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.
Marcel got to work just a little early. He knew today was Friday, and he would be notoriously overbooked for this evening. "Tutopronto" was young, hot and always overbooked. It was around 4:00 when the phone rang for what seemed to be the 100th time.
"I'm sorry, but I have to cancel our reservations for this evening at 7." The caller said.
Marcel was relieved, but acted sincerely disappointed as he erased their name from the reservation sheet. Although over booked, he knew that the owner would not like to see an empty table so he scoured his little host stand for the waiting list. No sooner did he find it then did the telephone ring again.
"I know it's late, but would you happen to have anything for 2 this evening. My wife and I need to celebrate the end of our hectic week, and would like to try your restaurant tonight." The voice said, sounding quite exhausted.
Marcel, feeling a little sorry for the exhausted sounding voice, decided to be generous. He told them of the recent cancellation, and took their name. Writing it in pencil over the smudge that remained on the reservation sheet.
Thinking nothing of it, he put away the waiting list, and proceeded to organize the reservations. It was his job to "run" the dining room. He was the conductor. In order for things to run smoothly he had to estimate the times it took for his guests to eat, the kitchen to cook and the servers to serve. He allowed one and a half hours for a "deuce" and two hours for a "three top" or "Four." A longer time for larger parties. He had designed a reservation sheet that had as many slots for names as he had seats in the restaurant. In the last two hours before service begins, he would try to juggle the initial reservations to best lay out the dining rooms' tables.
When a guest arrived, Marcel would greet them, ask their name and check off their name on the reservation sheet. He'd then check his chart to see what table he had planned to seat them at. He had a map of the dining room with several squares and circles on it which represented tables, and would mark the table with a black marker before he seated the guests. When the guests left he'd circle the black mark to show that the table needed to be re-set, and would immediately make sure that a busser was on it. When the table passed his inspection, salt & pepper in the right spot, chairs clean, silver polished and glassware crystal clear, only then would he erase the marks and be ready to re-seat the table.
At 6:30 a nice young couple walks in and asks for a table. Marcel asks for their name to confirm the reservation, after learning that they do not have one, Marcel tells them that they would have to wait and see if anything opens up. They understand that they forgot to make reservations, and agree to wait in the bar. Marcel takes their name and shows them to the lounge. About fifteen minutes later the 7:00 "resi's" start arriving. 7:00 being the busiest seating of the evening, Marcel is very busy. He never breaks a sweat though. All is going well. Around 7:15 he checks the reservation sheet only to see that one table has not arrived.
About the same time the couple with no reservations checks back with him.
"We've been waiting about 45 minutes, are there any opening yet?" The gentleman asks. "I actually do have something here, I can show you right in." Marcel responds.
Just as Marcel turns to show them in, the front door opens to reveal a very harried, exhausted (but dressed to the nines) couple. Marcel signals to them that he will be right there and shows the other couple to the table.
Tom and Janice take off their coats and wait patiently at the Maitre D's podium. Marcel returns and greets them with his traditional "Two for Dinner?"
Tom responds by apologizing for their lateness, and Marcel knows what's coming next. The name, the same one that didn't show at 7:00.
Marcel apologizes profusely, but the couple doesn't seem to understand. He assures them that he will give them the next available table, but that could be a few minutes. Tom (and mostly Janice) doesn't seem very pleased. But agree to wait in the lounge while Marcel figures what to do.
At this point Marcel knows that he is not succeeding in satisfying his guest. He needs a way to make them feel comfortable. He understands that they didn't mean to be late, but he did have to try to please the other couple as well.
Marcel reviews the upcoming reservations, he notices that the deuce on table 13 is almost through, and the next reservation for that table is not until 9:00 that give him an hour to figure out where to put the nine o'clock table and he can seat the latecomers soon. Relieved, he walks to the service bar and whispers something to the bartender while looking at Tom and Janice.
Chuck, the bartender, casually leans over the bar to Tom and tells him that their table will be ready in a few minutes, and informs them that their cocktails are "on the house."
Will Tom and Janice enjoy their dinner? Will the nine o'clock "resi's" get their table on time? Tune in to the next episode as we get a glimpse from "The Back of the House."
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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