In the service business you get all sorts of customers but the hardest ones are those who don’t just expect you to do your job, and do it well, but also expect you to be delighted to. It doesn’t matter if its 10 seconds to midnight on New Year’s Eve, or the bottom of the ninth with a full count and the bases loaded in a tie game, or the last 30 seconds of the NBA Finals, someone is going to demand your undivided attention, and then expect you to be thrilled about it.
The two people who showed up 10 minutes to closing one night weren’t those people. I could sense a weariness about them, a weariness that hung heavy on their shoulders.
“Can we still get something to eat?” asked the impossibly tall man with the barest hint of European accent.
They ate quickly and silently, and then left just as quickly but as they departed, the other asked, “How late are you guys open?”
Several times a week for the next few months they came in late, ate quickly and then departed. In that time I got to know them well. I also learned what brought them in; their mother was dying and after long evenings in the hospital they needed something to eat. The restaurant just happened to be on their way home.
Then one day we didn’t see them at the normal time. I think we all knew what that meant. A month or so later they invited all the bartenders out to dinner, as thanks for standing by them and their family in their hour of need.
Some people think the restaurant business is about serving food or drinks, and it is. But it is also about building relationships. It’s these moments that I cherish. It’s not called the hospitality industry for nothing.
Recently this column won first place in the California Newspaper Publishers Association. This coincides with the 500th edition of Barfly: Nearly 10 years, and a half a million words on the bar business and all the people therein. Barfly originally appeared on page 33 of a Sunday morning insert in the IJ. Since then it has moved to a different publication and then back again, from Sunday to Thursday and then back to Sunday, from page eight to the front page of the Plus section. And you, the readers, have stuck with it. Over the years I have received hundreds of letters. All of which I very much appreciate.
I want to thank my original editor Brent Ainsworth for helping me develop the idea and for coming up with the title. I also want to thank my current editor Vicki Larson who has guided me ever since. I couldn’t do it without you. I also want to thank the IJ for giving me the space, and for all of the readers who have been so supportive over the years.
Furthermore I want to thank my boss at the restaurant where I work for being so patient and understanding through a process that has at times proved challenging. Thank you very much, Peter. I also want to thank all my co-workers both past and present for sharing their experiences with me.
Special thanks to the following for helping me with my book: Book Passage, Matt and Jeff, the Shimeks, Moss and Daughters, Sweetwater, Terrapin, MAGC and the Elks, A special thanks to Jean Zerrudo and the Marin History Museum, who have been very good to me. Thanks to the Pacifics ball club, Great Chefs and Wineries, Lola of North Beach and to everybody who has purchased my book.
While many of my Barfly columns deal with the difficulties of customer service, it is actually the people in the business that keep me going, people like Jeff and Melissa, Jean-Paul and Anne-Marie, Fred and Gloria, Bob and Therese, Mike and Holly, George and Wendy, John and Maureen, Dave and Julie, Alison and Andrew, Phil and Laura, Paul and Renee, Lou, Jim, Bob, Doug, Erika, Michael, Kim, George and so many, many others. Thank you all.
Leaving me with just this thought:
If Charles Darwin was right, that “A man’s friendships are the best measure of his worth,” than I am a very wealthy man indeed.