Priceless.

26 Nov

I left the restaurant for a month, to work on a project.  When I came back Wednesday night, it was jarring to interact with the guests; my restaurant caters to a subculture of people so entitled, that their behavior is truly out of adjustment with the rest of world, and I had forgotten just how pathological some of these people really were.

Enter my first table of the night, two twenty-something female business suits, who drank ten “grey goose n’ sodas” between the two of them, in two hours, while discussing sales demographics, and dirty office assignations.

The blonde alcoholic seated in the banquet asked me if “there were any bones in the chicken,” as if bones would certainly render any entrée inedible. I responded, “yes, there were some bones in the thigh meat,” and “no, we couldn’t remove them from the dish.” The notion that a chicken had bones, which could not be removed, revolted the blonde to such a degree, that she opted for the chilean sea bass instead.

When the sea bass arrived at the table, I checked back with the blonde. She was indignant, and began a passive aggressive tirade.

“I’m not difficult. I’m not,” she said. “… But you remember how I asked you if the chicken had bones?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, I can’t eat something with skin. This has skin on it. You didn’t tell me there was skin on it. I can’t eat this. It’s disgusting.” (the very thin  and tasty skin –easily removeable– was on one side of the filet.)

“Do you want Chef to remove the skin in the kitchen?,” I offered.

“No, now that I know it has skin. I can’t think about it. Just get me whatever she’s having,” the blonde said, pointing to her friend’s plate, and waving me away with her wrist.

I personally brought the blonde her new couscous entrée, but she had to get a little dig in first, before I was excused.

“Are you new here?,” she said.

“No,” I said.

“Well, I guess you’re a little slow on the learning curve then.” (her implication being that someone who doesn’t like bones in chicken, obviously can’t tolerate skin on a fish). 

“Yes,” I happily agreed. “I guess I’m a little slow on the learning curve.”

“Going forward. If there’s skin on a fish, you really should mention it.”

“Thank You,” I said, with the most saccharin smile I could muster. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I will make sure to mention it… Going forward.”

I kept my cool, but couldn’t resist when the perfect opportunity to one-up her presented itself: the blonde at the banquet paid with a novelty “alum” credit-card, sponsored by my alma mater. We were both graduates of the same over-priced university. Cute! And she was treating me like shit. Cuter! 

The second she handed me the card, I noticed our alma mater’s iconic university building, clearly featured on the card-front, and I uttered the building’s name under my breath, as if it was a passing thought.  The blonde was drunk, but she picked up on my cue immediately. Oh, the look on her face. I didn’t even give her the satisfaction of apologizing. I just dropped the check and said, “Have a wonderful evening, ladies.”

Chilean sea bass, at a swanky NYC restaurant: $32 dollars.

Ten Grey goose and sodas, with two-limes: $160 dollars.

Letting a privileged bitch know that she’s a bitch, without calling her a “bitch,” and losing your job: Priceless.

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44 Patron shots in 10 minutes

24 Oct

Last night I had a twenty-two top that waited over an hour for a table.  It was a bunch of trust fund kids (by kids, I mean early thirty-somethings who have fake jobs, and are drinking with the same people who they invited to their Bar Mitzvah.)

Needless to say, by the time I got them they were already drunk from waiting at the bar, and very, very irritable.  My manager sent them a round of shots at the get-go. And then another manager sent them another round of shots, with the rationalization, “These people run in some crazy circles.” That’s 44 shots delivered in a matter of ten minutes -not fun to carry on one tray, and run around a crowded banquet table-.

For the record, I’m a high-volume rockstar, if I do say so myself. They could not have been in better hands. I can handle that many people. I just can’t handle that many people who aren’t aware that they ARE that many people, and that it does take some time to get an order in, when a party is that large.

Of course once I got to the table I was held there for twenty minutes taking a food and drink order, despite the fact I had other tables. It was IMPOSSIBLE to leave. And of course, it took another ten minutes to make the twenty-two specialty cocktails ordered. And it takes another ten minutes to deliver their drinks. So— yes, some people had to wait twenty minutes for their drinks.

This one guy kept saying, “I’m waiting on the Goose Rocks that never came.” By this time I was pretty pissed and just said, “Oh yeah, well, it takes a few minutes to make twenty-two-drinks.” He responded with, “Well, since it’s taking so long, put in three more Grey Goose rocks in, now.”

Did I mention that five “joiners” came to the table, making it 27 people? And there was nowhere to put them. Nowhere. And we were so busy that nobody could help me. I delivered all the drinks, cleared the table, put down their miss en place for the entrees, cleared and entrees and put down the set-up for desert. (My busser was probably eating a filet somewhere in a side-station.)

Basically the night consisted of me cocktailing my ass off till there tab was at about $2,700. They started a small food fight when they couldn’t agree who would pay the bill. First they handed me 12 credit cards. When I explained I couldn’t split the bill that many ways, they played Credit Card Russian Roulette, and settled on 8 cards.

By the time I was done running around for this table, and bussing it, I had sweat through my shirt and was fairly delirious. I was so out of it in fact, that the table adjacent to the douche-bags offered to let me sit down with them. I did sit with them, and conversed, while I waited for the douches to play Roulette.

It took me about seven minutes to apply the cash, and split the bill 8 ways. One of the douches came back to the server station and demanded to know what was taking so long. I just looked at him and said, “I’m on check number 8 right now, Sir.” He responded with, “Oh, man, thanks, right… I mean, it’s not your fault. You’re great man… I mean, you’re really cool.” I had to wonder why he was yelling at me then if I was “really cool.”

They were a classy group.

The Grand Manner: A Waiter Rant

20 Oct

TheInsideWaiter is about to take an unprecedented step: rant on another waiter.

We all perform as waiters; we play the part.  It’s hard to approach hundreds of strangers every night without a mask, or a costume for that matter (I remember one time my restaurant ran out of aprons, and I felt completely naked approaching tables). Some waiters, however, take the waiter-act to a tragic extreme.

[ENTER, the waiter from Vice Versa].

After walking past Vice Versa about seventy times on 51st st., I decided to try it out with my boyfriend and his parents, who were visiting from San Francisco.  Unfortunately, nobody told our waiter that we were in Hell’s Kitchen, not a period Restoration Drama. He simply was too much.

Every bow, every grand manner, felt like an affront. He delivered the menus with such magical pretension, that I half expected wild white doves to fly from the pages.

Selecting the wine was a scene in itself: “The Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc, Sir.” Our waiter presented the bottle before my guest like a loaded revolver. Were we about to make a toast, or commence a round of Russian Roulette?  Our waiter performed the latter circumstance. And we all know that a gun presented in Act-I, must go off in Act-III.

I don’t think my San Francisco guests knew what was happening to them; they had fallen under his server spell; but me and my New Yorker comrade knew better: this waiter was a first-class jerk, or just another failed forty-something actor with a four person audience. Either way, we were stuck with an unwanted 7pm matinée, and a waiter who was delivering lines like we were the geriatrics in attendance.

I can’t really complain about the service; it was impeccable; indeed, our server didn’t miss a beat, and I envied him for having such an attentive, communicative support staff.  His intoning just made the experience so uncomfortable, that I couldn’t enjoy it.

I started with the Insalata Di Cuori Di Palma con Avocado, Pomodoro, Basilico e Salsa di Limone (That’s Italian for a sophisticated, but surprisingly small, hearts of palm salad, at $14.00).  I went with the server’s recommendation for the main, “The Strangled Priest,” pasta with duck ragout and black Gaeta olives ($19).  The pasta was a little overcooked, and the duck ragout wasn’t really a ragout, so much as dry duck with tomatoes.  I needed crushed red pepper to get through it.

As far as our waiter was concerned, we were nibbling away at ambrosia.  He kept the act up through the final bow, bill in hand. I felt a little bad for him; but I swear: You make me go to a matinée, and I’ll be the one using that revolver.

10 lies, in 60 minutes.

19 Oct

New Yorkers distrust Waiters, and they should; we are forced to lie constantly.

In one hour alone, the following 10 lies were told tonight:

1) “I’m sorry sir but we’re out of that Burgundy.”

Translation: Management has reserved 12 bottles of your Burgundy for a private party.

2) “You’re still waiting on that Cosmo… oh.”

Translation: You’re cut-off, Drunkard.

3) “It is cold… I know… I just told a manager to raise the temperature.”

Translation: Management is literally chilling the walls because this place is going to be packed with hundreds of people, and your individual body temperature is of no concern to me, or to them.

4) “I don’t own a TV.”

Translation: Yes, that is the girl from The Sopranos.

5) “Oh, yes, I love the Monkfish.”

Translation: Your date just ordered the Monkfish, after I recommended the Halibut, and now you are asking me if it’s any good.

6) “The busser just cleared your water glass? Oh– so sorry, let me get you another.”

Translation: You’ve been holding this table for two hours; get the hell out!

7) “Yeah, unfortunately that table’s taken.”

Translation: You can’t sit there, douche-bag.

8) “He said thanks. He got the joke.”

Translation: The NFL superstar didn’t get the “Blow-Job” shots you ordered him, and I’m not going to solicit him, asshole. Did you really think I’d give a football player “blow-job” shots?

9) ”   —   .”

Translation: If I say anything right now, “yes,” or “no,” to whatever sexually inappropriate question you just asked me, I’ll be fired.

10) “It’s a good time. You’ll have fun.”

Translation: I’d rather wait two-hours for an G-train, than see that Broadway show.

Waiter, I’d like a “Pinot.”

13 Oct

“I’d like a Pinot,” many a guest will tell me, perusing the bottle list.

Unfortunately, “Pinot” has become the accepted moniker  for “Pinot Noir,” and the phrase “I’d like a Pinot,” is often a red flag for snobbery, much like the word “appee” is a sure sign of douche-baggery (See my post Spreken Ze Douche.)

If I want to one-up the snobs I reply with, “Would you like a Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier, or Pinot Grigio?”

Inevitably they want a Pinot Noir, but the real problem is that people who say “I want a Pinot,” really have no idea what they want, even if it’s a Pinot Noir.

There is ONE underlying factor that determines what someone who says “I’ll have a Pinot” wants, and it has nothing to do with region, taste, year, or food-pairing.

Usually the conversation goes something like this:

Waiter: “What region?  Would like an old world Burgundy, or something from Oregon, California or perhaps New Zealand?”  

Snob: “I don’t know.”

Waiter: “Well… are you looking for light, soft, fruit-foward Pinot Noir, or something darker, earthier, with more tannins and spice?” (Of course, the best wines  may have all these qualities, but it’s a start.)

Snob: “Ughhhh…. I don’t know.”

Waiter: Let’s go by food pairing. You’re getting the filet, and she’s getting Monkfish, so how about something dry, medium bodied, with ripe fruit for the fish, yet enough tannins for your filet? Let’s look at this Oregon…

Snob: Uhmmm, okay. But I’m still not sure if…

Waiter: I love this winemaker here… (Snob sees price; $162 dollars).

Snob: No— no no. I’ll have to look at this a second…

Waiter: There’s also a similar Pinot Noir, not quite as complex, from Central California… (Snob sees price $54.)

Snob: Oh. We’ll try that. Sure, why not?

See, “I’ll have a Pinot,” also means “take me to the $50 dollar bottle,” which isn’t problematic except when you are being directed to the $50 dollar bottle of Pinot Noir (Thankfully my restaurant doesn’t even bother with $50 bottles of Merlot, “No-no0-na-no.”)

“Take me to the $50 bottle you’d drink,” is indeed a very good question to ask a waiter, because the waiter will know exactly what delicious bottle to recommend. The guy who can ask for his price point right off the bat is certainly going to get a better bottle, than the snob who pretends to not care about the price.

Lesson learned? I hope so, Mr. Pinot.

It’s not the MOB; it’s Grey Goose.

10 Oct

Last night I had a conversation with the head bartender from a Tribeca hotspot. I learned some very interesting information about liquor sales and distribution in Manhattan.

First, he confirmed what I’d always suspected: “Hot” restaurants get huge discounts from liquor companies for featuring their products in house made cocktails. Liquor sales reps don’t offer discounts to just any bar or restaurant. They only court high-volume establishments that will help promote their brand name, to an “in” crowd.  Apparently the only vodka that doesn’t have to do this kind of restaurant  recruiting is Grey Goose; it sells itself. No surprise there, but what do these discounts mean on paper?  

It plays out like this: A Svedka representative says to the restauranteur, “Svedka will give you ten percent off our product, if you make a signature Svedka cocktail, and run it on your menu for three months.” Then management tells the bartenders, “We need a Svedka cocktail.” However, if Chopin all of a sudden says, “No, no, we’ll give you twenty-percent off,” the Svedka cocktail quickly is changed to a Chopin cocktail. This explains why the vodkas are always changing on new featured cocktails at my restaurant.

“Just how inflated are drink prices then, if restaurants are receiving these discounts?,” I asked.

“Well,” said the bartender. “A two oz. pour of a premium vodka might cost the restaurant less than $1.25, and we charge $14 dollars for the drink. Does that answer your question?”

Yes. It did.

Additionally I learned why some popular liquors are “86’d” for months at a time at my restaurant.

For example we were “86 Patron” for months. Do you know what it’s like telling people you don’t have Patron? Management kept saying, “Oh, we’re working things out; we’ll get a shipment.”

I never understood what was really going on: the restaurant was playing hard-ball with Patron, punishing them for not giving the restaurant a discount, essentially saying, “We can run fine without you. You think you’re so hot you don’t need to give us a discount? Well, watch us not sell your product for a couple of months.” Of course, in the end, a deal was struck, and management finally said, “We got our shipment of Patron.” Yeah right, what you got was a discount, finally.

I hope this information is helpful the next time you order a $22 dollar Stoli Elite cosmo.8

The Dragon Lady [PartI]

8 Oct

“Jamie? Sammy? Daaaaaaaavid? Where IS everybody? I’m here!”

Our most infamous regular had arrived. It was only 4:30pm,  the restaurant was empty. And I was the only person on the floor. It was just me, The Dragon Lady, and the bruised shadow of her Ego, secretly hiding in the dark folds of her waist-length black hair. 

“Where is everybody?,” The Dragon Lady asked again, this time with suspicion. The creature in her hair was already roused, assessing the threat, ready to attack.

I waited on Nikki, The Dragon Lady, for the first time on October 8th, 2008.  I was at my old restaurant then, a small french bistro on the Upper East Side.  Nikki struck me as so eccentric, that I held onto the waiter-pad from that night (I was thinking about TheInsideWaiter blog even then), and I wrote about her in my journal, the whole train ride home. 

The first thing I noted about Nikki was her delicious voice. She spoke like a queen, with heightened speech, and long sung vowels.  Her voice was more than “affected,” it was effective, making even the most stubborn waiter hinge at his waist. 

The Dragon Lady was a modern regal, a stunning, petite woman of  ambiguous Asian descent, and the Ex-wife to a famous New York restaurateur and club-owner. She was highly educated, and yet, there was something just plain cow-town American about her, especially when she said things like, “Awwww’ come on!,” and, “gimme’ a break!”  

Sonny, our most senior server, once told me the story of the afternoon Nikki earned her celebrated alias, The Dragon Lady.  Nikki was one sexual cat, a cougar one might say. In the summer, Nikki’s idea of “Sunday Best” was a coral silk negligee with bamboo print, that she proudly wore, without underwear, to our bistro’s brunch, every Sunday.  Nikki loved to bring her one night stands with her, usually younger men, and make-out with her Johns on the patio, after being emboldened by a few bottles of Peirre Jouet.       

One afternoon when Sonny was waiting on her outside, and her John was in the W.C., she asked Sonny, “Hey Sonny, What do you think of Brazilians?” Sonny didn’t quite understand what she meant, until she uncrossed her legs and opened her silk negligee, and said once more, “Now… what do you think of Braaaaazilians?” And so The Dragon Lady was named (After a racist-sexist stereotype, perpetuated in film and on this blog). 

Sonny once warned me, “Waiting on her is like riding a wild Bull.  If you can ride her once, she’ll remember. But if you can’t ride her, she’ll remember.” Tonight I  intended to ride her for at least 8 seconds, if not for eight courses.

And I was well prepared. This was not my first encounter with the Dragon Lady. I had waited on her many times before, but only as the back-waiter to her favorite servers, the aforementioned Jamie, Sonny and Daaaaaavid (He was as pretty as his long “a’s” implied).

I knew what to expect: In the first place, she was an eater. Secondly, there would be many questions. And most importantly, The Dragon was as indecisive as she was decisive, and the process of ordering would probably take twenty minutes, if not half an hour (Fortunately I had no other tables);  and once the kitchen got the ticket, multiple changes to the order would be made throughout the night. Things were inevitably going to be sent back: “smudged” glassware, “dry” bread, “unsippable” cocktails,  “measly” mussels, “overdressed” caesar salads… you are getting the idea.

I escorted The Dragon to table,  Table 41, her corner-booth of choice. 

“Oh. Let’s try something in the sun this afternoon. I’m cold,” she said, before assuming her throne.

She was testing me already. I knew very well that she would move from “something in the sun” to her old table 41, in a matter of five minutes; but, let the games begin.

“So where is Sonny. Where’s Daaaaaaaaaavid?” she insisted again.

I explained for the third time, that her preferred waiter toys were “off tonight.”  I watched her trying to imagine Sonny in civilian clothing –without an apron– not anticipating her entrance into the bistro. She was clearly nervous to be taking risks with a newbie like myself, but not as disappointed (or nervous) as I was.   

Whatever; I’m hungry,” she said whimsically, pretending that it didn’t matter. “Oh, I haaaaaave to eat. I am FAMISHED. Just FAMISHED!,” and then she began laughing at herself, with those delicious low tones. “I have a new trainer. I can hardly moooove, but feel these abs, feeeeeeeel them. Go head. Feeeel them!,” she demanded.

“Just say NO,” right? Easier said than done.  It would have been more awkward not to touch her, than to touch her, so I petted the cat’s belly.

“Can you believe I’m forty-seven. Forty-seven! Aaaaaaaah!,” and she screamed like a party girl. “And I have five kids. FIVE. Feel that stomach.”

Nice. You have kids?,” I asked.

“Oh my god, yes, they are with him tonight. Thank God,” she said. “Do I want a cocktail? What do you think I want?”

She asked the most dangerous question a customer, let alone a Dragon, could ask: What-do-you-think-I-want? Ohhhh, She was bold, buttering me up like that with her abs, her kids, and then hitting me in the face with a question like that.

“Well— I hate these sweet cocktails. What would you get?,” she queried.

The time had come to ride the bull.

“Honestly, right now,” I said. “I’m craving a dirty, dry, Plymouth martini up.” I thought she’d never go for it, but hey, tell the truth.

“Oooh. I like how you said that! I’ve never had a gin martini. I must have one.”

Bombs were going off in my head. Never had a gin martin? She was a forty-seven-year-old Manhattan socialite, the divorcee of a prestigious bar owner. How could you avoid a gin martini?

“What does it taste like?,” she asked, now concerned by her hastiness.

My God, this was like asking, “what do eggs taste like? What does the sky taste like,” It tastes like eggs, the sky; but still, I tried to muster up some description.

“Well, there’s definitely juniper berries, and herbaceous notes on the gin, with hint of pine. And… the olive juice adds a bit of saltiness? You have to try one.”

“If you think so,” she dared.

“Yes, lets,” I countered. She smiled at my boldness. I turned to place the drink order, before she stopped me.

“What’s your name?,” she asked with a smirk.

“TheInsideWaiter,” I said.

“Well InsideWaiter,” she said, “Do you happen to know what TIPS stand for?”

“Uuuugh— no,” I said.

“To-Insure-Proper-Service. TIPSsssssssss,” and she slid a tightly folded piece of paper into my hand, while looking directly into my eyes.

Indeed, she was a dragon. In the server station, I opened my hand and unfolded the bills. That’s why Sonny was so protective of her, that’s why he worked himself into conniptions over her entrees; he was just insuring proper service. By the end of this dinner date, I would insure that she was my regular, not for the money, but for the material . . . [Pt.2]