The First Line of Defense
Melinda’s our new hostess. She’s in her early twenties and trying to pick up a little extra cash. I feel bad for her. There are easier ways. Drug dealing and prostitution come readily to mind. Oh well.
“So how are things?” I ask her.
“Oh, everyone here’s really nice,” Melinda replies.
“Wait till you get to know us better.”
I survey the dining room. We’re pretty crowded. Three large parties are due to arrive so there’s not a lot of room for walk-ins.
“I’ve heard about you,” Melinda says teasingly, “You’re the mean waiter.”
I laugh softly. “Yes, I guess I have that reputation.”
“Why?” Melinda asks.
“Some customers don’t like me.”
There’s a small pause. Melinda stares at me. I haven’t answered her question.
“I’m also the manager,” I continue, “Sometimes I have to tell the customer ‘no.’”
“I have to tell people their credit card’s declined. I have to tell parents they can’t give their underage kids wine. And, of course, I have to tell people they can’t sit where they want.”
“That’ll make you unpopular,” Melinda says.
“I’m just doing my job,” I shrug, “But when I get those people as customers they take it out on me at tip time.”
The door chimes. Mrs. Red, one of our regular customers, walks in. She’s a mild pain in the ass. Fussy, but a nice person all in all.
“You’ve got room for two, right?” she asks breezily, walking past the hostess stand.
“Do you have a reservation with us tonight?” Melinda asks after her.
“Oh honey,” the woman says, dismissing her with a wave, “I don’t need a reservation.”
Since Melinda’s new I decide to step in.
“Good evening Mrs. Red,” I say, “And how are you this evening?”
“Hi Waiter,” she says, “You’ll sit me in the front, right? You know I won’t sit in the back.”
“Actually I only have this table,” I say, pointing to a drafty table by the door, “Or a small table in the back.”
“Is Fluvio here?” Mrs. Red says, her voice rising.
“I’m afraid he’s not,” I reply deferentially. Mrs. Red’s a regular customer, not the Anti-Christ. She just presumes too much.
“I can’t sit in the back,” Mrs. Red huffs, “Remember? I’m claustrophobic!”
“Let me see what I can do,” I say soothingly, “Maybe we can work something out.”
Melinda and I go over the seating chart. A table’s finishing up. They’ll be out in ten minutes.
“Mrs. Red!” I announce cheerfully, “I’ll have a better table in about ten minutes.”
“Ten minutes?” Mrs. Red asks warily.
“Why can’t I sit there?” she asks, pointing to the empty six top we have set up in the window.
“That table’s for a reservation,” Melinda says.
Mrs. Red turns to Melinda. “You’re much too serious for someone so young,” she snaps.
“That’s probably a good thing,” Melinda replies sweetly.
“Mrs. Red…….” I begin to say.
“I guess I’ll sit here,” Mrs. Red flusters, pointing to the bad table by the door.
“I’ll move you the minute something better opens up,” I say.
At that moment Mrs. Red’s husband walks in.
“Hi Waiter,” Mr. Red says.
“Hi Mr. Red,” I reply, “Nice to see you again.”
Suddenly Mrs. Red is in Melinda’s face. “On second thought I don’t like this table!” she hisses with carcinogenic petulance, “I’m leaving!”
“Whaaaa?” Mr. Red stammers, completely taken by surprise.
“I DIDN’T KNOW THIS WAS GOING TO TURN INTO A MATH PROBLEM!”
Mrs. Red shouts, heading out the door.
It’s actually more of a geometry problem, but I decide not to say anything.
“But…….” Mr. Red calls after her, “I thought we we’re gonna eat here!”
Mrs. Red’s too busy powering herself down the street. She ignores him.
Mr. Red looks at me, crestfallen, like I’ve taken away his favorite toy.
“Sorry sir,” I say apologetically, “She didn’t like the tables we had available.”
Mr. Red shakes his head and storms the door. I can’t tell if he’s angry at me or his wife. I hope for his mental health it’s the latter.
“Holy shit!” Melinda exhales.
“Welcome to the Bistro,” I reply.
“Are they all like that?”
“Actually Mrs. Red’s one of our nicer customers.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Now I understand why some people don’t like you,” Melinda says, “If they get all hysterical over nothing like that.”
“Well I’m glad you saw that,” I reply, “Gives you a sense of what you’re up against.”
“I thought this job would be easy,” Melinda whimpers.
“You’re the first line of defense,” I intone solemnly, “I’d rather the yuppies get mad at you than me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s better when the hostess is the one who tells the customer no.” I explain, “So when they sit in my section they’re angry at YOU not me. That gives me a chance to be the nice guy, sell heavy, and make a big tip.”
“Oh,” Melinda says, “So I have to take one for the team.”
“You get paid no matter what. I have to get by on my charm and good looks.”
“And how’s that working for out for ya?” Melinda shoots back impishly.
I give Melinda a long stare. “You’re a bit of a bitch aren’t you?” I say.
Melinda nods happily.
“Good,” I grunt, “You’ll be a perfect hostess.”