Bear with me. A couple of reasons.
Number One, I’m going to do a two-parter based on the new effective star of the blog, Blackie. (Grrrr.)
Number Two, I’ve got about half a martini and two glasses of wine in me.
It all started when I got to work (lunch job, Michael’s) Tuesday and the new boss, Eric, said there were two 9-tops on the books and not much else. I was to get one and Blackie was to get the other. Because servers at Michael’s aren’t allowed to take more than an 8-top by themselves, it was mandatory we share. Therefore, Eric decided the solution was for us to share both of them.
‘Are you okay working with her?’ he asked somewhat conspiratorially. Recall, Eric is new; he likes what I do; I’ve earned his trust as ‘his kind of waiter.’
‘Honestly, I’d rather not,’ I told him. ‘But I don’t care enough to make an issue out of it. It’s fine.’
This day I actually felt much more confident because I had already thoroughly identified what hell I could expect. Also, it promised to be a much more manageable day – only three on the floor and a helpful manager and not much danger of getting overwhelmed with surprise traffic.
The first table was billed as a grudge lunch wherein the host had lost a bet and now his compadres were going to take him to the cleaners (while he took them to Michael’s). We were excited, visions of dinner steaks, appetizer symphonies, and $100 bottles of wine dancing in our heads.
Blackie suggested I do the full dinner spiel (a great sales technique, normally omitted at lunch because of time constraints) because I was so much better at it. I couldn’t disagree. I also liked it because it put me in control of the table. I do not like the manner Blackie uses with her tables. Her other job is at the Claim Jumper . . .
Okay, so a tangent is in order here. I do not disdain Claim Jumper or similar ‘echelon’ restaurants (TGI Friday’s, Chiles, Outback, Coco’s, etc.). Ironically, I actually place Claim Jumper as my favorite restaurant for when I choose that ‘level’ of dining. Their quality is excellent. The service is generally spot-on. The restaurants (locations I’ve visited) are always spotless and well-kept. You get the feeling the hierarchy is working well and doing its job. I love the Claim Jumper. I always suggest it when the wife says, ‘Where do you want to eat?’ Of course, whenever I suggest a solution for a problem the wife can’t figure out herself, I always get shot down. <click-click … ‘PULL!’ Blam!> But that’s another sub-tangent . . .
Anyway, back on tangent . . . I actually regard Claim Jumper as first class. The problem here with the Claim Jumper is that you take the worst prejudices about Claim Jumper and combine them with what you already know about Blackie, and you find the worst stereotypes are true.
Think about a highly-corporate place with a lot of rules and behavior codes and what kind of virulent bacteria could breed in that Petri dish (Blackie). Think further about what that dangerous burgeoning organism (remember: Blackie) would turn into after a dozen years of incubation (as opposed to the usual 6–24 month tenure of Claim Jumper waiters).
Minus the expected gum-popping and cigarette-breath, there you have Blackie. She does not communicate with guests. She dispenses information (no, not even that – she dispenses words) just the same way as she slings a plate of hash: ‘You’re not supposed to understand this, much less enjoy it. Just take it. ‘Cause here it is.’
So to wrap the tangent up, take your worst bigoted preconception of a mid -level chain restaurant waiter, and, even though the restaurant chain itself doesn’t deserve that branding, you have exactly that in this person Blackie.
End tangent. For now . . .
Yes, I was excited to be doing the spiel because I could handle this table which might well be our ‘meal ticket’ (there are just sooo many restaurant/food metaphors out there!). So I made contact with the table. Introduced myself and mentioned my partner Blackie. I pitched the idea of wine (remember, these guys were potentially taking their friend to the cleaners) and cocktails. They were happy to have the wine list at the table because it was a maybe (remember, this is lunch). I sussed it out that pressure was not the correct tack. I thought that common peer pressure, or else inertia (i.e., the body in motion being the idea of having a drink) would eventually prevail.
Of course, just after I leave the table after my spiel for the dinner steaks, etc, Blackie charges at them with her typical tactless hard line about ordering wine. No surprise, we were removing the wine glasses from the table about five seconds later.
So much for my managing this table into a moneymaker.
It came time to take the order. Michael’s requires multiple servers take orders on large parties. Blackie started at position 1. I started at position 9 and worked back.
We met in the side station to place the order. Turned out, I had the host – who authorized a round of appetizers. But there were also four salads ordered for the table. Naturally, you want the apps to go out before salads, followed by entrees. So we placed the order that way. However, at Michael’s this particular appetizer symphony is not that quick to prepare. Another factor to consider before you read what follows: some guests acknowledged they wouldn’t have any of the shrimp appetizer on order.
After about 10 minutes, I fired the salads for the table. By now, I’m expecting the appetizer symphony to be ready or nearly ready. Further, I know the salads might take a 4-5 minutes (in a normal world not, but at lunch when the pantry guys are doing multiple jobs, it can easily take this long), so this will allow the shrimp appetizer to be delivered and perhaps consumed (it’s only about a piece per person, after all).
Well, the shrimp app is just about ready to go out. But the salads are now ready. Blackie, ever ‘helpful,’ is standing by the pantry, ready to grab the salads (shrimp app comes up on the front line). She asks me if she should take the salads, since they are ready, or wait till the appetizer is served and removed? I weigh it all . . . and tell her . . .
Go! Serve the salads!
After all, some of the guests are not having shrimp. Next, these people are at lunch, so time is always a factor. Next, eating a single shrimp (for those six eating them) doesn’t take more than a minute or so. Next, some have ordered dessert in advance as well. And, remember, we’re still at lunch.
Now, I have not gotten the idea that these folks are in a hurry. But I can tell they are at lunch. They are going back to work. So I am using fuzzy logic, just as I mentioned here (fuzzy logic part towards end of post).
A good waiter knows how to properly time courses. A better waiter knows how to judge when guests don’t give a shit and are silently placing a premium on continuous, expedited service. Admittedly, it’s mostly a lunch thing, but that’s what I’m working at here. Same with Blackie. For the last 5 years.
So I make the judgment that it will be okay if those having salads are eating them, and those eating shrimp appetizers are eating them, and those eating both combine the experience.
I have other tables of course, so since Blackie has implicitly agreed to deliver the salads that were practically right in her hands when we had our exchange, I took care of some other business.
I finish my business and double check on our 9-top and see them happily eating their shrimp appetizer. Wait, what happened to the salads?
Despite her asking me what I wanted her to do – as she was right there about to do it – and my telling her to do just that, she had somehow not done it.
Blackie strikes again!
Okay, okay, don’t get too worked up. The timing still worked out fine. It was just classic Blackie.
So as a team we deliver the entrees. I have positions 1-3. Position 2 has a small New York steak. Oops!
He says he ordered the New York sandwich. Naturally, staff immediately goes into emergency mode to prepare a NY Sandwich for him.
Meanwhile, Blackie explains he ordered the ‘small New York’ and she repeated it to him and he said yes, she was right . . .
Well, she was wrong.
Yet more meanwhile, Position 1 has a question about why she didn’t get prime rib instead of the Rib Eye like she asked for . . .
Again, Blackie explains that she told her just what she was ordering.
Maybe Blackie should explain more to her guests rather than her managers and fellow waiters?
(This is Part One. Part Two is Right Here.)