A holiday isn’t just about you

Spring was springing; the little girls in their pastels were running around with the little boys in their clip-on ties, both loaded up on the abundance of sugar in Shirley Temples and Roy Rogers.

It was 9:05 p.m. We had technically stopped taking seatings at 8:30 p.m., the idea being that we closed at 9:30 p.m. And when I say closed, I mean we were kaput, finished, done at 9:30 p.m. Recently, I had a woman ask me, “What does that mean?” when I told her the kitchen was closed — as if my answer needed further instructions.

“So, no food then?” she asked.

Apparently, my answer had been insufficient.

It was also 9:05 p.m. on Easter, a holiday, and one of the busiest days of the year for us. Which meant that at 9:05 p.m. many of us on the clock had already been there for seven, eight, nine hours. And when I say “had already been there,” I mean running around working, because busiest means busiest, not just busy. And despite what some people think, things don’t just get done, somebody has to do them. Whether it’s prepping the food, sweeping the parking lot, cleaning the restrooms or slicing the garnishes, somebody has to do it.

The bar at 9:05 p.m. on Easter was empty save two separate individuals at opposite ends of the bar, and one couple at a table finishing the dessert portion of their prix-fixe meal. Easter is not a big drinking holiday; people do drink, but they don’t drink like say St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo or the Fourth of July.

Meanwhile, a couple rushed up the front walkway. Nobody walks faster into a restaurant than people who know that the restaurant is already closed.

A pleading and begging commenced at the front host stand with the manager. I saw the bar server walk by to what she thought was her last table. I also saw her back stiffen. The hardest thing in the restaurant business is the last mile. And it gets harder when another mile gets tacked on.

“Please, please, please,” begged the couple. “It’s Easter.”

And that manager caved — as managers so often do — because we are in the hospitality industry after all. And hospitality does mean being hospitable.

In the service business, timing plays a huge part. You cannot get the same service if a building is literally wall to wall with a seething mass of humanity. You just can’t. And if the front desk is too busy to take a to-go order, the likelihood is that so is the bar, and so is the kitchen — just saying.

The manager took that couple to one of the many empty tables and set the menus down.

“You guys are going to have to order quickly, because the kitchen is technically closed.”

Judging from how long the guy took to take his jacket off, the begging and pleading part were finished.

“We are going to start with some cocktails.”

Start? This didn’t look good.

The stiff-backed server had pulled it together, steeled her resolve and stepped up to her fate. She was a consummate professional. And take it from anyone in the business, five minutes after the kitchen closes is when “consummate” and “professional” really kick in.

“Can I get you something to drink?” she asked, watching her former last table leave.

“What do you have?” replied the man, leaning back, spreading out his arms and putting his foot up on the opposite chair like he owned the place.

“The cocktail list and wine list are right there,” said the server.

“Yes,” he said. “I see that. But what do you like?”

Whatever Easter that server had planned for herself after work was now going to be consumed by this guy. And he didn’t care.

The restaurant business can be like that.

“I want to know something about you,” he said.

“Look, I really need to put your order in. The kitchen is waiting just for you,” said the server, leaving out the obvious reference to herself, as well as myself, all the bussers and the manager, too.

“Forget about all that,” he said. “I want to know what you have learned tonight.”

Leaving me with these thoughts:

• I don’t know what she learned, but I learned that the last table coming into the restaurant five minutes after closing on a holiday are usually jerks.

• That server handled it much better than I would have.

• Making a last-minute reservation for the last seating, with the intention of showing up 15 minutes late happens all the time, especially on the holidays.

• It’s not just your holiday, it’s also the holiday for the person waiting on you, too.

• People in the service business don’t need to hear “we appreciate you.” What they need is for you not to be a jerk.

• Nobody walks more slowly out of a restaurant than the same person who rushed in to beat the closing time.