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.
Tom thought it was nice of the Maitre d' to offer them a round of drinks. Jan thought it would have been nicer to have had their table ready when they arrived. But all in all they were happy to be away from work, the kids and their normal nightly stresses.
It wasn't long after their drinks were served that Chuck, the bartender, told them that their table was ready. They finished their drinks, left a dollar on the bar and proceeded to the host stand. There, smiling, was Marcel. "Your table is ready, if you will follow me please."
They did, and the dining room was lovely. They noticed everyone smiling, talking and eating. Everyone seemed to be having a great time, and they anticipated the same. The Maitre d' gracefully pulled out the chairs for them and they were seated at a small but elegant table by a large window overlooking the courtyard. As Tom thanked him for the drinks, he apologized again for the delay and backed away from the table.
No sooner did he leave then did an attractive young waitress arrive. She greeted them with a big smile, and asked if they'd like a cocktail before dinner. They explained that they had already had a drink at the bar, and were famished. She presented them with their menus and told them about a wonderful special of Mussels with Saffron and Chorizo Sausage the chef had prepared for an appetizer this evening. She went on to describe an Orange-Crusted Salmon with lemon and rosemary beurre blanc and a delicious Penne Pasta with Tomatoes, Chick Peas, Roasted Peppers, Black Olive and Mushrooms topped with Pecorino Romano cheese. As she left them with their menus she offered help with the wine list if they'd like. Janice, a real wine fan, assured her that it wouldn't be necessary.
After they mulled over their menus for a few minutes the waitress returned. Tom ordered the special appetizer and the Pasta special. Janice was more in the mood for the Wild Greens Salad with Gorgonzola and the Raspberry-Glazed Rotisserie Duck. They decided on a bottle of Chateau Neuf de Pape, but asked for a couple of glasses of the house Chardonnay with their appetizers. The waitress repeated the order, assured them that these were all her personal favorites, and disappeared into the kitchen.
At this point Tom and Jan seemed relieved. Finally their hectic week had come to a close, and the weekend had begun. It was now 8:00 and they had to be home by 10:30, but still they had plenty of time for dinner. Soon after the waitress brought them their glasses of wine, another young server brought them the appetizers. As he placed the dishes appropriately in front of the proper guests, he offered them black pepper. They both agreed, and their culinary experience began. Tom was enchanted by the mussels, and Janice's salad was the most exotic mix of lettuces she ever had. Absolutely delightful!
As they were eating their appetizers, they began to get lost in conversation. They were trying to decide where to go for their next vacation. No sooner did they finish the appetizers then the plates were cleared. They were so intent on discussing their upcoming vacation, they didn't even notice the busboy clear the table. Jan wanted to go on a "couples" vacation and leave the kids with her mom, while Tom wanted to take the whole family to Disney World. There they could have some family time, and then leave the kids with his parents while they went off to the Keys for a romantic getaway. Time seemed to fly by. Suddenly Jan realized it was 9:15. She started to get nervous about her dinner, where was it, for that matter where was the server?
Finally, Tom flagged the Maitre d' over and asked him about their dinner. Flustered, he apologized (he seemed to do a lot of that) and disappeared into the kitchen. After what seemed like 20 minutes (but was actually only 5) the nice young waitress appeared and apologized for the delay, assured Tom that dinner would be right out, and then disappeared again into the back of the house.
About ten minutes later the waitress arrived with the dinners, she placed them in front of the guests, and slipped back into the kitchen. All Jan could think of was...this better be worth the wait. The meals looked delicious, and they proved to taste it too. While Tom was satisfied with the meal, Jan was offended. By the time they were done with their entrees, it would be time to go home. No time for dessert or drinks or anything. Not only that, but why didn't the waitress or Maitre d' even look at Jan when they were at the table? Why did they apologize to Tom, and not her?
When Tom was about half finished and she had just about finished her duck, the waitress stopped by to ask how everything was, and Jan glared at her and asked where their bottle of wine was. The waitress, obviously had forgotten, apologized, and disappeared to the kitchen. Just a few seconds later she returned with the wine, Jan told her she no longer had time for a full bottle, and asked her to please bring them two glasses of whatever the "house red" was.
Why did it seem no one else was having these problems? Everyone else in the room seemed happy. Well, no matter, thought Jan. Dinner was done, the food was delicious, but the service poor at best. They finished up their dinners. The waitress came by to clear the plates and offered them coffee. They refused, explaining that they needed to get home. She left with the dishes, and returned a few seconds later with the check.
Tom examined the check, and it didn't seem right. Too much he thought. He didn't have time to really study it. He gave her a credit card and she quickly returned with the slip, adding 18 percent for service. He signed it and kept his copy of the slip and receipt; maybe he could deduct it. On the way out the door, Tom handed Jan the receipt, and asked her to hold on to it for him. After they got into the car she examined the check. "Oh my God" she exclaimed. "I can't believe you paid this bill! This is ridiculous!" Tom asked her what the problem was, and Jan explained that not only did they charge them for the bottle of wine, but she couldn't believe the tip he left. That service was appalling.
Tom explained that he felt that waitresses worked hard, didn't receive anything besides the tips and she seemed like a nice girl who was having a bad day. Jan didn't agree. She felt that Tom should not have rewarded her "incompetence." Maybe if she didn't get good tips, she might be inclined to give more attention to her guests.
...Needless to say it was a quite cool start to the weekend for Tom & Jan. What do you think? Was Tom right to give her a decent tip, after all he usually tips 20%. Or was Jan right? What should they do about the wine? They didn't get it and they shouldn't have had to pay for it. Whose fault was it that their service was slow? Was the kitchen backed up, the expediter confused or should the Maitre d' who was in charge of the dining room have picked up on it and corrected it before the guests complained? Maybe the waitress was just in lala land. Not a good meal at all for Tom and Jan...
Tell us what you think...what would you have done, whether you were the diners, the Maitre d' or the waitress. Take a stand and defend it, or challenge others with your own point of view. Post your thoughts in the eGG's MESSAGE BOARD in the new *Back of the House Folder.* We'll all be looking for them.
Until our next dining experience...eat well and enjoy life.
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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