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.
Tuttopronto, like most restaurants, employed mostly young, energetic individuals. Some were students paying their way through college. Some were graduates, trying to figure out what they wanted to do in life. And then there were a few "professional" servers.
The professional servers were individuals who new that while the hours were not great, the living they made as waiters and waitresses was better than most could expect without specialized education. They were supporting families, paying mortgages and took their jobs seriously. They always made better tips and had higher sales than the rest of the wait staff. They knew the menu and the wine list. They knew what to recommend; and what wines went with what entrees.
The rest of the servers were as interested in what went on after work as they were what went on during work. They were happy with a good tip once in a while, while the professional servers were upset with their occasional mediocre tip.
It was Wednesday night. The cooks had decided to go to the local bar to catch a band. The band started at eleven; and the cooks could usually get out around eleven if they rushed, and no late tables came in. When the servers heard of the plans they all got excited about the opportunity to party. They all prayed for the night to be over. Finally, the last reservation was in and had only ordered a light dinner. It looked good for the party. The staff would be out of there by 11, easy!
At 9:50 a man and a woman entered the restaurant. Wendy, a student who worked Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights, greeted them at the door. "Hi," she said in her bubbly, friendly tone. "Do you have a reservation this evening?"
"No" the man replied, "I hope you can fit us in. The movie ran late. We did our best to get here as soon as possible."
"I'll get the Maitre D'," She replied. And she hustled into the kitchen.
Once through the kitchen doors, she grunted, "Believe it or not, we got two late-comers!" The cooks all grunted. "Damn, aren't we closed yet?" Dave said as he looked at the clock. It was only 9:56. "Can't we just send them away? They're too late!"
Marcel overheard David and told him they were still open. He then put his paperwork aside, and went to greet the guests.
"Don't put them in my section" Wendy said. "I'm all closed down."
"Me too" said Debby.
"I'll take them," said Rich. Rich was one of the professional waiters. He knew that the couple was hungry, that they probably wouldn't be there all that long, and he would get another five or ten dollars to take home tonight. It was close to the end of the month and he needed to make his mortgage payment.
"Sorry Wendy, you're up. It's yours." Marcel responded as he left the kitchen. He greeted the couple at the door. They were apologetic that they were so late; but they looked hungry. Marcel showed them to the table Wendy had open. Unfortunately it was the one Marcel had not seated all night. He only used this table in a pinch. It was too close to the kitchen and you could hear everything that went on in the kitchen.
Wendy sighed, "Well at least I can make this one quick." She immediately went out to the table and offered them drinks. She served the drinks and then went straight to the table to take their order. She explained that the kitchen closed shortly, and that they would need to order right away.
The man at the table seemed a little upset by the rush, but Wendy didn't care. She had made more than she expected tonight, and just wanted to serve these guys and get them out of here. The woman ordered and then the gentleman. Wendy placed the order for their salads and entrees.
As soon as she served the salads she shouted in the kitchen "Fire my table!" The cooks were more than happy to comply. They needed to get this last table out so they could start breaking down and cleaning up. The food went up quick.
Wendy let the food sit under the heat lamps for as long as she could; but then finally had to take it out to the table. She saw that the salads were still out on the table. She decided to serve it anyway.
Moving their salad plates off to the side, she placed the entrees in front of the guests. "I'm so sorry," Wendy insisted. "The Chef put the dinners up, so I thought I should get them out to you while they were hot."
The guests were obviously unhappy with this. Wendy wasn't sure what to do so she left the entrees and just ignored the table until they were through. She didn't want them to complain, and was sure that the entrees would make them happy. She didn't return until the end of the meal.
The busboy had already cleared the entrees. She had finished cleaning the rest of her station, and was just waiting for this last table to close out. She asked them if they were ready for their check.
"We'd like to see the dessert menu please." The gentleman insisted in an irritated tone.
"Tonight we only have Tiramisu and Chocolate mousse left right now," she replied.
"We'll take a Tiramisu to split and two decaf cappuccino please," he replied.
"I'm sorry the cappuccino machine is already cleaned up. Would you like regular coffee?"
"Well no, I'd like cappuccino; but coffee will do... decaf though."
"I'll get it right away." Wendy said as she left for the kitchen.
Wendy returned a few minutes later with the dessert and coffee. After she served the dessert, she disappeared into the kitchen for a few minutes and peaked out every few minutes to see if they were done yet.
Finally, she thought to herself, as she went to deliver the check. The couple paid the check in cash, and after they left she realized that they only left her two dollars. That was less than one percent! The nerve of them, she thought to herself as she finished clearing the table. After all, she had waited on them past closing time. She was doing them a "favor."
Well? What do you think? Should they have left her a two dollar tip? Was their experience typical of the late night experience. Is the restaurant really still open past ten? and how about that cappuccino?
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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