I do so love birthdays, any life celebration in fact. Making drinks has its own rewards to be sure, being good at one’s craft and all that. But it is the sharing of life’s experiences that makes all the difference. Especially in bartending; a great Manhattan is a good thing, but a great birthday can be remembered for the rest of one’s life. Unfortunately the same can be said of a bad birthday, too.
Maybe it was the argument at the hostess stand that set the whole ball in motion, but somehow I got the feeling the ball had been rolling long before that.
“They won’t give us a table,” she said, folding her arms.
“What do you mean?” asked the man standing in the one open spot at the bar.
“Something about reservations,” said the woman turning away at the last moment.
“You didn’t make reservations?”
“I can’t believe they won’t give us a table,” she said avoiding his question.
Friday night, 8 p.m., is not the time to expect a restaurant to have wide open availability. That is any restaurant, certainly not a busy restaurant and certainly not the busiest restaurant in town.
An odd aspect of the restaurant business is how eagerly one customer will opt to destroy the experience of another. I have had people request that I ask someone else to leave because they want a seat. I had one person take a chair from a table that someone else was sitting at, while he was in the restroom, only to become indignant when called on it.
Once a man tried to order an appetizer from three rows back. “Where will I set it when it’s ready?” I asked. “Right there,” said the man pointing at a place already occupied by someone else.
I don’t think so. Your freedom to have what you want ends when it impacts someone else’s freedom to do the same.
“Don’t they know it’s your birthday?” the woman asked.
“I still can’t believe you didn’t make reservations.”
“You’re the one who wanted to come here,” she said.
“You invited me.”
“This is your favorite restaurant,” she said.
“I know, but if I knew we were coming here, I would have made reservations.”
The rest of what she said was lost in the flurry of activity that is a busy bar on a weekend night. Dining at a bar is different than dining in a dining room. Even the busiest server is only going to have so many tables. At a bar however, the space behind the people sitting can fill up, so can the lobby. If the restaurant has an outside area, that means even more people. Add in any number of looky-loos, people requesting change, to-go orders and you begin to get the picture. All part of the game.
Until that is, someone is only interested in him- or herself.
“Could you scoot over?” the woman asked a seated couple already eating at the bar.
“What do you mean?” they asked in unison.
“Well it’s his birthday,” she said, nodding her head in her companion’s direction.
“Uh, it’s mine too,” answered the womanly half of the seated couple.
“But we don’t have seats!”
She then turned to the two people on the other side.
“Are you almost finished?” she asked.
“We just ordered,” the man answered.
“Well it’s his birthday so ”
“So what, exactly?” said the other woman.
Exactly never came.
The birthday boy did his best to enjoy the evening. He ate his meal standing up. When a seat became available he let his host sit. He ate his birthday cake with his hands, since manipulating a fork up and over the people sitting might prove daunting.
Later a declined credit card precipitated the birthday boy signing the receipt for his own party in the same fashion, up and over those sitting.
About a week later, the restaurant received a letter from the woman stating that “we” had ruined his birthday.
That’s right, “we.”
Leaving me with these thoughts:
• There is a saying; “Sow your oats on Tuesday. And pray for crop failure on Wednesday.”
• In Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mouse”, he writes: “The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.” Burns is silent on what happens to the worst-laid schemes.
• “I’ve come to wish you an unhappy birthday,” sang Morrissey while with the Smiths. I think I now know what he meant.