Saturday, January 14, 2012

Friday the Thirteenth

This is not my usual vantage point in the kitchen on a Friday night.  And Kaitlyn is not usually called in to run trays.  But last night was not a simple night.  Megan - salad person extraordinaire - had been sick on Thursday and called out still suffering on Friday.  It was decided that if I could get someone to run trays, I could turn the hosting reins over to a member of the dining room crew and I would handle the salad station.  Enter Kaitlyn as tray runner.   Lisa was elected to host.  The die was cast.  Let the evening begin.

So it was that my inexperience as garde manger is what probably caused one of the most serious customer relations issues Brooks Tavern has ever seen.  That, and a very busy dining room. 

It began when an order for a 7-top was called in at around 7:30.  Three courses, the second of which included two salads and a romaine.  My job.  When that course was fired, I was in the middle of setting out some desserts, plus getting some wine from the store room, plus I had run out of cucumbers.  Now, when a course is fired, generally the table is still consuming the previous course, so there is a bit of a time frame within in which to prepare the next one.  So, as I am peeling a cucumber - and, of course, it had taken a few minutes to find the frigging peeler - Jenn, who is waiting on the 7-top, came over to me and inquired, "Have you made the salads for table 11 yet?"  I replied that no, I was just now working on them.  Well, she said, they wanted to cancel them because they were taking so long.  This was when it was first revealed to me that table 11 was not an easy table. 

So, okay, it happens. Chances are, given all that was going on, the salads most likely were taking too long.  I took them off the check and the entrees for the table were fired.  (Now, bear in mind that since the salads had been canceled, the time between the first course and the main was now considerably longer, seeing as there was no longer a salad course in between.  The entrees had only just been fired, long after the first one had been served.  Are you with me on this?  Trouble ahead, for sure.)

So, I go back to my cucumber and the salad station.  Some time later - who knows how much time had passed, we are busy busy busy in the kitchen - Jenn walks over to me, with a look.  I jokingly questioned, "What now, they want to cancel the dinners?"  She responded seriously, "Yes."  What???  they were in the process of being plated up, even as we spoke.  I said no, it's too late, we're sending them out right now, get Lisa.  I instructed Lisa to act as my liaison to the table, to tell them the meals were coming right out, because they were.  Kaitlyn came back from delivering the first tray and told us that the group of men were standing up at the table as she came out, ready to walk out the door.  It was only on the instruction of one of them that they sat down again, and received their dinners.  It's probably about 8:30 now. 

Since the table had complained so bitterly about the time the food took to appear, I advised Lisa to approach the group again and express her sincere apologies, saying that the issue had been with the kitchen, blah blah blah.  I told her that I wanted to make sure they didn't blame Jenn, and take it out of her tip. 

Of course they (or rather, he, the host, who had apparently been the most vocally displeased during the evening's events) asked for the check immediately after eating.  When he handed Lisa the Amex card, she informed him that we take only Master Card, Visa and Discover.  His response was to tell her that she could get the damned sheriff out after him then.  And, as I had feared, once he eventually paid with an acceptable card, he left a -0- on the tip line.  On a check for $270, with two bottles of wine and a few rounds of drinks.  Z-E-R-O.  

When I hear this, I must talk to the guy.  This is just so wrong, on so many levels.  I tear off my apron and go racing out the door, leaving Kevin with the romaines I was in the middle of constructing.  "Mr. S",  I'm calling, when I spot the group spread out across the parking lot, heading to cars.  "Mr. S, what happened?"  One of the two last fellows turned at the sound of his name, and I repeated my question.  He quickly stepped up to me, and with his right index finger inches from my face, proceeded to let out his anger about his Brooks Tavern experience.  Obviously in a rage, he informed me an hour and a half was too long to wait for any meal, that they never even got their salads, that he'd had better service at a WallyBurger.  He is really shouting at me, at close range, with that finger jerking back and forth in front of my eyes.  He called Jenn "a surly bitch" and then said "You should turn around and go back into your restaurant and learn how to run a business."  Then he turned on his heels and walked hotly away. 

The other fellow had been standing nearby through this venting, and I asked him, "Had it really been that bad?"  He was quiet for a few moments - frankly I think to make sure Mr. S was out of earshot - and then said that Mr. S was "all fired up".  He offered the explanation, or excuse I guess, that he was really tired, and that I should just take a deep breath and let it go.

That sure went well. 

So, who's at fault here?  What do we think happened?  First of all, I think that it is a real shame that one of the other men in the group didn't stand up to this bully, and at least throw a twenty on the table or some such token tip. I also agree that I didn't get the salads made quickly enough, partly because of my distractions and partly because I am simply not that experienced on the salad station.  Mostly, however, I think that because of the fact that it was a three course order - and Mr. S was the only one who ordered three courses - it should have been rung in differently.  Jenn rang in the appetizers and soups, followed by the salads, and then the entrees, which is indeed the correct process.  But, since only one person had more than two courses, it  may been better to bring him the first of his three, his soup or salad, and then have all the other guests' appetizers come out with his second, which would have eliminated the confusing wait.  At least some dialogue should have been offered, to suggest a way to keep the procession of food flowing in an agreeably timely path.  Not all diners understand the procedures of multiple courses and the "firing" of them.  And I can't help but say, not all diners understand that in some restaurants salads aren't pre-made and entrees aren't sitting on a steam table.  That being said, Jenn was very busy and she had already had some hassles with this table, so she probably just wanted to get the order into the kitchen as efficiently as she knew how.  Should she have been stiffed?  Absolutely not.  Will we learn from this?  Yes.

And finally, I think that of all our staff members, Jenn is the least likely to act like a surly bitch to a customer. 

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