Monday, April 4, 2011

Dear Plastic Place Mat Ladies,

My morning at the restaurant starts with me barreling through the back door of the restaurant five to ten minutes late usually, clocking in then starting to set up our back service station if the other lunch server hasn’t already started everything. I work six days a week and my older brother, who also happens to be one of my best friends,  is the chef and one of two of the managing owners of our busy Italian restaurant that has been opened six years as of last week! So I guess you could say I have a pretty “cushy” job. Over the last six years, I have been able to nuzzle myself into a very nice and lucrative position.

     I guess I could include a little background info as to what my work environment entails. The restaurant is bistro style, from casual and quick service lunches to upscale dinner service with refined specials, wine dinners and catering etc. We seat 90-100 people at capacity and there are only two servers during lunch. We only have 5 servers maximum at night. The last server we hired was the son of another server who had worked for the company (we have 7  other restaurant locations in the metropolitan area) for over ten years. Four of us have been their since day one! That s how good we have it i guess. Anyways, I tend to run things in the front of house, day and night, so you might say I have a little pull.
     The dining room has an open, rectangular floor plan. So as customers walk in to seat themselves during lunch, after a greeting from behind our massive granite take-out counter, they have the option to sit in the front dinning room or the  larger back dining room. The two servers split the restaurant down the middle, right and left. I’m always right, as I like to joke. Some don’t think it’s too funny. Let’s just say i haven’t worked my ass off  here during the last six years for nothing. After all, we don’t go to work to make friends. Why do we first and foremost WORK?  You got it! $Ding$ $Ding$  $Ding$
     Our morning can, like any restaurant, start slow as we ease into the day talking and revving up on the caffeine source of our choice and they can (the diners), as they do when we seem to be least prepared sometimes, come quickly at us,  minutes after tucking our black button down dress shirts into our black pants and tieing on our short black “aprons”.
     Today our lunch rush came quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I would much rather be running my tired-eyed ass off without having so much as a sip of coffee at 11:00 than standing around getting wound up while talking about new phone apps or the grammy’s. I was quickly reminded that we had a call ahead for a party of 25 for lunch this morning. Shit! Ok, the busboys are pulling the tables together on the right, my side, of the restaurant as I suck an iced coffee down as if my life depended on it. And repeat. I dump the old ice, top off the empty glass with fresh ice, fill with piping hot dark roasted Italian coffee and stab the ice cubes violently with a straw to quickly chill my coffee before drainig it and approaching 25 careless and starving people. I keep in mind that they walked in the door with the intention of getting fully taken care of, having their needs met. I have to give them anything they want that’s available! So I approach them casually at first. It’s not like I can get on a loud speaker to great everyone at once, as their table probably measures an easy 75 feet. I first had to locate their leader and feel out how the check would be paid for because, as proficient and detail oriented as I can be, it still would have taken me all afternoon to get them back to work if they even mentioned me separating (and making change for, then closing) 25 checks. One check! Thank God!
     I find myself in the middle of our lunch rush, which today includes the long table of 25, (keep in mind that means 25 drinks to keep filled and probably at least a dozen dishes to wrap up to go while the rest of their empty plates must also be pre-bussed) and another 8 or so tables to take care of, without delay of course.
     At the worst moment possible, I see the most high maintenance young moms I may have ever encountered walk through the front door and bee line to the biggest booth in my section. I remember them well! Damn it! There are 2 women and 3 children under the age of 5. Oh here come the plastic place mat ladies. First of all, I know they will (seriously) only have a $20 check to pay before they leave, but will require me to put more miles on my new Dansko clogs than the party of 25 has already!
     The over caffeinated mothers (there’s a starbucks and little gym in very close proximity) start by blasting open their super-duper diaper bags and sanitizing our 10 foot square table, then drying it off while holding their younger children on their hips. Then the high chairs, which we keep very clean already, get the padded high chair/shopping chart treatment because God forbid your child sit on a hard surface! I am surprized they didn’t bubble wrap their children before sitting them in the HIGH chairs! And out come their ultimate sanitary tool of sickness prevension: the adhesive plastic place mat! The plastic place mat is sure to soon be covered with yogurt and smashed fig bars and little squares of pizza. I see the moms standing table-side peeling off the strips and slapping these things on the tables as if it makes mine or our busboys’ lives easier or more convenient when cleaning is concerned after they are gone. But guess what plastic place mat ladies?….you are ridiculous! Here we go. Extra dressing on the side, another diet coke, double cut the
    boy’s slice of pizza, an extra plate and more napkins, I’d like an eighth diet coke please, more bread? Really???? The best part is that they so conveniently stayed all afternoon not having to be elsewhere so I can’t steal a window of down time! And thank you for helping to pay one-three thousanths of my mortgage this afternoon while i just exhausted myself of all energy! Have a wonderful afternoon and I can’t wait to see you soon.
     I can’t complain much because i know and accept that my (our) line of work is the most unpredictable/unpreventable of careers, but I also know that I expended less energy on my 25-top this morning than I did on the little gym moms! I only hoped to steal a few minutes of personal time to have a substantial lunch and maybe read more than a few pages of my book this afternoon?
I love that my wife is not a plastic place mat lady!!!!!!!!!

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