The phone rings. I already know what the person on the other end wants. I already know what my answer is going to be.
It seems pointless to even answer. But I must. It’s my job.
“Hello the Bistro,” I say cheerily, “How may I help you?”
“Yeah,” a male voice answers, “I’d like a table for two tomorrow night.”
“I’m sorry sir,” I reply, putting the proper amount of contrition into my voice, “But we have no reservations available.”
“I’m afraid I’m not sir.”
“You have nothing for Valentine�s Day?”
“We filled up the last time slot Friday.”
“That sucks,”the man says angrily.
“Sorry sir. ”
The man slams the receiver down. Ouch, my ears.
I stare at the phone. I’ve gotten ten calls like that in as many minutes. That was my third enraged hang up. Can I help it if you’re a poor planner buddy?All the good Valentine’s Day slots booked up months in advance. If you loved her pal, I think to myself, You’d have planned earlier.
The phone rings again.
“Hello, The Bistro,” I answer warily, “Can I help you?”
“I’d like to make a reservation for tomorrow night,” a woman’s voice says.
“I’m sorry Madam,” I say, holding the receiver away from my ear, “We have no reservations available.”
“Really?” the woman says.
“OK,” the woman says, “Thank you anyway.”
“Good night Madam.”
The woman hangs up normally. Some people understand limitation.
The kitchen bell rings furiously. Instinctively I know I have food up. I rush towards the back, desperately trying to look like I’m not rushing. Tonight is Valentine’s Eve. All the people who don’t have a reservation for the 14th are out this evening as a consolation prize. My section’s packed with two tops. I’m in serious danger of going into the weeds.
“Hey asshole,” Armando, the chef says as I enter the kitchen, “Your food’s getting cold.”
“Sorry man,” I reply, “The phone’s driving me nuts.”
“Don’t tell me your problems,” Armando grunts feverishly, “I’ve got plenty of my own.”
I look at my order. I’m missing a Pasta Bolognese.
“Where�s my Bolognese for 23?”
“The fucking Bolognese Armando!” I bellow.
“You didn’t order a Bolognese for 23!” he yells back.
“Yes I did!” I say, waving the ticket.
“Shit!” Armando exclaims.
Now, I’ve screwed up plenty of orders in my time, so Armando isn’t off base thinking I messed up. But he likes to think he never makes a mistake.
“How long?” I yell.
I grab the incomplete order and run to table 23. I tell the customer with the Bolognese that we made a mistake and his order will be out shortly. Honesty is, tactically, the best policy. The man starts to protest but calms down when I offer him a free glass of wine. Booze is the great lubricant of customer service.
The door chimes. Two people without a reservation. I shoehorn them into a table near the bathroom. The girl looks like she’s about to cry.
“Sorry Miss,” I say, noting her distress, “When a nicer table opens up I’ll move you.”
“She’ll be OK,” her date replies. “Don’t worry about it.”
“I’ll be ok,” the girl parrots.
“The best table in the house is the table you’re sitting at,” I say automatically. Tonight seems to be the night for customer service cliches.
The bell rings. I run the Pasta Bolognese to 23. The phone rings. I run to answer it. I need to clone myself now.
“Hello, the Bistro. How may I help you?”
“I want a table for two tomorrow night,” a gruff male voice demands.
“I’m sorry sir. We have no reservations available.”
“And I want the table by the window,” the man continues, oblivious.
“I’m sorry sir,”I repeat, “We have no availability tomorrow night.”
‘Huh?” What is this guy, retarded?
“Regretfully sir, I have nothing open.”
“That’s ridiculous, “the man says.
“Tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day sir,” I say, approximating a verbal shrug.
“I’m friends with the owner,” the man blurts. Sure you are pal.
“Even so sir,” I reply, “I have nothing available.” I’m beginning to hate the word “available.”
“Put Fluvio on the phone,” the man demands.
“He’s not in sir,” I say, “Would you like to leave a message?”
“What I’d like is table for tomorrow night.”
“I’m afraid that’s impossible sir.”
I sigh inwardly. I want to give this “No Limits!” Yuppie a lesson in physics.Two pieces of matter, or in this case, two asses, cannot occupy the same place at the same time. I have a delightful vision of two Yuppies trying to cram into the same chair, morphing into a shimmering globule of entitlement, annihilating each other at sub atomic level. The resultant quantum release of hot air could easily power a small city.
“Sorry sir,”I reply, moving the phone away from my ear, “It’s impossible.”
“BANG!” Ha! I was prepared this time.
I return to the floor. A regular customer waves me over.
“Happy Valenswine’s Day!” she announces.
“Happy Valenswine’s Day!”
“I can’t say I’ve heard that one, I reply, befuddled.”
“The woman laughs. “Valenswine’s Day is the day before Valentine’s Day,” she explains. “It’s when cheating husbands take their mistresses out to dinner.”
I laugh heartily. “Thanks,” I say, “I’ll remember that one.”
“Thought you’d get a kick out of it,” the woman chuckles.
“You married to this lady?” I ask the woman�s husband.
“Maybe,” he says with a sly smile.
Finally, some cool customers. Thank God. I was really hating people there for a moment.
“You’re smart to come out tonight,” I say. “Tomorrow’s gonna be a zoo.”
“We never go out on Valentine’s Day,” the woman says, waving her hands, “Too crazy. Too overpriced.”
“Well have a Happy Valenswine’s Day,” I say, winking.
“You too,” the woman says, winking back.
I dive back into the madness. The customers keep coming. The phone rings with a constant knowing malevolence. I somehow manage to stay out of the weeds. When I stumble out of the Bistro, battered and exhausted, I remember that tonight was just a dress rehearsal for tomorrow. Valentine’s Day, with all its heightened expectations and pressure, ranks just below Mother’s Day on the Waiter Pain Meter. Its amateur night and the tips are for shit. But I’ll be there, happy smile glued to my face, ready to make your evening special. Why? Because it’s my job.
Pray for me.