You can’t do whatever you want, because the bar is not your living room

Something wasn’t quite right. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I could tell something was wrong. That made me uneasy. In a business where often you have about 30 seconds to sum up a situation, you start to rely on your gut. And my gut was unhappy.

I looked up and down the bar. Sure, that one guy was a little loud, and that woman’s eyes were slightly unfocused, but he was speaking clearly and it’s allergy season, so it probably was not them. Then, there was a couple whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ears, and another couple that was still working through the disagreement that had begun when they had ordered a bottle of wine, maybe before. The other two men’s eyes were glued to the game on the TV set, as were the eyes of three other women. Behind the seated group milled another 10 or 12 in various degrees of interest.

Wait a minute.

Something didn’t add up. I looked up and down at the crowd again and actually began to literally add up things.

Eleven? I counted again. Was someone standing and not sitting? Was there an extra space?

Five martinis, a Manhattan, two Margaritas and a spicy Ranch Water pulled me away for a few minutes. But then I counted again — 11. I looked over the edge of the bar in the space a seat might have been. Not there, not there and not there. Were we missing a chair? I looked around the room.

In the restaurant business, people move things around all the time. They block fire exits, they stand in doorways and they sit on the floor. It’s truly amazing what some people believe is acceptable. When we have to tell people to put their shoes back on and get their feet off of the furniture, they often look at us perplexed.

“But this is like our living room,” they say.

Except it’s not. It’s like our living room. And you are the guest. Do you go over to your neighbor’s house, take off your shoes and put your bare feet up on their furniture (unless invited to)? Somehow I doubt it. Throw in a few other things, like health codes, maintenance and insurance premiums, and you begin to see the problem.

The manager walked by just as I was counting, now visibly using my fingers.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Are we missing a bar stool?”

“I don’t think so,” he said.

Soon enough, both of us were visibly counting, as if we didn’t have better things to do. People walk off with all kinds of things: salt and pepper shakers, plants, silverware, plates, glassware and yes, sometimes even furniture. They also leave things, too: baby strollers, mink stoles, sunglasses, phones and yes, sometimes even their underwear.

There’s nothing like having to waste the limited time you have doing something silly and unrelated to service. Like listening to someone you don’t know talk about their uncle Chuck, or having to repeat the specials for a fourth time because that guy wasn’t listening the first two times — when it was slow — and then cut you off on the third time, only to be strangely laser focused on the specials when the bar is three people deep.

But if it was easy there wouldn’t be a labor shortage now would there?

“Eleven,” said the manager out loud twice. “That’s weird.”

Now, he went along the other side of the bar doing a physical inventory. One, two, three … you get the picture. Finally, he reached the watery-eyed woman.

She had moved the bar stool she was sitting on slightly out into the aisle and hidden an empty bar stool between her knees by covering it up with her coat, purse and a napkin.

“Well, the bartender said I couldn’t save a seat,” she said. As if that was some sort of explanation.

She was asked to leave, but not because of her watery eyes.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

• Just when you think you’ve seen it all, something comes along and shows you that you’ve only just seen the beginning.

• There’s a meme on the internet that reads, “If you ask me to go outside to smoke at your house, I am not coming back.” There’s an extreme irony in that statement.

• Playing “hide and seek” as a 50-plus year old is not nearly as much fun as it was as a kid, especially when it directly impacts your income.

• Olly, olly, oxen free. Whatever the heck that means.