Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Last Table

Have you ever been the last table to leave a restaurant? If so, why?

Now, I don't mean to suggest that being the last table to leave a restaurant is necessarily a social faux pas, but if you can recall a wonderful romantic dinner with your significant other that seemed to stretch on forever as you gazed into one another's eyes and for so long reveled in the anticipation of a night of blissful love that by the time you regained your senses and looked up, you found that all the other patrons had long since gone, the candles on their tables extinguished along with the lights in all the dining rooms except yours, then you, my friend, have been an integral part of my 'other' waiter nightmare.

The most common waiter nightmare, or the 'dream' as I have referred to it in other entries to this journal, is the one where the waiter has too many tables, patrons and orders and not enough hands, legs or time to take care of them all. Every waiter and waitress, without exception, has this dream. Many still have it long after they've hung up the apron.

Though far fewer have it, the 'other' waiter dream is the one where it is the end of the night and all the customers have gone but two. They sit, wrapped up in each other's gooey gaze and murmuring soft phrases of endearment, oblivious completely to the fact that their world has come into conflict with the world of the waiter and perhaps the kitchen staff, who've been there all day. Of course, it's a little much to ask that patrons think of the welfare of their chef or server while engaged in the activity they came for, especially considering that they will be asked--no, expected--to make explicit concessions to the server's welfare by giving him or her a tip. So, in a sense, they are renting the space, and if they pay their rent, why all's fair.

The rent analogy is good one, but there is an element to the transaction that is often overlooked in the special case of the last table of the night. That is, rent is due at a certain time. Now, granted, we don't decide to give the landlord a little extra for being so patient as to wait an extra week for payment, but the landlord rightly charges us a late fee for our dalliance, and we therefore learn--hopefully--to go ahead and pay on time.

For most patrons in a restaurant this isn't an issue. Most people want to leave as soon as they've finished their meal, so it is up to the waiter to deliver the check in a timely manner in anticipation of that desire to depart, and if there is a problem, it is when the waiter delivers the check too late or takes too long in processing the payment. In the case we are discussing--the last table--however, even the delivery of the check does not signal to the oblivious patrons that it is time to go.

I won't pretend to be innocent of this petty offense, but that doesn't diminish my frustration as waiter when this happens again. And it happens about once a week, at least. So, you'd think I'd be over it by now, and to a large extent, I am. This is especially true during these lean days, but even when business is/was robust, every patron is important and needs to be treated with respect--so that they will return.

Even at H_____, which is now a 'destination' restaurant, we rely on our 'regulars' for the bulk of our business. And the way we get regulars is to feed them and treat them well. Thus, being rude to, or worse, asking the last table to leave is simply not an option.

Unwilling as I am to doing anything other than wait them out--as I did last night--I am forced to relieve the stress by dumping this rant on you, dear Reader.

So, the question to ask here at the end, having decided that we are all, at one time or another going to commit this callous act of disrespect to our servants, is why? Why are we the last table tonight? Is it because we made late reservations, then showed up late? Or worse still, perhaps we just showed up late?

Being late is not in and of itself a problem. Many people call up and ask; "What is your latest reservation?" or "How late can we come in?" I know that what they are really saying is: "We have some other plans before we come out to your restaurant. How should we plan so we don't miss the dinner service?" This is perfectly reasonable and understandable, but phrased in the former fashion it becomes an annoying question for the restaurant.

The restaurant might ask in return: "Are you asking this because you want to be the last people served by the kitchen this evening? Are you asking the chefs to stay late to accommodate your inability to make reasonable plans? Or perhaps you just don't care about how your food will be prepared and served because you think that we just love to serve everyone, no matter what time of day or night, and no matter how rude or insensitive you manage to be?

Now some people have been known to come in early and outlast every other customer in the restaurant. Truly in the throes of a 'romantical' entanglement of a serious nature, it is hard to be hard, so to speak, on these (usually) young lovebirds. But then, they are not really the subject of this little screed. After all, a restaurant is where one comes to be 'restored'. In the most literal sense, this is why I do 'it' (service), have done 'it' for so many years. I truly love seeing people caught up in 'their' moment. All I'm asking is that if you look up and see that you are the last to leave, it's time to be on your way.

You've heard the saying (it might even be a country song): 'You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here'.

1 comment:

valhere001 said...

hmmmmm, as we are going out tonight - what time shall i make the reservation, lovebug?