“Unpublished” Chowblog – The Front Lines

The following is a Chowblog that has not been published at Scout Magazine, but definitely completes the current series. Being that it’s my final week at Chow, I thought it was only fitting to end the series with a hilarious story.

Just like the joyful individuals that thrive in the dungeon downstairs, upstairs there exists a being so fierce, and so intriguing, you’d wonder if they all participated in electroshock therapy sessions. The front line of the restaurant, in most cases a population of the most transient individuals permitted to work face-to-face with the public, are trapped with their diverse and eclectic personalities hovering over your table opening a $200 bottle of Burgundy with finesse and ease, while telling you a story about Bea Arthur and the other “hot” Golden Girls. Now that’s skill. However we have all been witness, whether “that name” was under yours on the schedule, or they brought you tomato juice instead of a Guinness over at Ceili’s Irish Pub, there are servers that exist to make “quick cash”, and they rarely have the skill to make that experience Chow’s customers really crave.

A typical Friday night:

Jessica, wearing her perfect 50’s outfit, paces back and forth by the front door. “Our first table is at 5:00p. Open Table says so. It’s 5:05p. Where is the first table?” Busying herself with something else, Jessica frantically questions the merit of the Open Table, as one by one she must reiterate to each server coming by to check out the night’s anticipated reservations, “Taylor for 2, they’re not here yet, they’re not HERE yet. It says they have a show to make at the Stanley Theatre by 5:45p. AND they want the 3 course PRIX FIXE?” At 5:08p a couple is spotted walking up to the door, “Welcome to CHOW,…” says Jessica. “We have a 5:00p reservation, under Taylor, and can we be quite quick? We have to make a show in 45 minutes.” With roughly 38 minutes to consume 3 courses, Jessica graciously seats the couple, and visits the downstairs coat check.
“First table IN!” Jessica screams.
“Oui!” responds the kitchen.
With a sigh of relief, Jessica returns to her post, and marks the table as “seated” with a smile.

The cowbell dings in the basement twice, (one ding for expo, two dings “we need you downstairs, and bring a friend”) David yips from the front computer “service pleasssssssssssse” as he so eloquently puts it, always with a long, drawn out “s”. Amanda, our expo, stops by the table and leans over as if to display the possible prizes in Bob Barker’s Showcase Showdown, “tuna tartar with avocado carpaccio and grapefruit salad; caramelized onion tart with house-made ricotta cheese and puff pastry… enjoy”. She heads back downstairs and grabs the chits out from the printer. The cooks do a freeze-frame with their knives, pots and pans in the air, anxiously listening to Amanda’s voice, “PICKING UP….. FIRST COURSE….. FOLLOWED BY…..”; and with a proud grin on her face, Amanda returns to polish cutlery.

Upstairs, the servers congregate by the glass-washer to discuss the format of the evening. Now the real night is beginning. It’s becoming insanely busy. In a restaurant with a maximum capacity at any one time of 72 persons, when you have 80 in the book, before your anticipated “walk-ins” arrive, it becomes a big deal. 10 minutes in, Heather pushes past me behind the bar to run credit cards as I am making my first of 4 “artless” coffees (artless meaning when I am busy, I accidentally create phallic pictures out of milk foam while my intention is a feather, guests don’t notice but I do).
Rawn comes up beside me, “…….Heatherrrr———” he whispers, “…….Heatherrrr———”. There’s close to 70 people in the restaurant at the moment, the glass-washer is vibrating, there is a dirty glassware gong-show behind me what my elbows keep hitting, it’s fucking loud in here, cowbell dinging out of control in the basement, SPEAK UP MAN!
“What do you need Rawn?” I pose.
“…….can you ask Heather if 109 is my table…..?”
“YES RAWN! YES! YES!” screams Heather, “…….ok———” and Rawn walks away excitedly.

Amongst a confused noise of many voices, I hear Tyler, our new General Manager, speaking to some guests at the front.
“You should totally get carpet burn….”
If you have no idea what he’s talking about, you’d think the following: he’s weird, and inappropriately suggestive. However he’s talking about a cocktail that just won as part of the Grand Marnier contest with chili peppers, navan, gin, white chocolate and burnt orange. At this point, the background music gets unexpectedly louder, “Yo, hello, I wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a baller, I wish I had a girl who looked good, I would call her…”  Simultaneously, Craig, consistently the best dressed server out of the bunch (he looks reminiscent of a club monaco mannequin with a pulse and personality), quickly bolts to the front, aggressively grabs the iPod, and skips to the next song. All servers and half the bar customers stop and stare at one another.
“… was that really ‘I wish’ by Skee Lo?” asks Ella mid-shake with an egg white cocktail, “I haven’t heard that song in… forever!” Stunned, the room suddenly explodes with laughter.

Jay (one of the loudest bar customers we have) relaxes as if on sedatives just for a moment, and eats a bite of his braised veal cheek; the silence is over, “This is sick, SICK!”  Jay starts flailing and laughing hysterically. His voice gets louder and reaches 98 decibels, it’s deafening – imagine fireworks exploding next to your face. Colette quickly comes over to top off his wine; Jay freezes. As soon as Colette walks away, I inquire as to Jay’s sudden volume change. Jay wants to buy Colette a house with a white picket fence, and have babies with her.
…. I walk away promptly.

The next song, “Got To Be Real” by Cheryl Lynn, finds Claude, our only swinging Quebecois server, doing interpretive dance by the front door. Guests absolutely love him, whereas his co-workers are envious of his hip movements.

Until just recently, Chow was a self-governed restaurant, which meant that our tip pool system created a “democratic society with a dictator who signed pay cheques, and occasionally helped us when we were ‘in-the-shits’ ”; in saying this, everyone tried to be the manager, sometimes even when they shouldn’t have. I think we’re all guilty of wanting to be in charge.
“Can I speak to manager please?” requests the gentleman with the half consumed bottle of Red Burgundy in front of him.
“…that would be me….” says an unidentified server.
“Well who’s that?” the gentleman asks as his glance and pointing index finger seem to point in another server’s direction.
“That’s another manager.”
“Well who’s in charge?”
“All of us.”
Although in instances of customer dissatisfaction, the real manager was sacrificed like a lamb to the wolves, during times of just “good business” all the servers seemed to take full responsibility for the QSA – the quality, service and atmosphere, and clearly battling an identity crisis at the same time.
“Hello miss, you and your party of 15 were just here, and amongst the hub-bub of splitting bills and credit cards, it seems as though one person didn’t actually pay. Would you mind looking into this and get back to me as soon as possible?” David politely requests. The lady calls about 5 minutes later, angry that we called her. And now, a situation for a manager to deal with, finally.
“David! Give me the phone!” I whisper across the room to David as he eloquently tries to deal with the guest’s complaint.
“…ummm, you know I was trying to approach your table in such a way that…..”
“David! David!” I was careful not to allow my whispers to reach the telephone conversation. After about 45 seconds of holding my hand out, it was clear – the phone would never arrive. Instead, over a sleeve of Blanche de Chambly, I sat with the other cronies at the bar and really had no other choice then to listen to David’s performance. Lauren the lamb, a.k.a the MOD was eventually sacrificed to the wolves, and Luck rectified David’s “identity crisis” with a pep-talk, and free beer.

At the end of the night, familiar squeals from the kitchen get louder, and soon the cooks are upstairs, demanding sophisticated cocktails from Ella.
“Small Blanche please” says Dominic.
“Bourbon?” replies Ella, “non, je n’ai pas de bourbon, je veux une verre de blanche”.
Ella complies, as she randomly starts dancing a choreographed jig on the spot. Ella is a dance instructor. She dances at work frequently, and is the owner of the largest hat and patterned boot collection.

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About Lauren Mote

Lauren has been an intricate part of the food industry for many years. Whether it’s behind the bar, in the kitchen, tasting and learning about wine, or sitting with her laptop writing food stories and reviews at the local coffee house, it was clear at an early age that Lauren’s professional and personal life would be completely consumed by the joy and passion of edibles.
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2 Responses to “Unpublished” Chowblog – The Front Lines

  1. Mark says:

    Interesting observations! Definitely felt the ‘everyone’s a manager’ vibe. ;)

    So why not at Scout?

  2. Lidbin says:

    Great article, I actually read every word! oh how will miss you!

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