Monday, February 2, 2009

St. Valentine's Day Massacre, Part II: They Start Coming!

It is not often-this is the first time actually-that the other reader of this journal will request, let alone demand I write even more words. Given the rarity of this event and my eager ego, it should not surprise either one of you that I would accede to the other's earnest request. Should it prove too lengthy I suggest simply reading every other word. ed.

I've said it many times before: There is no easier way to crush a budding romance than to go out to a restaurant for a romantic meal on Valentine's Day. There are two reasons for this, neither of which is directly related to my personal distaste for the Day as a function of my profession.

The first way that a Valentine's Day date can extinguish an emerging love affair is if it goes well. This is because, if it does indeed go well, then there will now be an expectation on both parties to forever after have a romantic Valentine's Day. Of course, this is no accident. This is precisely the evil plan upon which Hallmark and it's spawn have loosed upon the world. It is like a virus. It's not alive, but it replicates. It invades the host and infects it, bending it physically to submit to it's will. And a 'good' Valentine's Day is like the Vampire's Bite. Once Bitten you cannot go back. At least most people know better than to invite them in!

Of course, the other way that Valentine's Day can and will most often wreck a romance before it can even get messy is when it doesn't go well. Now, notice that the fist way was an 'if' and the second was a 'when'. This means that although you may or may not get the first--a nice romantic evening--but if you persist--as Hallmark so desires--you will surely get the second, which is, quite naturally going to be a disaster.

Now, it won't make a bit of difference if the disaster is of your making or your partner's. It also won't make any difference at all if the disaster is created by the restaurant. It certainly didn't that night, for those romance-seeking couples whose first Valentine's Day Date was ruined that fateful February eve in 1999.

Now, in part one of this cautionary tale, I observed that it, given the date, Valentine's Day is often cold, but to observe the attire of the couple in attendance that day--may I say, particularly, the ladies--you might never have know that they were expecting to walk about in what, for Texas anyway, were fairly low temperatures: the 50's. Wearing strapless gowns and short dresses, high heels and in the absence of coats or wraps to hide their finery, these ladies no doubt expected to be whisked from their warm chariots into the equally warm and cozy restaurant--how about that table in front of the fire?

They were not expecting to wait in line, and most certainly not planning on queuing up outside, but that is exactly what happened. In order to seat as many two-tops in the restaurant as possible, we had converted all four-tops to twos and re-arranged the tables to accommodate as many more tables as would fit into the space. We had also converted the lobby and the patio, with it's plastic drop-down walls meant to ameliorate but not prevent the cold, converted into a dining room, and had consequently moved the hostess stand just outside the patio door.

This meant that we are able to seat the first wave of diners, but alas, the overbooking rendered this first little 'victory' moot. As soon as the restaurant was filled to capacity, there was still a line of couples out the door and into the garden and parking lot. It reminded me of one of those children's Bible illustrations of Noah's Ark, with the line of animals, two-by-two, snaking off into the distance for miles. Except that these pairs were shivering and getting progressively angrier by the minute.

Sadly, even those who were seated, immediately or after a long wait, were in for a(nother) rude surprise. The effect of adding tables without increasing the number of waiters leads to the very situation that waiters dread so much that they have nightmares about it. This was no nightmare, unfortunately, as we pinched ourselves repeatedly to no avail and kept on living it.

I personally was assigned to a section in the back of the restaurant. It has since been walled in, but at the time, it was like the front patio, with drop-down plastic walls and a flagstone floor. In this section, where normally at most six table would be placed--one of them a large, 6-12 top--there were now fewer than ten tables, all of them two-tops. Now, that would be ok, except for how they were seated. Recall that we were able to 'absorb' most of the first wave in our first seating, but note that they were all seated pretty much at once.

That single fact, more than any other, is what made the nightmare for me. It was, "Excuse me," and "O waiter!" over and over and over again as I literally ran between tables and winced each time another one was sat. It's a simple math problem, really, and there is no disputing the numbers. Ten tables times a two-minute greeting/order taking session adds up to twenty minutes, and that turns out to be just beyond the physical capacity of even the best waiter, which I naturally consider myself to be.

I just could not get the job done, and believe me, the patrons knew it. Those customers who did not leave waited for what seemed like hours. They waited for a table, then they waited for their food. There was not enough alcohol in the world to cover the bad feelings that evening, and, unfortunately, I had none to at least mellow me out until much later, much too late.

I was certainly not alone in this. Each player in this macabre little drama had his or her own personal nightmare. The hostess, for example, could hardly stand at podium without being attacked by impatient, and justifiably angry and cold customers. The kitchen was inundated by a flood of orders as each waiter struggled to turn in multiple tickets before running back to get more. The bartender was flooded with drink orders not just from the tables, but from all the people waiting in line.

In short, on this night, everyone waited for everything and no one was happy. It was a complex, interlocking and devastatingly difficult few hours for us all, and I'm not forgetting the patrons, either. Some of them actually came back, some of them even for Valentine's Day. One couple who was there even got married and came back to show me the ring one night. Go figure.

To this day, those of us who were there cannot recall it without a shudder. We take a definite pleasure in recounting it to the 'new' staff, those who were not there, but believe me, none of us would ever want to repeat it in real life.

After all, we still have the 'waiter dream'.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

had i not been a part of it , i would not have believed the horror of it all....aaaccckkk!! v