. We’ll call you if you win!” he says.

“You have a great chance,” pipes up his helper. “No one in the Keys wants to spend $25 on a raffle ticket, even if it is for a paid trip to Hawaii.”

Really. I can sell anything to anyone: Space heaters to South Floridians in July? No problem.

“How many tickets have you sold tonight?” I ask them both.

“Yours,” they laugh.

Love the odds, but feel a need to make it legit.

“If I can help you sell at least two more tickets, the karma alone should guarantee my win,” I laugh back.

Of course, I help sell three. And then two more.

“You’re really good!” says the organizer’s sidekick.

I know. Trust me, everyone at my tables wants dessert even when they don’t–and buys one–every shift.

“I await your call,” I tell them. We all laugh.

A week later, I report for my slowest shift of the week. The busser, per usual, announces upon arriving that he’ll be leaving within an hour. My coworker, a sweet girl who’s always in turmoil, says she’d love to be cut first, to which I agree. Both are gone by 8 p.m., which nets me $100, thanks to a late push.

It also nets me a ton of sidework to do by myself.

Roll the silver, scoop the sauces, bleach the cutting boards, and so on–for about a half hour longer than I should have been on the clock.

Because I am pretty much a dumb ass, I follow the rules at work. Everyone else keeps their cell phones in their pockets, their aprons, beside the computer, charging. I keep mine in my purse, locked away and hidden in my car, far away from any potential to distract me while I’m on the floor. Seriously, who needs to hear a Facebook update ding when pouring wine or slinging wings?

Yeah. Perhaps rules really are made to be broken.

An aside: My great guy has a premature bucket list, of sorts. Because he is a great guy with a great job, he has knocked off quite a lot on his list in the past year, and always with a twist. Take his golf outing at one of the nation’s best courses, for example, when his buddy somehow managed to hit the course’s designer, Pete Dye, in the foot on a green with a second shot. Photos all around and laughs and pats on the backs later, my great guy tries to buy Pete a beer in the club house. His answer: “Hell no! That guy hit me with a golf ball!” So what if it wasn’t my great guy who hit him? What a great bucket-list story!

More on the aside: My great guy wants to play golf in Hawaii, on any or all of the islands. What better way to thank him for all the financial and emotional support this past year than to “give” him an all-expenses-paid-winning trip for the two of us to number 7 on his list? I have been to Hawaii many times; I don’t care if I ever travel there again. But I’d love to give my great guy the trip of his lifetime. And I have a pretty decent shot at doing just that.

Except I don’t keep my phone handy while working. Because I am, clearly, a dumb ass.

When I get off work, my great guy and a recently relocated great D.C. girlfriend pal of mine are at the bar waiting for me. I love it when they come into work just to hang out until I get off. It feels as great as they are. Because they are the great people in my life here in SoFla.

I grab my purse from my car. I order a drink from the nice bartender with whom I work. I chat with my great guy and girlfriend for a few minutes.

“Gotta go chain smoke outside after my shift,” I laugh. “Oh, yeah, and check my phone. Except you’re both here, so God knows no one has called me.”

Uh huh.

One missed call from an unknown number. One message from said unknown number: “Hey RG, I’m calling from the Keys to say you’ve won the trip to Hawaii!”

OMG. I love a raffle. My great guy and I have won all kinds of stupid stuff in raffles–makeup for me, a spa robe, Florida Gator cups and jerseys. That’s right, we’re winners! And now, Hawaii. Life is SO GOOD.

Ha ha ha. Maybe I should listen to to the rest of the message.

“You have ten minutes to call us back or we give the trip away to the next winner!” Which was 20 minutes ago.

What? A time limit? What? WHAT?

I run inside to my restaurant’s bar and scream at my great guy to call the Keys bar we had enjoyed so much a week ago. “We won the trip!” I say, doing a modified up-and-down jump.

“Oh, okay. Yeah. Okay. Sure, yeah. No, I understand,” I hear my great guy say into his phone.

Okay we can upgrade our seats? Sure, it’s all good? You understand…what the hell do you understand?

“They gave the trip away,” my great guy says to me, nonplussed. “You didn’t call back in time.”

In time? You mean, the time I took to cover my coworkers’ early exits? The time I took to look at my cell phone at the end of my shift because I am the only dumb ass in the entire world of serving who doesn’t break the “No Cell Phones on the Floor” rule? No. And no. This is my time. Or, at least my great guy’s time to go to Hawaii.

Yeah, no.

“The organizer said that if it’s any consolation, the trip went to a combat medal winner who served in Afghanistan,” said my great guy, still calm.

“But, I won!” I say, almost crying.

“But you didn’t call back in time.”

“If I’d known there would be a time limit, I’d have given them my work number!”

“They called everyone they could think of to reach you or me,” says my great guy. “Why didn’t you give them my number?”

Because I am the dumb ass who thought if I won, I won; who thought a call to my number to tell me I won was good enough; because I am the dumb ass who never breaks the rules, but probably should start doing so. Except it’s too late. For Hawaii, anyway.

“Fight it!” say many commenters on my personal Facebook page when I regale the sad tale.

“Was it printed on the ticket that there was a time limit to respond?” say many more.

“Sue the bastards,” say a few more.

Yeah, no, again.

See, it’s the Keys. Kind of like “Chinatown.” I know the organizer. I know his sidekick. I know their past, their present and future baggage and sad stories and all the rest that makes them tick in Keys time. You don’t fight a damn thing in the Keys. It’s all that close to home, no matter where you call home.

“My parents have a timeshare they never use in Hawaii,” says my great girlfriend.

“You never know when good fare will come up online,” says the astounded bartender hearing all this unfold, who barely knows me although we’ve worked together for a month.

“Yes! And then you and your great guy can go!” says my great girlfriend.

We all consider this in silence as I sip my drink.

“This is why we don’t live in the Keys,” my great guy finally says.

“But…” I start to say.

“Let it go,” says my great guy. “It’s just a Keys thing. It’s just the Keys.”

I won. I lost. My mother. My sister. Only Chinatown. Just the Keys.

The frickin’ Keys.

Restaurant Gal @ 9:40 pm
Filed under: Beloved Co-workers andSouth Florida Living
Costumed Canines

Posted on Monday 31 October 2011

Rouletta and Angel had no trouble selecting costumes for their doggie day care costume contest: Boston Red Sox.

red sox2.jpg

Happy Halloween everyone!

Restaurant Gal @ 1:16 pm
Filed under: First course
Costume Contest

Posted on Friday 28 October 2011

I have been called in to work the Halloween shift at my new job. “You have to wear a costume,” insisted one of my managers.

Okay, will do. But which one looks best with a three-pocket black apron and hideous non-skid shoes as accessories, and is still practical enough to allow me to work through a crowd?

Elfette dress–Simple and cute, and cost $2.39 at a 95-percent-off Wal-Mart sale last November 14. Looks adorable with fur-topped booties that are, sadly, impractical to wear to work.

St. Paulie Girl ensemble–Wore it on several Halloweens while tending bar in the Keys. This costume causes quite a stir, given its skirt length, and garners a decent tip or two. It cost me a fortune back in the day when I had a fortune, and requires dry cleaning.

Cinderella dress–RG Daughter wore this to a high-school costume party, and it comes complete with elbow-length gloves and a full petticoat. Will need to purchase a tiara to complete the look, however, and it is floor-length.

Vintage Capitals hockey sweater complemented by blacked-out teeth–Not sure this is best look for good tips, as comfortable as it would be. Guess I could lose the toothless part.

There we are. Talk amongst yourselves.

costumes.jpg

Restaurant Gal @ 11:59 am
Filed under: First course
So Many Candles

Posted on Monday 24 October 2011

Who doesn’t take stock of life’s antics on one’s birthday? Sure, you pretend this insignificant, utterly forgettable birthday is insignificant and forgettable enough to stop the reflective thoughts as they creep up over your morning coffee and spill forth with the force of a rogue wave by happy hour. Thus, if the thoughts are there, they must be heard.

To wit for this gal, a birthday reflection itinerary:

Night before birthday–Dinner out with my great guy at a Brazilian steakhouse, which I love because I can eat so much of the food at these places. We are in a food coma within an hour and must go home and recline on the couch to watch reruns of Cheers. Reflective birthday thoughts: Wow, am I full. Wow, am I glad I no longer have to wake up at 5 a.m. to go to work. Wow, Cheers is still very funny.

Birthday morning–RG Daughter calls, just to chat, and then realizes today, not tomorrow, is my birthday. RG Son and I had talked the night before, and I told him that counted as the birthday call. I call an old friend with whom I share a birthday and age, and laughingly tell her we need to agree on yet another new age, say 34; and then we seriously agree that we are simply thankful to be any age today. Reflective birthday thoughts: I will always be a “bratty kid” in the eyes and heart of my aunt, who is like my mother, as she reminds me every birthday.

Birthday Night–My great guy is working, so I insist that my former manager at “Eggs in Hell” join me to see Eric Burden of the Animals fame at Hard Rock. “You’re the only one old enough around here besides me to remember any of their hits,” I tell her. I have never had social time with my former manager, but we have unexpected fun on my birthday, singing and dancing to “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” and all the rest. Reflective birthday thoughts: My former manager is pretty cool now that she’s not my manager, and I hope a friendship continues to flourish.

Later on the Birthday Night–While killing time before my great guy gets off work, I win an $834.00 bonus on a 60-cent bet at a dumb slot machine I never play. I frantically press the “cash-out” button on the flashing thing so no one notices. “I played that machine right before you and didn’t win a damn thing,” says a woman sitting two machines down from me. Reflective birthday thoughts: Now, if I could just figure out a way to win even half that amount every week, I could supplement my income quite nicely. Right. That’s why I get weekly offers for free concert tickets and logo mugs and umbrellas.

Ever Since My Birthday

Customers of my great October-birthday-too guy invite us on a 50th birthday dinner cruise aboard a beautiful private yacht, complete with live music and crazy colored flashing drink glasses. My great guy and I poach a few minutes of the extravaganza to quietly toast our own birthdays and just about everything else to each other on this fun, fun night off together.

Despite an ongoing learning curve, I continue to make more money in three days at my new evening job than I ever did in six (often 9 or 10 in a row) mornings at the fine-dining egg house. And I get to wear a cotton T-shirt as opposed to a polyester Nehru-jacket-like billowing mess that felt great when the August heat index topped 102 and I had $18 to show for a 7-hour shift. Although I have to pick up extra shifts and catering gigs to dig myself out of the financial hell hole I fell into slinging those expensive eggs for eight months, I am no longer exhausted 24/7 as a result of having to wake up at 5 a.m. every damn day.

Birthday reflective thoughts: I have been breathing a sigh of relief ever since my birthday. It feels decidedly good.

Restaurant Gal @ 9:31 am
Filed under: First course andGuests andManagers
But What If I Don’t Know How…?!?!

Posted on Saturday 17 September 2011

It’s not like I don’t know the hospitality realm. Hell, I grew up in it. At age 5, I coughed my way through clouds of smoke as I helped the bartender at my stepfather’s Southern California restaurant wipe down his bar surface. Six months later, when my stepfather moved us east to D.C. so he could be more hands-on with his two hotels and their respective eateries and private club in one, I learned how to hold more than one plate in my small left hand so I could help clear seated tables.

By age seven, I knew how to greet a celebrity politician/actor/musician with the perfect balance of bland familiarity, deference and ego-feeding awe. By age eight, I was instructing my mother on all of the above in order to appear just cute enough to all the politicians/actors/musicians when she had me in tow. She failed one test quite miserably, however, when she asked Hubert Humphrey what party he represented. Despite her combination Marilyn Monroe/Doris Day sultry adorableness, which Humphrey totally appreciated, both my stepfather and I groaned audibly and wanted to crawl under a table at that moment on that evening.

But as I grew older, I grew up and far away from the biz. School, friends and adolescent teen-club dances gave way to a perennial call-out from my step-father’s business world. Eventually, my stepfather’s mutterings and curses about why to “never go in this business!” took hold. By the time I was 18, he’d sold it all, and all I wanted to do was write. Yet, to this day, I can’t pass by the AFL-CIO headquarters or a certain Senate office building on the Hill and not feel the surge of incredible memories of a 1960s D.C. hospitality heyday.

When I walked out of my office and light years away from my bland editorial job some six years ago and applied to “do anything” with a highly successful D.C. restaurant group’s new downtown location, I was hired on the spot. This was not because of my biz-in-the-blood effervescence. Rather, I agreed to start out as a host, the least respected you-have-to-be-a-ditz-to-do-this-job job in restaurants. I will forever argue, however, that hosting is the restaurant world’s lowest-paying, most energy-zapping and ultimate pressure-cooker task ever invented, outside of management, that is. Actually, the jobs are about on par. Next time you’re in a restaurant, look who’s always hanging around the host stand looking for a lifeline to sanity and a pretty smile with no responsibility.

To learn my new job, the group’s big boss stuck me in the busiest of their outlets to learn from an old-school maitre d’ who I will forever swear is the best of the best of the best anywhere. On my first day, I wasn’t thrown to the wolves, however. No, I was thrown into the entire wolves’ den holding giant raw steaks in each hand. I was eaten alive. I was mincemeat. I cried and cried as I called RG Son from the sidewalk minutes after I was cut, and told him, “I will never learn how to seat in a rotation! I can’t even read the seating chart! I can’t do this!”

I will also never forget RG Son’s surprise at hearing his mother’s vulnerability and his teenage ability to maturely step up in a stark reversal of an advice-giving role: “Mom, the chart is just numbers. I’ll help you learn them when you get home.” I love my boy for many reasons, but that moment ranks high on the top five of why I do.

Long story longer: I learned the table numbers the next day. Far more importantly, I learned lessons in service from my old-school maitre d’ that I have taken to every job since. I was recognized very quickly by this D.C. restaurant group and given various increased responsibilities and a few promotions. I still thank them many times over for taking a chance on a gal who’d been out of the biz for decades. And to think, I was worried to the point of quitting after my first day about table numbers.

Yet, with every restaurant job I take, I worry–obsess–over the next “I-can’t-do-this-they’ll-find-out-I’m-worthless-and-really-don’t-know’what-I’m-doing” task that feels like the next insurmountable mountain.

To wit:

First job in SoFla: I don’t know fine-dining private events, I don’t know anything! I was a nervous wreck filled with self doubts for two weeks. Then I figured out I knew what I knew, and it was enough. And it worked out just fine.

First job in Keys: I can’t serve! I haven’t served since I was a teenager! I didn’t quit after the second day of weeds and my manager yelling at me, because I had no options on that second day. A few weeks later, I was making a stupid amount of money serving right up there with the best.

First bartending job in the Keys: I don’t know how to tend bar! I haven’t tended bar since I tended bar illegally at age 17! Shots? How do you measure a pour for multiple shots??? Yeah, I still have a certain shot phobia, but I did a damn fine job pouring every other drink. And shot recipes don’t matter when you garner a local following.

First job back in civilization and off the Rock: I can’t handle fine dining breakfast! I can’t carry a tray! No really, I can’t carry a tray and a tray jack and do it like the “real” servers do! I’m not even a real server!!! They’ll find it out in a second! I say the following more as a pep talk to myself as I take my next step: The tray issue was a nonissue within hours. Ask anyone who matters, you’ve done a damn fine job in corporate hotelville. To bad all the exhausting 45-plus-hours-a-week fine-diningness of it all sent you spiraling into mounds of debt due to overstaffing and other mismanagement. Trays…haha!

First job serving dinner and dealing with opening wine at tables: But I don’t know wine! I’ve never served dinner! I…I…oh, shut up. Okay, at least it’s upscale casual and not fine dining. Okay, at least they hired you on the spot thinking you know everything. Okay, at least you won’t have to get up at 5 a.m. ever again unless you have to catch an early flight. Okay, at least you know you are pathetic in your self doubt. Thus, as I watched more than ten You Tube videos about how to open wine as a server, I started to laugh. When the tenth video in a row still suggested setting the wine bottle down “on a surface” to open, I slapped myself upside the head. See, you know better than that. When the same ten videos showed servers “popping” corks, I knew I knew even “more” better. Now, if I can can just get my Celiac diseased finger joints to cooperate with the proper wine-opening process that I already know….

Every restaurant job I’ve had since I rocked my quiet editorial world has taught me that I know so much more than I think I know, and that I will always learn something more important about true professionalism in an industry rife with the mediocre.

Truth be told, I’d just like to make a living wage again, have a drink with my great guy after work because we’re on the same schedule, and maybe have fun at work one day out of twelve or twenty.

Okay, maybe my highest expectation is to not dread going to work anymore because that ultimately leads to second guessing your entire life when you’re not at work. Yeah, that’ll work for me.

Restaurant Gal @ 8:34 pm
Filed under: First course