Monday, February 16, 2009

Hostess with the Mostest

Yes, I did get sick yesterday, sicker than I expected. So the following was written under the influence of drugs which make me woozy and distracted. Forge onward, my faithful readers; I will eventually get to the point.

It's all about the clipboard. As hostess at Miss Chef's restaurant for a night, I was in charge of getting guests to the right seat, and the clipboard is the source of all knowledge. There's absolutely no way I could know what was going on without the lists and notes scribbled in the margins.

I was a bit nervous about it, because I had already bussed, and supposedly helped with seating, last Mother's Day. That did not go well; diners were lingering so long that the next wave of reservations had no tables, and as the restaurant is so small, they had to wait on the sidewalk. Having made reservations for a specific time, many were not very understanding of the wait, and I was split between two jobs, so not really equipped to deal with irritated customers.

Valentine's Day, by contrast, was a breeze. We had two bussers, who helped seat guests, so I mostly could stay by the door, clipboard in hand, checking off names and tables. We had three waves of seatings, and in between there was not a whole lot for me to do. I stood at the bar for some of that time, but it's hard for me to be working there and not find some way to help.

I bussed some tables, rolled some silver, filled butter servers. The chef even called me back into the kitchen to spread out mini paper cups while he plopped housemade chocolate truffles into them. At the start of the night, things were a little hectic back there, and I had made a point of staying out of the way. But soon everyone got into a rhythm, and all worked as it should.

I spent most of my time standing at the front door, staring out at the street and waiting for guests to arrive. At first, I felt like the dog, watching the cars go by, head turning this way and that. Guests' arrivals were a welcome distraction, and they arrived in clumps, making time pass more quickly. As night fell, I discovered the windows in front of me reflected the interior of the restaurant. I spent some time watching Miss Chef through the pass, but caught only the briefest glimpses as she leaned forward to check a ticket, or sauce a dish. Still, I felt good being able to watch her do what she loves, and to help in some small way. I wished I could be a fly on the wall of the kitchen, listening to the tickets being called and the staff keeping each other informed of progress.

As the first guests arrived, I found myself surprisingly nervous about greeting them. I still feel like a bit of a guest there myself, having only worked there very occasionally. But the guests were very polite and, I guess, submissive. I realized that I had the appearance of some kind of power, slight as it was, to accept or refuse them. In fact, I did have to refuse a few people who showed up without reservations. "Is there a wait?" one woman asked me during the first seating. I wanted to laugh; we were booked solid until 9:00. One couple said they had no idea restaurants would be taking reservations that night, or they would have made some. I wondered how often they go out to eat.

Eventually, my knees and back started to ache from standing still for so long. I tried some yoga techniques, imagining a string pulling me upright along my spine, and taking full, measured breaths. Though I haven't done yoga for years, I always feel comfort when I think to incorporate bits of it into my daily life.

As I mentioned, Valentine's Day seating went extraordinarily well. One guest, a regular, was unhappy with her table assignment, but the chef's wife came foward to greet them, and took over the smoothing of tempers. Later, when a young couple arrived before their table was ready, that same guest waved at us frantically. Turns out the young man was her grandson, and so they joined her table, which just happened to be a four-top. They stayed there for their own meal, while the couple at their assigned table lingered another twenty minutes over dessert!

Another couple showed up with reservations that had not been marked down. No table for them. He was very gracious, joking about having a word with Chef, but what a disaster that could have been--had they shown up two hours earlier, there would have been nothing I could do. As it was, they had called for reservations at 9:00, when we had several tables open.

These little happy occurences saved me many times throughout the night--the couple who arrived early, but were happy to go for a walk until their table was ready, the guests arriving in order of their tables being cleared and ready. The chef's young daughter was the busser helping me seat guests in the front dining room, and she was always there, ready to help. As I said, once things got rolling, everything worked according to plan.

My favorite time at the restaurant is after service, when the lights go up and the cleaning begins. The staff reviews the evening by sharing stories and explaining details of half-heard conversations heard earlier. The kitchen staff sees who guessed closest to the number of covers served. Miss Chef starts piling Saran-covered plates in the pass for family meal. Then the staff sits at a row of small tables pushed together, stripped of linens, and eats rather ravenously. At least, I did. Miss Chef makes good family meal.

Of course, the kitchen staff are the last to sit down, and that's when things can get interesting. Though he's exhausted, Chef is still full of manic energy and gets worked up telling stories and acting out conversations. It's a fun, casual atmosphere, seen through bleary eyes, and lets everyone get rid of any feelings of irritation or amusement they had to hide during service.

I waited for Miss Chef to finish her meal, and then we headed out the door for home. Every time I work a night there, I feel a little bit closer to the staff, a little bit more of their family. The staff may change from one visit to the next, but there is always a sense of continuity. I am happy and grateful that Miss Chef invites me into this core of her life, and that Chef is so open to my being part of his restaurant family.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes, I did get to have one of those chocolate truffles. And yes, it was wonderful.


  1. I knew you'd be a fabulous hostess! Thanks for the play-by-play. I felt like I was there at the bar, having a martini, watching you tame the hungry masses. Perhaps you have uncovered a second career?

  2. sounds like would be fun from time to time.

  3. Sounds like a very busy but fun night!


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