Called in on a Tuesday morning. What a drag. One of the drawbacks of the restaurant business are the odd hours. Of course that is also one of its many advantages too. When you work in the highest grossing restaurant in the nation ($37 million) you are going to have to make some sacrifices. Especially if that restaurant is in one of the City’s most iconic landmarks.
This particular Tuesday it is breakfast for a group of insurance people (contain your excitement). Oddly people who work with numbers all day long are notoriously unable to figure out a proper tip on a bill, inevitably their math is wrong, and invariably it is in their favor. I don’t know why this is: I just know that it is. On top of that they are British, meaning that a 10 percent tip will be the starting point. Double ouch.
But you just never know. Maybe they will order the 1928 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild on the menu for $3000. Ten percent of that is $300, just for opening a bottle of wine. Restaurant people have to be optimists; otherwise the pessimism drives you right out the door.
Prep work at the restaurant goes on as usual, in spite of the private breakfast and in spite of the fact that the restaurant is geared mainly for the dinner rush. New American cuisine, whatever that is. But just because the focus is on dinner doesn’t mean that breakfast or lunch are ignored. While the eggs and bacon go out, the prep cooks are busy preparing the dinner items. Items like Jellied Beet Borscht and Local Duckling Roasted Crisp with Three Purees don’t just get thrown together at the last minute, they take time to prepare.
Throw in the fact that this restaurant is just one of a cluster of restaurants and bars all located ostensibly for the view and the words “try harder” come to mind. This group of “risk evaluators” isn’t even going to be in the main dining room but in the smaller more intimate conference center located below the main restaurant. There will be other regular breakfast goers at another third restaurant next door, but on this Tuesday the banquet facility is using staff that normally doesn’t work. Oh well. Another day, another dollar. Breakfast at 8 a.m. and a discussion of risk to follow at 9 a.m.
Reviewers will often say, “People are just going for the view.” But this 50,000 square foot complex has garnered unparallelled reviews. Especially after a recent $25 million facelift.
“The term ‘bar’ does not do the new room justice,” said no less than the epicuriously snobbish New York Times. “It is more like a three-ring circus, with performing chefs at separate stations rolling sushi, shucking oysters and stirring shabu-shabu on stone induction cookers in a stagy space that holds 300 people…These customers are younger than the restaurant-goers who came to the original. They often work in the neighborhood…they also live there. [They] hope to tempt this crowd with microbrews on tap, vodkas galore, wines by the glass and an international array of some 25 dishes, including barbecued ‘hot tips’ oysters, personal pizzas, tagines in colorful pottery, slabs of charcuturie on a wooden board, and fish and chips piled in a silver basket.”
You just can’t buy that kind of publicity. It attracts a lot of attention, often from people not even in the industry. And you know what they say, all attention is good attention.
Breakfast service goes off without a hitch. Coffee and tea are served, although only 16 of the conference goers actually show up. Perhaps some eggs were returned and perhaps extra cream was ordered, but nothing too unusual for a Tuesday morning. The restaurant had a staff of 72 people and with 76 people seated for breakfast in the other restaurant (and the 16 conference attendees) it was nearly one to one employee to customer.
What could possibly go wrong?
Fourteen minutes before that talk on risk, American Airlines Flight 11, hijacked by Al Qaeda operative Mohammad Atta, crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at approximately 460 miles per hour.
The impact was six floors beneath the Windows on the World restaurant. Nobody in the restaurant complex survived.
Jeff Burkhart is an award winning bartender and an award winning columnist. His Barfly column was voted best column in California in 2014 (California Newspaper Publishers Association) and was runner up last year. His book Twenty Years Behind Bars: The spirited adventure of a real bartender is available on Amazon.