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.
Janice came home from work tired. She had finished the presentation that she had been working on all week and was finally ready for Monday morning's meeting. She saw that the answering machine was flashing with a message. As she checked the messages, to make sure the baby-sitter hadn't canceled, Tom came in. He too was exhausted. Both were ready for their big night out. The message was the baby-sitter, but she was just confirming. Thank God, she thought.
Janice asked Tom if he had thought about where he wanted to go tonight. His answer was no, and they mulled it over together. Janice and Tom both had just finished big projects, and they decided that they'd like to splurge a little and celebrate. The first place that came to both of their minds was "Tutopronto." The new place that their friends had all been raving about. Tom gave them a call, and fortunately there was an opening for a table of two at 7:00. Great. The decision making was over. Now it was time to relax.
The baby-sitter was on time, and they headed out for dinner. Janice prided herself in being punctual, but Tom was sometimes a little behind. Tom insisted on driving, took a wrong turn, headed south instead of north, and found himself 20 minutes away from the restaurant at 6:55.
"Tom, We're going to be late!" Janice cried.
"Oh Jan, We'll make it. We're only a few minutes behind, they won't mind."
Making a U-turn Tom sped up a little just to appease his wife. She seamed to settle down, and they finally could see the restaurant up ahead. The valet took the car, and the couple entered the restaurant.
The restaurant was beautiful. Very Tuscan with terra cotta walls, very old and authentic looking clay vases on pedestals and fine white linen table cloths set with the finest china and stemware the couple had seen in a long time. The Maitre D hurried to greet them, they announced their name and apologized for being late. As the smile slipped away from the Maitre D's face, Tom's blood pressure rose just a bit.
"I am so sorry sir, we expected you earlier, and as you were more that 15 minutes late we had to give your table to another couple. If you would like to wait a few minutes we should have another table ready in ... oh, say, twenty minutes"
"We're only twenty minutes late!" Tom argued. "We had a reservation, we just got lost on our way here, how could you give our table away?"
"I am sorry sir, but our policy is to hold the table for fifteen minutes. Without a phone call, we don't know if your are coming or not. I will have a table for you as soon as possible, I promise. Please make yourself comfortable in the lounge and I will get you as soon as your table is ready."
Janice rolled her eyes at Tom as he agreed to wait. They worked their way into the bar, but found no empty stools—so the couple had to stand at the bar and order their cocktails. Tired and stressed they were happy to be waited on. Maybe now they could relax...
Did the restaurant have the right to give their table away? Tom and Janice called and said they were coming. They were only 15 or 20 minutes late. Should they have held the table longer? Most restaurants hold tables for up to 20 minutes and then give the table away.
The restaurant has to protect its interest too. Each seat in a restaurant has an hourly earning potential. The longer that a seat is empty, the less gross income the restaurant is capable of. If a couple has a reservation and the restaurant turns another away, the restaurant can be looking at a loss of income for the night if the first couple doesn't show up.
However, the restaurant also has a responsibility to its guests. People choose a restaurant not only to eat, but to be served and to relax. They may choose to dine out to reward themselves for a job well done or to celebrate an accomplishment. So far the restaurant has not succeeded in its goal of pleasing its' guests.
Tom and Jan did not start their evening off on the right foot. Tune in next time to see if their night gets any better.
In the next episode, it's 'dinner for two'—where we introduce "the Maitre D."
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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