Monday, November 17, 2008

Your Best Table

Although I have promised not to rant about the restaurant here because it is simply self indulgent to complain about what I choose to do for a living, there are moments when a situation has so aggrieved me that I am unable to escape it even the next day, so I write about it to in some way clear the awful vision from my head. So it is, today, a Sunday, and I have to tell the story about the folks from the big city.

Now, I could have called them something much worse, and, in fact, I did, shortly after my first encounter with them, even knowing that I would have to rid myself of this resentment because I still had face them again later in the evening. Of course, thanks to a combination of their personalities and my on-the-edge-of-burnout attitude, I was not able to accomplish this feat, and my second encounter with them went only slightly better than the first. But I am ahead of myself as, always.

Saturdays are my long day at the restaurant, often ten or twelve hours--beginning at noon. When I arrive, I immediately take responsibility for answering the phone and tending to guests who wander into the lobby, as did the foursome from H-Town that this story is about. I was packing cases of wine from the office up to the lobby when, on kicking open the door about two o'clock, I found my 'friends' waiting for me at the host stand.


A large man with obviously blow dried hair and a thick mustache that reminded me of the seventies greeted me with the kind of artificial enthusiasm and aggressive posture that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up; call it my 'waiter-sense'. With just a single word and his look, with a scan of the other three gathered round the stand I knew this was not going to be pleasant.

Can I help y'all?

We want to make a reservation. We want your best table.

Oh, now that's one of my favorite phrases, and a darn fine way to begin our interaction, but they have no way of knowing this is, so I will have to set them straight. I begin by setting down my case of wine and assuming my post at the reservation screen. At this point, the two women have a menu out and are perusing it, but one of them doesn't even have her glasses on, so I know she's just pretending to look.

Well, I begin, it's going to be a busy night. What time were you thinking about coming in?

Sensing my stiffness, this large seventies throwback decides to push to see how far he can go.

We've come a long way to eat in your restaurant. We want the best table you have. But not in with the crows.

Now, there is a crow 'theme' to one of our dining rooms. There are several bare varnished branches emerging from the wall on either side of the fireplace, and on the branches are several stuffed crows. There are some paper-mache crows that look fairly realistic on the mantel and a couple of paintings of crows by the Chef's ex-wife. Chef says it's for good luck; it creeped me out a bit at first but now I'm used it it, of course.

Now though mustache man and I may this this one thing in common, I am no ally. I do not like it when people tell me where they do or do not want to sit. I understand that people have preferences and we do try to accommodate them, but ultimately, for it's own sake, the restaurant has to set people when and where it must in order to maximize the space and time.

This whole thing about demanding--or even requesting politely--the best table in the house is something I've written about before, so I'll not belabor the point, but if it is simply annoying on the phone, dealing with the an individual who would ask for such a favor in person is downright maddening.

And, I think, they felt this. I have long known that mine is no poker face. I may control my words perfectly, but the eyes do not lie. Nor do I wish them to. I hope that sometimes people will read my thoughts beamed directly into their brains via the blue eye and act accordingly, but in this case, I don't think the jedi mind trick worked.

What time were you thinking about coming in? I repeated, ignoring, for the moment, the best table ploy.

Oh, I don't know. What do you think? He turns to his big buddy, who is eyeing me suspisciouly; he see my UT cap.

Don't matter to me, says buddy, in his best Texas country boy accent.

How bout 7:30.

Great, I say. I tap the computer screen to start the process that will, in the short term at least, get them out of my presence. Last name?

Say, where are you going to seat us? Inside I hope?

Yes, I say, but we have a big party coming in this evening, so two of the dining rooms--I gesture to the majority of the restaurant behind me--are occupied. the three rooms we will be using including this one--I point to the fireplace room, a la crow--and I am afraid I cannot promise any particular table.

He looks surprised, so I press on. We have the patio reserved as well, and quite a crowd on top of that, so let's go ahead and get you in the book.

We'll take this one! One of the women calls from the back room, having chosen a prime table in the middle of the dining room.

I cannot promise any particular table, I repeat, but I can make sure you are inside. Now, what was the name?

He gives me his name and phone number, but asks for my name in return.

Phillip. Thanks for asking. I smile, giving him the blue eye.

You the owner? He asks with just a hint of respect.

No, I just work here. Now a thoughtful person might wonder if in fact I was just being modest, but my mustache man sensed that he was in the presence of a minor player in his league and decided to press.

Well, we've eaten in some might fine restaurants. Your's seems good.

It is. I am in no mood to 'sell' them on the reservation. In, that's not going to happen. He is not reading my mind, but he does back down.

What time's the game, asked the oblivious buddy, proving that wasn't paying attention and worse, he had no idea nor interest in said game.

It's already on, I shot back. Now, I've got you down for four at seven-thirty, I say. We look forward to seeing you tonight!

Their departure is none to quick for me, as my blood pressure is skyrocketing by this point. The assumptions that the pseudo wealthy make about their position in society relative to those who serve them is just warmed-over and barely disguised antebellum elitism. At a time when that word carries more than a hint of pejorative subtext, I believe that use it fairly here to describe the sense of entitlement that allowed reasonable men and women to own slaves with a 'good' conscience.

Never one to give an entire village a bad rap for one of it's members, I'll nonetheless not resist the temptation to give an oily city a hit for producing and exporting something more pollutant than hydrocarbons and call them out for propagating a culture the racist undertones of Southern gentility with the most obvious materialistic morals of the carpetbaggers they pretend to hate but whom they secretly admire and not so secretly imitate.

Lynda once told me that she was eighteen before she realized that the South was not going to rise again. I think some of these folks have never grown up.

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