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.
Scott felt great. The restaurant was finally open, they had made it through the opening with little or no major problems. They were finally in business. Instead of talking about policy, standards, systems and recipes; they were practicing them. Generally the clientele were happy. Sure they had a few problems. But nothing too troublesome.
It was just the second weekend for the business and they were booked with reservations a week and a half in advance. They always knew the restaurant would be well received, but didn't expect this much popularity right out of the gates. Jules was doing well with the cooking, and they were finally beginning to pay the bills with money they made, instead of money they borrowed. That was one of the best feelings he could have.
It was five o'clock and the first dinner reservations were just arriving. After seating the first few tables a couple arrived who were not dressed quite as nicely as the others. He greeted them with his big smile and a "Can I help you?" and they smiled back.
"Yeah, we had a reservation for 6:00, under the name Bobby," she said.
"Ah-yes," Scott said, as he scanned the reservation sheet. "Right this was Ms. Bobby," he said as he picked up two menus, and lead them into the dining room.
After the Maitre D' left the table the woman turned to the man and said, "Gee Bobby, this sure is a nice place."
"I try to take you to some nice places don't I?" Bobby replied.
"Yeah, but I've never been Ms. Bobby before!" she said with a smile.
"Oh, he didn't know. Hey check out that kitchen." He pointed out the beautiful display kitchen with all the cooks and chefs scurrying around.
"Cool, What's on the menu?" she asked as she opened her menu."Boy these sure are some steep prices. I wonder what comes with the platters."
"Don't know." He smiled as he looked over his menu.
Right then the waitress came over and greeted them. She was a young attractive woman with three earrings in one ear and four in the other. Her hair was a deep red (obviously dyed) and she had bright red lipstick on. Other than that she was dressed very professionally in the customary white starched shirt, print tie and black pants with a long white apron over them. They ordered drinks and she told them about the specials.
"Tonight we are offering several enhancements to our menu. They include a very nice Tilapia a la Nage, a Blackened Shrimp Skewer over Fettucine Alfredo and a ten ounce South African Lobster tail. I'll be back in a few minutes with your beverages." She said as she turned to leave the table.
"Bobby, What's a tilapialanage?" Gina asked.
"I don't know but I bet it's expensive!" he said. "Sounds like a kind of fish."
"No duh, this is a seafood restaurant isn't it?" She said with a smirk.
The waitress returned almost immediately with the cocktails." A Pink squirrel for the lady, and a Budweiser for you sir. Can I take your order now?"
"I think so," Gina started. "A couple of questions first though, what comes with the entrees? Do we get a salad or anything, or do we need to order that separate?"
"Everything is a la carte the accompaniments for each entree are listed with the items, if you want a salad you need to order it in addition to the entree." The waitress was being very patient. She knew that this couple were not frequent fine dinning customers. But they seemed nice, and thought they deserved as much attention as anyone else in the dining room. "Anything else I can answer for you?"
"Yeah, what is a tilapialanage?" Gina asked.
"Well, Tilapia is a light, flaky fish with a subtle but distinctive flavor. Ours is flown in fresh from Costa Rica, and is served a la Nage, which means swimming in broth, it is baked in a light white wine, lemon and fresh tomato broth, and served with the broth. I like to dip my bread in the broth to finish it off. I highly recommend it." Becky was one of the more knowledgeable, professional waitresses. She loved when guests asked her questions she could answer well.
"Well I think I'll have that then," Gina replied.
Bobby ordered the Filet Mignon with Bearnaise sauce and a baked potato to go with it.
"Would you like to order a salad or cup of soup while your waiting for you entrees?" Becky asked.
"Sure I'd like a house salad. Just some hearts of lettuce and Russian dressing please." Gina said.
"I'm sorry we only offer the salads on the menu, I'll see what we have though and ask the cooks to make something for you." Becky offered.
"That'll be fine," Gina replied.
"I don't think I want anything else," Bobby said.
"Alright then, I'll place your orders, and check on that salad." Gina smiled as she went off to the wait station.
Becky returned a few minutes later with a salad. "They made this up specially for you. It's hearts of Romaine with a homemade Russian style dressing. I hope you like it."
Gina smiled as Becky put the salad in front of her. She declined the fresh pepper offered and after the waitress left whispered to Bobby, "Look at this salad, not much too it, eh? My pet rabbit could eat two of these. And what kind of lettuce is this?"
"It's Romaine," Bobby said. "If you don't like it don't eat it. I'm sure she'll take it off the bill."
"Naw, I'll eat a little." Gina said as she forced a couple of forkfuls down. She put the fork down and pushed the plate to the edge of the table. She tried to change the subject and asked Bobby about his day.
As they became engaged in conversation, the bus boy came and cleared the salad. Becky came back and served them their entrees. The entrees looked wonderful. Both of them ordered glasses of wine with dinner, and the waitress left to retrieve them.
By the time the waitress returned they were half finished with their meals. She served the wine, asked if everything was ok, they nodded and she left. A few minutes later they were finished. The waitress offered them coffee and dessert, but they both declined. She cleared their dinner plates and returned a few minutes later with the check. "Seventy three dollars?" Gina said as she peeked at the bill.
"Well you did order the salad..." Bobby said sarcastically. "It's not that bad, The steak was great. Don't know about twenty five dollars great, but it was a great steak. The potato wasn't worth three bucks though. Well, what ever. Let's get going. We can barely afford the babysitter now." Bobby took four twenty dollar bills from his wallet and left them on the table. They both gathered their things and headed for the door.
"Excuse me," the waitress stopped them as they were just about to leave."Was there a problem with my service? I was wondering why you didn't leave a very big tip."
Bobby was very embarrassed. "Well actually your service was very good, but the prices are little too high. I thought seven dollars was ok, but I could give you a little more. I'm sorry I didn't mean to short you or anything."
"No, that's ok, I just wanted to make sure I did an acceptable job. I was afraid you weren't happy with me." Becky realized that she shouldn't have said anything and decided to down play the whole thing.
Just then Scott overheard what was going on. He was very upset. In Scott's mind you never question a guest, not even if they leave no tip at all. He was going to have to have a chat with Becky after service. It was a shame, she was a good waitress, but this was unacceptable.
Copyright © 1996, 1997 Bob Munnich. All Rights Reserved.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
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