8 p.m. on Friday night. The busiest time of the busiest night of the week. And this wasn’t just any Friday night; it was the busiest Friday in the busiest month of the year. In the time it took me to register those thoughts at least half a dozen people began waving their arms frantically, as if in that mere second they would expire of thirst.
For many who deal with the general public, they understand the travails of dealing with 20, or maybe even 30, customers in a day. Now try and imagine dealing with that many people in 15 minutes, with 20 or more people anxiously waiting just behind them.
On nights like these it can sometimes feel like years of your life are being sucked away by the stress. But on this particular night I had no time for such random thoughts.
The couple appeared in front of me like a dozen or so had in the previous quarter hour. How they got there was irrelevant because they were there now.
“What can I get you?” was replaced by simply pointing at them.
“The manager said we could order To Go food,” said the woman as she struggled to turn her entire body towards me. She was so hemmed in by the crowd that she actually had to lift her arm over her head to accomplish this.
I looked at the clock. It still said 8 p.m. Minutes can sometimes seem like hours during the dinner rush.
Having neither the time nor the inclination to fight my way to the hostess stand to find out if that was true, I took a different tack.
“Really?” I said. “Now?”
“Yes,” said the woman folding her now in front of her arms.
Sometimes in the restaurant business you just have to give in.
“What are you known for?” she said, as if she was the only person in the room.
My response was setting a menu down in front of her, before I resumed making drinks for the pressing crowd. In the time it took for that interchange a dozen or so drink tickets had appeared on the dining room drink printer and there were half a dozen or so new waving arms in the crowd.
Later, I pointed again at the woman.
What followed was a long protracted food order with several substitutions, some sauces on the side and a questionable allergy to salt. The sum total of which meant that I had to make a trip into the back kitchen to explain it.
“A To Go order now?” yelled the Sous chef as he held a spool of nearly 20 uncooked tickets of dining room food in his hand.
“It’s the busiest time of the night,” he barked.
On the busiest day, in the busiest month of the year, I thought.
Ten minutes later I was back in the back kitchen to add one more request to the To Go order.
Eventually the To Go order appeared. Thank goodness for an efficient kitchen. I turned to the couple who had somehow pushed themselves into two seats at the bar.
“We’re going to eat that here,” said the man, who up till now I had only seen in glimpses through the crowd.
“But its all boxed up and ready to go,” I said.
“Just throw them on a plate,” he said.
“What?!” said the Sous chef when I appeared in the back kitchen. “It’s f*cking Friday night!”
On the busiest night of the busiest month of the year.
Five minutes later the plates came out.
“Oh,” said the woman. “I guess we’re going to get it all at once.”
I didn’t have time to respond because all those people who had to wait while I was in back now demanded their due.
“Can you pack the rest of this up?” said the man.
Let’s just say that I wasn’t overly enthusiastic.
Later I discovered several things.
-The manager had not said it was okay for them to order To Go food.
-They were new to the area from the upper East Coast.
-On their first night out in their new town they had lodged a complaint.
-The complaint was that the bartender acted like them getting “what they wanted” was a “pain in the ass.”
Which led me to two thoughts:
- They are going to fit in perfectly around here.
- I wasn’t acting.
This story originally appeared in the Marin Independent Journal and online at the San Jose Mercury News