Last night was the third time we've run out of propane here at Brooks Tavern. It happened at 5:10 PM. I noticed the odor in the dining room while we were setting up, but I failed to identify it for what it was. It was Jill from Randy's office who pinpointed it, drawing to our attention the fact that the last time there was an odor of gas in the building, our tank went dry moments later. Funny, that's exactly what happened last night. Kevin went out to check the gauge - it was on zero. Seconds later the flames on the burners in the kitchen went out.
A Friday night is never a good night to lose. A First Friday even worse. A First Friday in January is a deal-breaker. January is slow. The only thing that keeps us moving is weekend trade, when you hope to be at least half way busy, to bring the week up to partial speed anyway. To lose a weekend night in the winter is really a double whammy. The dining room staff goes home empty handed, during the time of year when their income is already taking a hit, and the kitchen crew loses hours they need as well. No food was served last night, except for a couple of baskets of chips at the bar, for the small crowd that had gathered there.
When the driver for the gas company finally called me back at 6PM, he told us he had an ETA of 90 minutes. That was the word we needed to decide whether to wait or not - if we couldn't open until close to 8PM, there was not much point in opening at all. We began to close up shop while we waited for the gas delivery.
So, the next couple hours I spent telling our expectant guests that we were not able to feed them. The first couple to arrive had gone to their usual table and were enjoying their usual cocktails while waiting for the word on the propane supply. When I gave them the news, I suggested calling some other restaurant for a reservation. We called the Blue Heron, but he was booked solid and could not offer them a table. I never did see them leave, being in the mode I was, but I hope they managed to find a meal other than the consolation loaf of bread we gave them. As more and more people came to the door, I told them that while the Blue Heron was booked, they might try Luisa's or the Hotel, O'Connors right down the street or the FishWhistle on the river. I felt so badly; these people had made an effort to come to our place and we could not serve them.
The gas man arrived a little earlier than expected but of course it was not soon enough to save our night. He filled our tank and checked for a leak. That was the only reason I could think of for running out, that our raised up buried tank had developed some sort of leak. Turns out there was no leak. Turns out the gas company missed our scheduled automatic fill-up. Turns out the computer on the driver's truck informed him that our tank was empty, because they had not been filled when the calendar said they should be. Turns out we are fairly upset about this.
By 6:30, Kevin is behind the bar, chatting with the few people who'd come in for dinner and stayed for a drink. He was the entertainment while we waited for the propane truck. I spent the time doing damage control at the door and out in the parking lot, trying to speak to all the guests who were pulling in, to let them know that propane was the culprit, not vacation. (I didn't want a dark building to fuel that January closing rumor, which I fight so hard each year!) It probably wasn't going to be the busiest night of the year, but it was certainly going to be Friday. Happily the last car to pull in carried Robert and Judy, of St. Brigid's Farm. "Don't lock us out!" Judy cried, fearing that my coming out to greet them was a warning that we had closed up early. They joined us for a glass of wine at the bar while we waited until 9:00 for the normal closing hour, and all possible customers to be informed of the situation.
So, of course there has to be a silver lining. Mrs. Thun, one of the guests Kevin chatted with at the bar, said that for her it was the opportunity to meet Kevin. She enjoyed that quite alot, she said, and it made their failed attempt to have dinner with us worth the effort! For us the silver lining was that gas didn't run out in the middle of service - at 7:15 perhaps, with an oven and six burners full of partially prepared meals for a hungry dining room. That would have been so much worse, and we know this because we've been there. Plus we had a nice visit with Robert and Judy, although I can't say it was what I would call relaxing.
By 9:30 we too were at home. The dog was pleasantly surprised.
I will be calling the gas company on Monday, and you can be assured it will not be a pleasant conversation. To lose an important night of revenue because of mismanagement on their part is not what I would call easily forgotten. They will need to step up to the plate on this one, or we will need to be making a switch to someone who will.