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The Serial That Takes You to Dinner
by Chef Bob Munnich
Back of the House is a real chef's fictional story about running a restaurant and the politics behind the scenes that diners rarely see.
Chuck was busy. He had little or no patience for some of the guests drinking at "Tuttopronto's" bar. But the couple whose cocktails had just been bought for them by the Maitre D' seemed nice. He knew there had been a problem with their table, and was trying to be a little extra nice to them. It made him happy to inform them that their table was ready.
Marcel greeted them proudly with his traditional "Your table is ready", and led them to table 13. It had indeed opened up and he was relieved that he was able to get them a table quickly. His ego always felt a little hurt when he wasn't able to fulfill a reservation commitment. Not only was the table ready, but it was one of the nicest in the restaurant. One of the few window seats overlooking the beautiful flower-filled courtyard where they seat in the summer months. Mandy, the new girl, who seemed to being doing very well, was their waitress.
Mandy is nice. She is a full-time college student. She maintains a 3.75 grade average and pays her own bills. On top of that, she had just started a new relationship. She was a little worried, she knew what people said about workplace romance. Chef Al was a nice guy and she was lonely, but she knew what they say. Having worked in this business most of her independent life, she knew how most chefs were. Work, work, work, no time for anything else...except, well you know. But that was all right, he seemed different. He was very romantic on Valentines day. Not pushy, and they parted with only a kiss and a glance.
Tonight was busy, as are all Fridays. Her tables were all under control. She was placing orders, helping run food to other tables, opening wine and shmoozing with the guests. She loved it when things just seemed to "Click." Table thirteen was just seated again. They looked like a nice couple. She hurried over right away and addressed the table. They declined cocktails, explaining that they had to wait for the table, and asked for their menus. She presented the menus, and described Chef Al's specials for the evening. The mussels were her favorite, and the pasta was good too. She offered to help with a wine selection if they'd like, but the woman at the table dismissed her help. Just a little too briskly, she thought to herself. She was sure her rancor was not intended. The couple seemed a little preoccupied. On that note, she promised to return in a few minutes to take their order.
She ran back into the kitchen to check on table twelve's food. The kitchen seemed to be running smoothly, but one of the food runners had not shown up for work, and the expediter was having trouble getting help sending the food out. Mandy had decided to help out, but she was concentrating on her own food, self preservation being the goal. The food wasn't ready, but they promised it would be up in few minutes. She decided to return to table thirteen to take their order. They ordered all of her personal favorites, she was pleased. She knew that these guests would be pleased.
She was a little busy. She quickly placed the appetizer order and wine order, and figured she would return to place the entree order. She knew that this wasn't normal procedure, but she had to get table twelve's food out, before it was too late. She made it on time, and table twelve didn't even notice the wait.
After serving table twelve, she saw that the appetizers for thirteen were ready. She asked John, the server in the next station, if he would bring them out. He agreed, and she went to the service bar to pick up their wine. She arrived at the table with the two glasses of white wine they ordered with their appetizers seconds before John arrived with the appetizers themselves. Her timing was perfect.
Just then, she noticed that both tables ten and fifteen were just seated. Marcel, her boss, apologized for the "double seating" but it was unavoidable. She ran off to greet the tables and take drink orders, and check on table twelve's dinners. She took the orders off the two new tables, and arrived at table twelve. Their faces said it all. They were unhappy.
"How is everything?" she asked.
"Our pasta is a little cold, I'm sorry but could you have them heat it up a little?" the gentleman said apologetically. "I'm sorry," she insisted back, and she took the pasta to the kitchen for a "reheat." She was sorry the guest wasn't happy, but she also noticed steam rising from the pasta as she removed it from the table. I guess he likes it REALLY hot she thought to herself.
Time went by. She assisted serving some orders, she re-served the pasta, and took the orders for the two new tables. She then noticed Marcel talking to table thirteen. "Uh-oh," she thought to herself," I forgot to place their order." She quickly ran to the computer terminal and keyed in their order. She then went back to the kitchen to ask them to rush it. There she met Marcel.
Marcel, usually pretty cool, was a little steamed. He glared at her while he questioned what happened. She explained about the double seating, the pasta, and that she was rushed when she placed the order. Assuring him that the order was in and being rushed, she went out to the table to let them know the food was on the way.
A little flustered now, she rushed back into the kitchen to check its progress. It was just about ready. She waited for it, embarrassed to return to the dining room without it. When it was ready, she brought it out. Apologizing as she served it, she almost forgot who got what. Guessing, she fortunately got it right. How could such a smooth evening get so mixed up she thought to herself. She ran back to the kitchen to make sure she hadn't messed up any other tables too.
A few minutes later, she returned to table thirteen. She asked them how everything was. The woman at the table glanced up at her with an annoyed look and asked where the wine was that they had ordered. Mandy, embarrassed, excused herself quickly to retrieve the wine. It was ready, at the service bar. At least she had remembered to order that!
She went back to the table, and the woman looked up, again with an annoyed look, and dismissed the bottle of wine. She explained about their time restrictions, and asked for just two glasses of "house red" in a compromising tone of voice. Mandy, visibly upset at this point, disappeared with the wine, and returned with the two glasses of red.
Mandy disappeared into the kitchen to regain her composure, her confidence and ego just a little bruised. She never makes mistakes like these. After regaining her composure, she returned to the dining room to check on her tables.
Table thirteen was done, she approached them, and cleared their plates. She apologized again, and looking at the clean plates, joked that they must not have liked it. She offered coffee, which they refused. They asked for the check and she assured them she would be right back with it.
She quickly printed their check and put it in a nice leather folder and took it to the table. She placed it in front of the gentleman, and he had his credit card out waiting. He glanced at the bill and gave it right back to her.
Immediately she processed the sale and returned to the table. The gentleman signed the check, took his copy and the original bill, and the guests left. She returned to the table to pick up the slip, and saw the tip. Wow, she thought. She had given up on anything from this table, and they even left her a nice tip! It was then that she noticed the bottle of wine. What should she do? She knew the guest took the check, he would surely notice the wine when he got home. She knew she was in trouble now!
How do you think the waitress should deal with it? What do you suppose the restaurant should do? Did they handle the situations right in the first place? Feed us your comments in the "Dining Experiences—B.O.T.H." message board folder on AOL-- and we'll see if we agree!
Copyright © 1996, 1997 Bob Munnich. All Rights Reserved.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
Copyright © 2008, Forkmedia LLC. All Rights Reserved.