Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Valentine's Weekend

Another big restaurant holiday come and gone. Miss Chef and I spent more time together on Valentine's weekend than we usually do. I got to join the small team at the restaurant for the equivalent of The Big Game. You know, how it goes--the team gets psyched up, you make sure you're ready, and then the moment of truth arrives--the doors open, the first customers walk in, and the show's on.

Saturday night was the bigger of the two nights; fewer people wanted to go out on a Sunday night. Saturday I arrived at the restaurant at 4:30, half an hour before the first reservations. I got smart, and brought my own clipboard this time, so I wouldn't have to steal borrow Chef Adam's.

By the way, I'd like to just point out that the kitchen worked much harder than I did. They already had several hours in by the time I showed up, and they were still cleaning while we sat down to eat after service.

Here's the front of the restaurant:

No, I didn't have time to take pictures this weekend; these are from last summer, when Miss Chef and I had to bring things back from the farmers' market across the street. (Yes, the restaurant is right across from the farmers' market--how cool is that?)

I'm not going to give you a blow-by-blow, because living it is tiring enough. Both nights went very smoothly, and I once again benefitted from providential coincidence. For example, I discovered at 5:00 that a table at 6:30 was mistakenly double-booked, with nowhere to shift anyone. Were we going to have to cram someone into a 45-minute time slot at another table? That could domino into people waiting all night...aargh, isn't there another table?

20 minutes later, one of the double-booked parties called to cancel.

A couple showed up at 5:30, gave me their name--no reservation. Whoever took the call never wrote it down. The only empty table was the one right by the door usually left for walk-ins. Except...the couple on table 23 were 20 minutes late. Fine, they're no shows; I give their table to Mr. and Mrs. Reservationless.

Five minutes later, guess who walks in? Yup, table 23! "Oh! Your reservation was for 5:30!?" I said, in my most shocked tones, as I glanced at my watch. They quickly understood the problem, very gracefully accepted the table by the door and proceeded to fully enjoy their meal.

This is the row of tables leading to the door, where I stood most of the night. In front of me was the dessert tray, filled with samples of chocolate lava cake, profiteroles, crème brûlée...maybe it was because I knew the "ice cream" was actually Crisco, but they didn't tempt me at all.

The smell of the butternut squash soup brought to that first table, though, that got my stomach growling!

Every time I've stood at the front (or back) of the restaurant, flipping through my sheets to see if the next tables will be out and bused in time, I've been struck by the parallel existence of two different worlds in that same small space.

Most of time I see the servers swerving around each other with bread baskets, plates and wine bottles; busers polishing silverware and glasses at the bar; Miss Chef, Chef Adam and sometimes Mike the pantry cook zooming back and forth by the pass, occasionally hollering out for a server; the dishwasher slamming clean plates up into the window.

Every once in a while, though, my focus changes. I notice the soft glow of candles on the tables, the relaxed faces of the patrons, the half-empty wine glasses and the low rumble of happy conversation. Then I see a server bending over her table with smiles, laughing with the guests, calmly clearing plates and allowing the diners to feel comfortable and cared for. All the hustle is over the guests' heads, both literally and figuratively. All the little details that make me fret melt out of existence for them. They are taken care of, and they are having a lovely time.

As far as I know, there were no serious complaints from our customers on either night. Saturday we served 119, Sunday 73. Sunday night Chef Adam had roses to hand out to all the female customers (except for the two men dining together; they both got roses). Afterward, at family meal, Chef made a point of handing the remaining flowers out to the female staff individually. One of those little perqs that make it a happy place. (He also got to kiss us all on the cheek, so, y'know, it goes both ways.)

Oh, and here's another snapshot: Sunday night, someone discovered that the full-sized fridge at the bar was contaminated--with garlic. Turns out the backup of roasted garlic cloves (served with the bread) had overflowed onto several bottles of wine and cocktail mixings. Garlic-flavored Korbel, anyone? The front-of-house staff tried to address it during service, but it wasn't until the last seating that two servers started pulling everything out and washing it down. Eventually, Chef Adam was there, on his knees, scrubbing out the bottom of the fridge.

That's a chef who's earned his staff's loyalty.

Monday Miss Chef and I celebrated Valentine's Day. How? By sitting on the couch all day, reading. Together. It was lovely--and I need to give a "shout out" to Michele at Bosky Acres, who gave me a Valentine's gift by giving Miss Chef that day off! I'd say we used it well.


  1. I would adore a day to just sit on the couch and read with my sweetie by my side... what a lovely day!

    And I loved reading this account of your weekend. I have much respect for anyone in any kind ofservice industry. I've done the waiting tables thing- in a small, family owned restaurant and also in a country club. Vastly different places!

    Maybe next year they can have you handle taking reservations- they could use a voice mail system. Fewer errors that way. :) LOL! Cuz you need something more to do!

  2. I've never worked in a restaurant so I think being the hostess would be a new fun adventure. Sante' looks very "uptown."

  3. Mmmmmm.... garlic favored Korbel. My favorite!

    I love your parallel universe in the restaurant, Flar. Yes, if everything is accomplished well, the hectic busy din is well above our heads. Kudos to you and Miss Chef and Sante and your 119 + 73 tables.

    I love also love the gentlemen roses. That's class!

  4. Sorry I'm so late to wish you a Happy Valentine's Day.

    Thanks for the restaurant recap for the the great pictures. Now I have a better idea when you take about it. The front is lovely and the tables look inviting-- But the butternut squash soup would have me eating there 7 days a week!

    Glad you and miss chef got to spend some time together.

    Have a great rest of the week.

  5. I loved reading that post! And thanks for your comment on mine. I'm actually home today after a pretty awful migraine yesterday, so am having some catch-up time. It's very hot and muggy, and I'm wilting, but I needed this! Take care.

  6. Sure sounds like a nice restaurant and Chef Adam sounds like a great person to work for. I have worked in restaurants before, it isn't for me but that experience sure gave me a lot more respect for how hard people work in them!


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