I was walking towards the door of the restaurant and happened to pass a minivan disgorging its family. Strollers, walkers, all the accoutrements running the gamut from toddler to doddler.
Five steps later I noticed that they were following me. Two steps later I stopped and turned around.
“Are you coming to the restaurant?” I asked.
“Yes,” replied the woman with stroller in one hand and walker in the other.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “We don’t open for another hour and a half.”
They milled around disappointedly for a few minutes and then began to reload their minivan.
In the restaurant business it is often comical how some people can’t seem to tell if you are open or not. Locked doors, lights out, furniture turned upside down, closed signs, or even a cement mixer backing up to the front door, and people will walk around it all and plant themselves in a chair.
“Oh, we thought you were open,” they will say. “The door was unlocked.”
Never mind that it was the back door, by the garbage cans, and that they had to step over a chain with a sign that reads “not an entrance” to get there. In their minds, getting in the door is all that matters.
Another couple banged on the window twenty minutes later. I mouthed the words “We open at 4” and held up four fingers. They kept banging.
In the restaurant business getting set up is everything. You only have one chance to do it, and if you don’t, you will spend your whole shift playing catch-up. Some out there will say “So what?” up and until they are the ones waiting for coffee to brew, or bread to bake, or simple syrup to be made. Then, suddenly, it’s a calamity.
The couple wouldn’t relent. Bang, bang, bang, on the window. Finally, I got the busser, who got the manager, and he unlocked the door to see what was so important. Maybe they were stranded? Or maybe it was a medical emergency?
“Are you guys open?” they asked.
A ten minute discussion ensued about what exactly that meant.
“What are we supposed to do for an hour?” one of them asked.
“I don’t know, but there is another restaurant right over there,” said the manager pointing down the street. “I know they are open.”
Exactly 54 minutes later the couple returned.
“Not exactly a ringing endorsement for that other restaurant,” I said.
They just stared at me.
“You know, the chardonnay is less expensive over there,” said the woman after looking at the menu.
“Their pasta is less expensive too,” said the man.
“And they have a better view.”
“I don’t know why we keep coming here?” people will sometimes exclaim on the front side of the restaurant business. They will complain about everything and everyone. Then there is the “I can make more money somewhere else” complaint on the backside of the business. The answer to both of these questions is as obvious as it is simple: Go somewhere else then. Nobody is forcing you to come here, or to work here. If you can do better somewhere else, then maybe you should be somewhere else.
“Can we at least get some bread?” said the man before they had ordered anything.
“It will be a minute or two,” I replied. “The bread isn’t quite out of the oven.”
“That’s kind of unprofessional,” he replied.
I didn’t bother explaining to them that the person who put the bread in the oven had been forced to find the manager with the keys an hour before opening, and then had to answer ten minutes of silly questions, before escorting two people out and then relocking the doors.
“You know their beer selection is better over there, too,” replied the man.
“And their wineglasses are bigger,” chimed in the woman.
“And their bread is better.”
“And their butter.”
Finally, I asked a question.
“If that other place is so great, why are you here?”
They seemed surprised by the question. He looked at her, and then looked at me. And then he muttered something that I couldn’t quite hear.
“Beg your pardon?” I asked.
“They asked us to leave,” he said.
Leaving me with these thoughts:
-Changing locations is sometimes easier than changing behavior, even if it was the behavior that forced the change of location.
-Maybe the grass is greener on the other side because you are not over there on the other side.
-Going where everyone knows your name, is less desirable for some people.
-Will Rogers is famous for saying that he never met a man he didn’t like. History is eerily silent about what he thought of them afterwards.