If you’ve ever waited tables, at some point in your nocturnal life, you’ve had a “waiter dream.” These nightmares usually share common thematic elements; you’ve got a hundred customers who all hate you, the restaurant’s layout is bizarrely different, the menu’s a hundred pages, written in Cyrillic and you’re perpetually in the weeds. Often it’s just your brain clearing out the myriad of details ricocheting in your brain after a bad shift. (“Man, I forgot to bring that soda to table twelve!”) Sometimes its your subconscious telling you to get out of the biz.
Six years after hanging up my apron, I occasionally have these dreams. They usually mean I’ve forgotten to do something in my waking life, but last night I had a very different dream. A dream from the customer’s perspective…
My wife and I are eating at The Four Seasons in Manhattan when I spy Phillip Johnson sitting at his regular table in the Pool Room.
“Isn’t Phillip Johnson dead?” I say.
“For a long time,” my wife says.
“They must miss him. They hired a lookalike to take his place.”
As my wife peruses the menu I look around the Pool Room. I took a date here twenty years ago and man, the place has changed. Designed by Johnson and Mies van der Rohe, it used to be coolly elegant space with large windows, trees, subdued lighting and that iconic “pool.” Now it looks like a low rent Hofbräuhaus with sawdust on the floor. Shrugging, I look at the menu and spy something outrageous.
“Look at this!” I say. “Beluga Caviar Tacos for 7800 dollars!”
“That’s insane,” my wife says.
The waiter comes to our table and we order $300 worth of stuff. An expensive lunch to be sure, but we’re treating ourselves. To my surprise the entrees come out first. Annoyed, I ask the waiter what happened.
“You wanted your entrees first,” he snaps.
“No we didn’t.”
“Yes,” he says, showing me his dupe pad. “Before you get the Beluga Tacos.”
To my utter horror I see “Tacos! KaChing!” written on his pad and “$7800” circled in heavy black marker.
“We didn’t want those tacos!” I almost scream.
“Yes you did,” the waiter says. “I heard you talking about them when I walked over.”
My wife bursts into tears. “We’re going to have to dip into the house fund to pay for this!”
“Go to the kitchen and tell then we don’t want those tacos,” I say.
“It’s too late. You’ll have to pay for them.”
“Get me the manager!”
The manager, a middle-aged lady wearing a yellow Century 21 jacket, runs up to our table. “Is there a problem, sir?”
“You bet there’s a problem!” I say. “I didn’t order $7800 worth of anything!”
“You’re on the hook for it,” the manager says. “Too bad.”
As my wife sobs hysterically I try comforting her. “There’s no way we’re paying for this.” I say. “They’ll try arresting us for theft of service but since we didn’t eat the food the charges won’t stick. And they’ll have to spend more than $7800 to cover their legal costs.”
“Please come with me, sir,” the manager says. “The GM wants to talk with you.”
My wife and I walk to the back of the house and we’re soon locked in a small windowless room with three people; the nattily dressed GM, a chain smoking old lady, and a 6’5 bald bruiser wearing an ill fitting double breasted suit with a sinister bulge under his left armpit.
“I’m sorry, sir,” the GM says. “You owe us $7800. Will that be cash or credit?”
“We didn’t even eat the fucking tacos!” I shout.
The GM shakes his head. “Once we enter an item into the POS system the terms are non-negotiable.” Great. I’m dealing with the restaurant version of ISIS.
“Okay,” I say. “I hate saying this, but do you know who I am?”
“You look vaguely familiar.”
“I write the Waiter Rant blog,” I say. “My book was a New York Times Bestseller and I’ve been on Oprah and the Today Show. I have Frank Bruni’s phone number on speed dial! Do not mess with me!”
“Well,” the old lady cackles. “Doesn’t that you make feel powerful.”
“Listen toots, even if I was rich I’d never order a $7800 dish.”
“Of course you would,” the old lady says, waving smoke out her face. “That’s what rich people do.”
“Actually,” the GM says. “This does change things.”
“What?” the harridan says. “Make him pay like all the others!”
“We can’t afford the bad publicity,” the GM says. “Mr. Johnson wouldn’t like it.”
“Phillip Johnson is dead,” I say.
“Oh sir,” the GM says. “This is the Four Seasons. We simply reanimated him.”
“You guys are nuts,” I say, putting on my coat. “Here’s the deal. We don’t pay and I keep my mouth shut.”
“That’s fair,” the GM says. Then he turns to the bruiser in the bad suit and says, “But I feel sorry for you. You don’t get to play today.” The bruiser looks pissed.
“What does he do?” I ask fearfully.
“Sir, you do not want to know.”
I wake up to find my wife playing on her iPhone. When I tell her about the dream she laughs. “Those are expensive tacos.”
“I know what the dream was about,” I say, heaving myself out of bed.
A few days ago my car refused to budge when I depressed the gas pedal. After I had it towed to the service station I was consumed with worry, thinking I had a multi-thousand dollar repair on my hands. Luckily my mechanic is honest and diagnosed a ruptured hose and low transmission fluid. It only cost three hundred dollars to fix.
“We were lucky,” my wife says. “I thought we’d have to dip into the house fund to pay it.”
“And my mind turned a transmission job into Beluga Tacos.”
“Did you really say you had Frank Bruni’s number on speed dial?”
“Honey, it was just dream. Besides, Frank’s not the food critic for The Times anymore.” Just to be a wiseass I grab my phone and show her Bruni’s number on my contact list. He interviewed me a few years ago and I saved the number. I doubt it still works.
“Well,” my wife says, smirking. “Doesn’t that make you feel powerful?”
“Your husband just saved us $7800,” I say. “Show some respect.”
All the characters in this dream are fictional. Phillip Johnson is not a zombie employed by The Four Seasons. The restaurant has not been remodeled to look like a German beer hall. The last time I checked Beluga Caviar Tacos weren’t on their menu. But I wouldn’t put it past them.