Tag Archives: new york dining

Xenophobia

30 Dec

I am a masochist when it comes to foreigners: no matter how many times I’ve been stiffed, I just keep smiling.

Last night I had a section of Aussies, Italians, Brits, Indians, and Norwegians (in that order.) I didn’t have a single American table. First the Aussies left nothing after holding my table for three hours, then the Italians profusely thanked me by leaving $20 on $556 (“Grazie?”), and the Brits left their traditional Medieval tithe of 5%.

At my old place, I could just ask management to slap 20% on the bill. Unfortunately at my current establishment, you have to wait for the table to slight you, then you can ask for a manager to “talk” with them. As you can imagine, this policy is just embarrassing and ineffective.

As a waiter, I am not motivated by tips. I don’t do a better job if I think there is going to be a “fat tip” at the end of the night. I do a good job because I am just wired that way; I take pride in my work. I think most of us in the industry share this attitude. Waiters don’t walk around thinking, “Oh, I better get her drink now, or they aren’t going to tip me.” If we did, we’d all go crazy. Now, that said, when you realize you’ve been working all night and you’ve contributed twenty-two dollars to the tip-pool, reality sets in and you realize that indeed, you need some Goddamn tips or you’re not gonna’ be able to pay the rent.

Enter the Indian kids who turned me into something out of the French Revolution. Indians, (Yes, “Indians,” I’m just gonna’ start making mass sweeping statements about nationalities, so brace yourself ((I earned it)). No, let me qualify this statement a little further before I’m accused of being Xenophobic, rich Indians.) Rich Indians are even worse than the most loathsome, offensive group of international diners that the world has ever produced: Spaniards. Spaniards are simply insane, but rich Indians are not only insane, they’re emboldened. You would be emboldened too if you grew up in a country where more than 160 million people are rendered “Untouchables,” by an ancient caste system.

Well Mr. Kunadharaju, this is Manhattan, and while you might be able to get your government friends to kill me and get away with it in Bangalore; while you are here, you cannot hiss at my Bengali busser like that, and you certainly cannot leave us twelve bucks in cash on a five hundred-dollar tab. Oh the rage, the rage.

And you wanna’ know what I did? I went New York on him. I smacked that check presenter with his twelve singles in it back on his table, and said, “Keep it.” He seemed confused, and insisted, “This is for you!” I then gestured grandly to the twenty front of house staffers working the floor, as if he was a child visiting the zoo for the first time. I pointed to all the animals by name, listing about thirteen servers, bussers and runners in total, “You see [insert server name here], and —-, and —-, and this is my friend —. We all work here for fun. Please, keep this!” And you know what he did? He took the twelve bucks! Took it!

I just laughed, and moved on to the Norwegians.

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.

The Wine Nazi: “NO WINE FOR YOU!”

7 Oct

You all remember “The Soup Nazi” from Seinfeld? Well, I just met “The Wine Nazi;” he’s a twenty-eight-year-old Lebanese tight-wad (or should I say tight-end?) who graduated from Cornell, works in a PR firm, and who lost three-hundred dollars on Fantasy Football last week (Yes, I got all that information from his conversation tableside).

 Tonight the Wine Nazi thumbed through the wine menu for his party of four. Price was the only factor.  The varietal, terroirvintage and winemaker were inconsequential.

He chose a cheap bottle from a mega-wine-maker, a $72 dollar Malbec that you can get at Trader Joe’s for $13 bucks. 

After he tasted and approved the Argentinian grape juice, I started to pour his guests a small glass (To begin with, I am always conservative when it comes to the first pour; I find that a series of consecutive small pours kills a bottle faster, and ensures a second sale; the guest always thinks there is more coming, and therefore, drinks more liberally). 

I was just about to pour 1.5 ounces on the first guest’s glass, when Wine Nazi threw out his hand like a traffic cop, covering the guest’s glass, and scolding me, “No-no-no! No more.”

I thought maybe his friend didn’t want to  drink much, and the Wine Nazi was trying to help me.  And so on the next pour I went even slower. Sure enough, just as I was about to hit 1.5 ounces (less than half a pour), the Wine Nazi’s  hand flared up to stop me.

It’s not unusual for guests to silently indicate they don’t want to drink more, by raising their hand to the glass (This is a polite and traditional gesture. Blue Monied persons usually just raise the hand without comment, or thanks.  It’s very classy, much like putting your knife and fork parallel to eachother, as a signal to clear the plate.) 

However,  I’d never had the person ordering the wine, physically and verbally command me to “STOP!” pouring, before the first toast.  The Wine Nazi seemed to get a real kick out of ordering a bottle, and then having the power to dispense it over his friends.  It was pretty rude and messed up in my opinion.

The strange part was that he didn’t just pour the wine himself, and looked at me impatiently when his friends’ glasses were empty, as if to say, “Hey lazy, aren’t you going to fill our glasses?” But of course, the moment I started to pour, there was the traffic-light hand again, telling me to stop.

I should have just yelled at him, “NO WINE FOR YOU!”

BAD ROMANCE

2 Oct

People dining on dates don’t talk over a meal anymore, they text, tweet, and tube. They spurl-flick-deal-click.  Smart-phones are slowly killing romantic conversation, and changing dinner as we know it (Call me Laura Bush, but if you loved food and dining as much as I do, you’d understand that Apple, Microsoft, and possibly North Korea, have created an Axis of Evil, determined to ruin dining everywhere).

Why bother dressing to the nines, and paying for a $400 dollar meal, when you can follow Rachel Ray’s Tweets?  I don’t think I’m exaggerrating when I say that cell phone technology has dramatically changed how our culture interacts –or fails to interract–  at the dinner table. 

The dining experience is no longer limited to real time or space.  People are communicating, and having experiences (see the ipad below), outside the immediate circumstances of dinner. To be brief, people are fucking distracted, and it’s pissing me off.

Before texting, people would have to ask to “excuse” themselves before making/receiving a call. Now you just place your phone on the table, like a piece of esssential stationary, and wait for the phone to light up.

I try not to praise Europeans at any cost; but, when it comes to cell phone use, I would be remiss in not commending them for being tactiful tableside.  In general, Europeans seem to appreciate the experience of having a meal. Also, I believe they understand the value of moderation. Americans, however, are prone to developing medical compulsions over new gadgets.

People on their phones simply can’t be bothered to eat; but the server still must “serve,” often to the dismay of the guest. The server is either bothersome for interrupting conversation, or unattentive for not being available at the very moment that the guest puts down their phone. 

It didn’t always used to be this way. Guests had a responsibility to order.  I came across a corporate  hospitality manual from 2007, from my old restaurant that states:

Guests on cell phones: If a guest is using their cell phone upon being seated, greet the guest with eye contact, and offer ice water without asking water preference.  Do not interrupt the guest’s conversation. However, remain attentive until the guest has completed their call. In order to avoid miscommunication, do not take an order while the guest is on the phone, even if the guest indicates they would like to do so.”  

Doesn’t that sound lovely? Now people expect you take their full order while they are mid-conversation, while passively scolding you,  “Hold on Hank, this guy needs an order.”  Right, you don’t need the order, I do.

Cell phone conversations are the least of my worries.  2010 was the year of Apple’s Ipad Touch (Yes, people actually bring Ipads out at dinner. And Yes, I work in a restaurant where the majority of our socially programmed  guests own one.)

Now, what can I say about the Ipad touch, other than that they are totally obnoxious at the diner table?  To begin with, they look awful in dark dining rooms, radiating a white flourescent glow, like a  bug-zapper on the back porch in summer.  Additionally, Ipads are a complete liquid liability for the service staff.  Cells phones were hard enough to avoid, but try deshelling a four pound lobster tableside, around an ipad. It’s a disaster.

But these Ipad users aren’t concerned about lobster, or eating in restaurants.  Why eat when you can finger paint, play the Magic Piano, and my personal favorite: steer your ipad like race-car, with Real Racing HD. Turn that curve, but don’t knock over your bellini, bitch! People just aren’t really “there” anymore.   

I had a couple last night on a 6:30 reso date –not a business lunch– who decided to bring both their Ipad touches with them.  The lady facebooked, while the gentleman seemed to be arranging some sort of slideshow of their dog. Atleast the lady looked up from her screen to give me her order, but the gentelman couldn’t let his eyes drift away, not even to request his steak frites (Wrong temperature, surpise.) I pictured the two of them in bed with their ipad touches, never touching, making love with their Apple applications. 

I imagine that when television was first introduced into the American home, there were critics like myself, who were concerned that it would destroy the quality of family life.  Or maybe not, maybe the intelligensia didn’t notice a shift in family interaction until it as too late (See 1992). I’d rather not wait forty years to see what the smart-technology will do to the culture of cuisine. And for the record, I do not own a television.

Dining is one of the greatest joys in modern life.  In Manhattan, there are two places where people commune: the theatre and the restaurant. The theatre has already been lost as a cultural force.  The satisfaction of thirty-second youtube clips, has forever recoded our attentive DNA. We haven’t the patience for ideas, for experiencing life in the real. The restaurant, however, still may have a chance at surviving as a communal event. Food cannot be ignored; it must be contended with; it must be eaten, and perhaps even enjoyed, if only for our survival.

What is our romance with these new technologies?  Eating, drinking, talking. These are the actions of life.  The texting, the tweeting, the tubing — they are distractions. What purpose do these distractions serve? What compels us to busy our minds with the clicking? Why isn’t the plate in front of us enough?

Follow The Fold

29 Sep

The Industrial Revolution failed; people still fold napkins.

Every night, a restaurant’s staff  folds thousands of napkins, in order for them to be unfolded, soiled, cleaned, pressed, and then folded again. It’s an endless enterprise.

Over the course of one evening, the house stockpile of folded whites, rises and falls, like the tides.  Usually around 11:30, the last reserves have been snatched up, and reset on tables.  Only after the saddest, off-white  folds begin circulating into service, do the bussers begin to prophetize, “No napkins soon! No napkins!” Service must stop, folding commences, and the famine is kept at bay.    

Folding is time intensive.  The more elaborate the fold, the more time it takes.  The past three restaurants I have worked in have used the same exact basic fold.  So I’m quite comfortable with this particular tri-fold, and can produce the napkin in 8 seconds flat. 

At 8 seconds a napkin (I just timed myself), 50 napkins should take only 8 minutes, but that doesn’t seem reallistic. In fact, 50 napkins usually takes 10-15 minutes, even at a pert pace. There must be some breathing room in there that I’m not counting? Ah yes, gossip.

I just calculated that I have folded a minimum of 31,200 napkins, in the last three years.

(Minimum of 50 Napkins a day)* x (Average of  4 days a week) x (52 weeks a year) x (3 years)

=31,200

*Some side-work requires 200 napkins. Number of napkins folded does not include silverware “roll-ups” for the patio.

31,200 napkins is a substantial amount of gossip. Lots of sex has been relived over those clean linens, lots of dreams shared, and lots of tears shed.

Not everyone socializes over folding. I once had a manager named Sally, who folded napkins like a solitary Catholic reciting her rosary. She had an alcoholic boyfriend, and slowing stacking the perfect piles of white, seemed to give her solace.  It took her about 200,000 napkins before she decided to break up with the brute for good, Hail Mary!”

There was a girl Lilly, from Tennessee, who could talk faster than a cotton-mouth could slither, and who could fold faster than she could talk.  That girl could talk n’ fold, and talk n’ fold, like she had been doing it for all of eternity.  She even could take an espressos break, tell you about her last bikini wax, and still be a good fifty napkins ahead of you.  I once tried to catch up with her and nearly folded myself into an anxiety attack.

 And then there was Ahmed, a quiet, stoic Bengali, who approached napkins, much like he approached waiting tables (And life for that matter): absolutely precise, but without a hint of urgency.  Ahmed wouldn’t have folded fifty napkins a night, if Allah Himself had commanded it (He had not).

So many folds, somany friends. Tonight I taught a new server the tri-fold I’ve had in my hands for the past five years. I can’t remember who taught me my first one; I’d curse the sorry soul, but, I think it was Sally. Poor Sally. She’s probably still praying over a fold in some back server station, planning her escape, one napkin at a time. Aren’t we all?