Plent of Garlic But Not Enough Time

A Day in the Life of a Restaurant Gal

Troubles From the Nuthouse

on November 25, 2012


There is no way to run a business of any size without them. They are the reason we lose sleep at night, but they are also the reason that we are able to enjoy Thanksgiving week in Puerto Rico while The Restaurant chugs away without us. Drinks may or may not be served in a timely manner. The ideal wine recommendation may or may not be made. Steaks may or may not be cooked to the perfect temperature. But here we sit, seaside, sipping a frozen mojito. And right now we may or may not care. (More mojitos, please…)

We run The Restaurant with a very small staff. A dedicated little band of foodies, several of whom have worked for us for ten years or more. We are not easy to work for and we know it. Those who stay the course buy into our passion for what we do. Many have come and gone before them, and their ghosts linger in stories told over after-shift cocktails, legendary in their ineptitude. What we have learned over the years is that the common sense gene does not get passed down to every generation, and applicants can be really good bluffers.

I ran restaurants in Chicago for many years. Over the course of those years I encountered unbelievable examples of the missing common sense gene. I have told these stories many times over the years… sometimes people believe me, sometimes they think I’m making them up. I assure you I am not that creative.

Scene: A busy Sunday Brunch at a Lincoln Park Bar and Grill. I am in the office getting change for the bar. A server comes into the office and says, “Do we have a toolbox?” I reply, “Please don’t tell me you’re looking for a screwdriver.” Server: “How did you know??”

Scene: A late weekday afternoon at a large, upscale downtown bar. I am in the office doing paperwork between lunch and dinner. A lone bartender, Skip (his real name!) is on duty. On the camera monitor, I see two ladies come in and sit down at the empty bar. I see Skip promptly greet them. I go back to my paperwork. I look up a full ten minutes later to see the two women still sitting with no drinks in front of them and Skip is nowhere to be seen. I race to the bar, greet the women, apologize for the wait, and ask them what they ordered. I make their drinks, a Chardonnay and a Bailey’s and coffee. I then go looking Skip. I find him in the kitchen, rummaging through the spices. He looks at me in total frustration and says, “Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a bay leaf in this restaurant?”

KJG and I also spent many years running an inn where the dream employees continued to arrive on our doorstep. There was the server who, we realized after several months, had been telling our guests that our signature salad was served with “Islamic vinaigrette.” This was the same guy who attempted to free a stubborn wine cork tableside by putting the bottle between his thighs and pulling and grunting loudly.

Before our time, there was a server who chastised guests if they tried to order a bottle of wine because she didn’t believe in drinking. But my favorite of all time is the server who had been instructed to present complimentary after-dinner chocolate truffles to her guests from the local candy store called the Nut Shoppe.

“Troubles from the Nut House, compliments of the Chef.”

Another mojito, please…

One response to “Troubles From the Nuthouse

  1. wrdngrdn says:

    I cannot imagine the frustration, and the worry (that undoubtedly dissipates, thankfully, with a few mojitos) of leaving others in care of your “baby.” I must admit, though, that like your previous staff we were just a few bumble-heads in the “bay leaves” (but never Baileys!) department. After learning that there is no such herb you can buy in Italy—and wondering how that could be in the land of food so divine you want to just about cry … or giggle … or both—we found out the embarrassing way why such a thing could be. In desperation (I had a homemade chicken broth to make, as only Knorr’s granules are available in the local markets), we asked our English neighbors if we might borrow a few bay leaves. He took us to the backyard (which I have to admit abutted our own grounds here) and said, “Have as many as you want! The land is covered in hedges of bay!” Then he pointed in every direction. Oooops. Please don’t talk about us during after-hours cocktails. … OK, I know you will. Thank you for the fun post … keep ’em coming!

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