It began when I walked into the restaurant. The incessant ringing of the phone. Ordinarily on big nights in the restaurant, when the phone rings, the staff scurries. But when the phone rings on Valentine’s Day, the staff doesn’t scurry off to the wait-station to take a toothbrush to the espresso machine. Something in the air is different…
Perhaps we’ve been struck in the bun by cupid’s arrow, or had our eyes anointed by Puck, with the nectar of a midsummer flower. When the phone rings on Valentine’s Day, a desire weighs heavy in the hearts of each staff member; we actually want to answer the incessant ringing. There’s a satisfaction to be had on this day by doing so. Waiters race each other to the front desk to answer the love-struck Valentine’s call. Bussers will drop everything (more-so than usual), and leap like a herd of gazelles across the dining room, just to answer line 2.
A passionate fire burns, compelling even the dishwasher to lower the blaring Mariachi music, just to spring out from the dishpit to say what we are all battling to say, “NO.”
I know, it’s terrible. But you have to understand- we service industry folk don’t ever get to say the word, no. It’s always, “yes, yes, of course, my pleasure, yes-” but never a simple, no. It’s fucking exhausting.
There are only so many days out of the year that we are completely booked: New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. Busy, yes. But booked solid? Only four days out of the entire year. Only four chances to say, no; and Valentine’s Day is a day when particularly enjoy it.
In Valentine’s Day Part I, I took you through a month and a half process of taking reservations for this day. From administrative to desperate to threatening, these reservations become increasingly painful to take until we’ve booked that last table for two and the computer says, “booked.” Although amusing to read about, it’s an agonizing reality.
So, after months of this madness the word no becomes more satisfying than a post-meal cigarette. But it’s not only the simple no in this scenario that brings us such pleasure. It’s the discourse that follows which occurs only on Valentine’s Day. It’s finding the tone of voice that mirrors the characteristics of a beaten dog. It’s the compliance of a grounded teenager that will do anything, just to please you and get what they want: a reservation.
On this day, we the reservation-taker have powers as that of a Greek god. With the touch of a finger on the computer screen, we can hit “add slot” and make paramount miracles that make Lazerus look like a circus side-show. We can bring relief and air back into the lungs of the fear-stricken caller. The question is, do we chose to? The answer is quite simple: NO!
I had just clocked in on Valentine’s Day, and jolted to answer the phone.
“Hello, who am I speaking with?”
“Katixa,” I respond.
“Oh, that is a beautiful name [true]. Where is that from?”
“Oh…uh…[insert cluelessness here]. How exotic! Say it again for me?”
“Katixa.” I respond, again.
“How do you spell that?” they ask.
“Is there something in particular I can help you with, sir? Surely you didn’t call to get a crash-course in Basque culture and linguistics.”
“Yes…now, I know you are busy tonight- but I would be ever-greatful to you, Katixa- did I mention what a beautiful name that is?”
“You would be ever-greatful if what, sir?”
“If…I could…if…I…” he stammers.
“IF” I probe.
“IFICOULDGETARESERVATIONTONIGHTFORTWO!” he blurts out, now holding his breath awaiting my answer.
Oh, the power.
“Hmm, let me see here….no. We’ve been booked for two weeks.” I say.
“Oh. Really?” they respond.
“Yes, really. No. Happy Valentine’s Day.” I hang up and just as quickly, the phone rings again. I let the next server in line answer the phone.
Service commences at 5:30, and already the restaurant is full. Yet nothing has been rung in yet. No drink orders have come through, no orders have been dropped to the kitchen. Anticipation provokes a flutter in the stomachs of staff. These circumstances are like those of a tsunami. There is an eerie tranquility as the water recedes and in the distance a wall of water starts to build. As it builds, it casts a shadow upon the now empty marinas with boats lazily tipping over until the wave crests and comes crashing down demolishing everything in its path. It was now 6:15p.m. and the water was still receding, until we heard the first order print.
All that any of us could hear was the sound of the pegs penetrating through the ink ribbon as the wheel pushed the paper through. We all looked at our co-worker and watched them slowly tear the paper from the printer. The sounds of our hearts beating in our chests deafened the cooing coming from the Valentine’s in the main dining room. Our eyes tunneled in vision as we watched the waiter mark the time on the ticket and time slid into slow-motion as we watched the ticket fall into the basket.
“Order in,” said the server. And so, it began.
Time suddenly caught up with us and the printer began spewing orders for every rose-colored martini in exsistence. We were slammed, and still had four hours until the last meal tickets were allowed to be dropped. Four hours until we were again allowed to utter that celestial word, “no.”
Yet, despite the fact that the kitchen was going down like the Hindenburg, and that the bartender was reenacting scenes from Cirque du Soleil- I was surprisingly mellow. In fact, my night was actually quite pleasant. There were no obnoxious amateurs insisting on decanting a $20 bottle of wine. No lovers necking or trying to procreate at the table. My section was filled with my regulars tipping me amply and melting at the story of my recent engagement in San Sebastian, Spain. Had I too been struck by cupid?
I proceeded to hear horror stories from the other servers. One had insisted that her champagne be poured without bubbles. The other was griping about the request for roses to be on the table when they arrived, even though he hadn’t dropped any off. Another complaining about how noisy the restaurant was (filled with 230 people). But not I.
To everyone’s surprise, I was having a great evening. No angst or desire to perform a midievil vesctomy on a single person. Only giggles at how cheesy people were interacting, and hysterical laughter at a 60-year old woman who mistook her lover’s promise ring, as an engagement ring.
My dear readers, perhaps my eyes too were laced with a love potion- but this year, I the bartendress give you no misanthropic chronicle from Valentine’s Day 2011. Every table I had did wait for food for some time- but for the first time, my tables understood that I am simply the server and do not cook the entrees. For once I heard, “Well, you’ve done your part- it’s not your fault the kitchen is backed-up. This place is packed!” Words I only dreamed would be uttered by a table.
This year, cupid added a touch of consideration to his love-laced arrows.