Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Tale of Two Nights

Last night was one of those odd nights in this business, a night in which we either loved or hated the tables, no in between ground. It was one of those nights where it was just slow enough that I got to visit with every table. There was an hour when I was tied to the kitchen, but I either got to visit with each table at the beginning or at the end of their dinner.

I like visiting with the tables. I get to catch up with friends, meet new friends, hear some amazing stories from customers, check on the food and service quality, and probably most importantly, to thank customers for their business and to let them know that I am a hands-on owner who cares.

On the positive side last night, we had a few tables of regulars with whom I got to catch up. And we had a large table of young ladies celebrating a 30th birthday, a table that requested a cheesecake. I haven't made one in 20 years, but by all accounts, mine included, the marbled chocolate cheesecake was a hit. Just like riding a bike—you never forget!

And on the negative side, a guy apparently brought a date to the restaurant to break up with her. Guys, some things are not fit for public places, and breaking up with your girl is one of them. It was so awkward for us to see how miserable she was, running frequently to the restroom to deal with the tears. You wasted your money on what could have been a good dinner and I'm sure that neither of you will ever be back, given that my restaurant is now a place of bad memories. And, you made all the staff and the tables around you highly uncomfortable. Thanks for ruining our night in addition to your own.

But the loser of the night award goes to a woman who walked in with some sort of malfunction. It was clear from the outset that she was not happy. No doubt, she was probably in an evil mood and that mood followed her into the restaurant. We all have days like that; just ask my staff about my mood on Tuesday morning after wrestling with computer problems all morning. So, I know all about being grumpy. But what I don't understand is her reaction to my table visit to see how their evening was progressing.

As I will do frequently, I approached the table and because the couple was not conversing and they were both looking at me, I asked, "May I get you anything else?" Not only is this an invitation to ask for more butter, to let me know that your opaque olive oil cruet or teapot needs a refill, that you really would like another glass of Port that you weren't sure about when the server last visited, and so forth, but it is also an invitation to talk about anything you want to. And if you don't want me around, I'm bright enough to recognize that, to thank you for dining with us, and to move along to the next table.

When I asked that question, the woman's face contorted into something resembling a snarl. The man assured me that they needed nothing. After that look, trust me, I wasted no time in moving to the next table.

After service, the server told me that the woman subsequently inquired who I was and then told him to relay to me that I should never ask a table if they needed anything else. Too bad for her that she came to a place where the owner is actually present and cares about customers and their experience. Next time, she should go to some random chain where they really don't care. This is one piece of grumpy advice that I will always remember, but never follow.

But on balance and despite the best efforts of the two bad tables to ruin my night, the good tables prevailed and I went home happy knowing that we had done a good job.


  1. My bet is that snarly woman misunderstood your intentions. I've had that question delivered to me when what was really being said was, "You seem to be done, so unless you're going to surprise us by ordering more, we'd like to give you your check already."

    I understand that's not at all how you operate, but I've encountered that rushed mindset at more than one place in northern VA, and I'm thinking that's what she read into the question.

  2. I considered that, but they were in the middle of eating their entrées. Go figure.