Friday, 6 August 2010

Confessions of a Restaurant Manager

After I wrote last week's blog the stories kept coming, so much so that I felt restaurant folk deserved the spotlight for a moment. The humble manager and wait staff go through alot in the course of a single night, and are always good for a hilarious story or two. If you've ever wondered whether the restaurant really is booked out, or what causes the ire of our restaurant friends, read on.

Regulars vs. celebrities
A great restaurant can be judged on how they treat their regulars, which are the bread & butter of any establishment. But also, celebrity guests are in another handle-with-care category as it's undeniable that the presence of a star does much to create a buzz which other patrons love, not to mention the potential PR opportunity and media attention. But how to juggle both without upsetting one group? It's all in the balancing act. If you don't create a table in your booked out restaurant for VIPs, then the celebrity group will dine elsewhere shining their star-lit glow on your rival. But turn regulars away in favour of a sudden VIP group and you can say goodbye to some folk who have been loyal to you long before the star turned up. Some restaurants get this really wrong. And you'll always have the occasional restaurant who are so sure of themselves that they don't care for celebrity guests and boast that they "treat all customers equally". The truth is, most restaurants will create a table for star guests that they wouldn't normally create for the more civilian amongst us. It's just a fact of life, which most PRs would understand more than anyone else given the media opportunity that such an occasion provides. As we always say, surely the best part of being a celebrity apart from the millions and the adoration, would be simply to get that top table at that top restaurant on a whim? We can all dream.

Do you have any idea who I think I am?
One friend, the manager of one of the top restaurants in Sydney, received a call from a holier-than-thou agent type who at 7pm on a Saturday night demanded a table for 4 for a "very special international guest". Given that they were at capacity my friend had to work out whether it was worth the pain of creating a table out of nowhere, so understandably inquired as to who it was. The agent refused to tell, continually stating "I can't tell you", and on it went back and forth much to my friend's frustration. The bottom line is, if you want the restaurant to make special consideration for you and your VIP guest, just tell them who it is and they can work with you - don't make it harder than it has to be. My favourite was when a girl who recently called up a top spot was told she couldn't get a table, and she then protested, "but I'm *insert top radio jock here*'s wife!!" Can you guess who this could be? ;)

The bullshit factor
Everyone I spoke to said they had all experienced the bullshit reservation enquiries. It usually goes like this: a caller asks for a table and is told the restaurant is fully booked. They then call back an hour later, stating that they are bringing a celebrity. If you ever do this, trust me - the person taking the reservation can see through this immediately! Another common one is when the caller states up-front that they will be having a VIP in attendance thus demanding the best table in the house - then on the night, they turn up without the celebrity stating "he's running late, he'll be here soon". Cue halfway through dinner when they let the maitre'd know that, alas, suddenly the celebrity just called to say he's been held up and won't be joining them! Rest assured the maitre'd always remembers who does this, and they may find it that much harder to get a reservation next time they call.

The Restaurant/Concierge connection
This is an important symbiotic relationship, and the best restaurant managers will always have close relationships with the top concierges in the city. Money rarely changes hands, as it simply benefits both parties: the concierge is able to secure a top restaurant reservation for their VIP at the 9th hour, and the restaurant gets a shining star in their establishment. Smiles all round. And due to the bullshitters described above, the restaurant will often call their concierge friends to cross check that whatever international star has been mentioned is actually in the country.

The secret language of waiters
Did you know that waiters have a code amongst themselves to describe you? Don't fret, they tend to only classify the types who sit for hours drinking water, ordering a single entree. I've heard tags such as "there's a bunch of 191's at table 14" or the more lyrical term "tangoes". The cheapness of some patrons will always cause the ire of the oft-frazzled wait staff. There's stories of customers choosing to split their tables in 2 to avoid the larger party booking surcharge of 10%, them complaining that their tables aren't set together. Or the lengthy get-your-calculators-out bill splitting to the last cent groups, the rejected credit cards and the legendary 'runners' who bolt before their bill arrives. If you really want a laugh, set aside some time to pour over this fabulous blog:, Confessions of a Cynical Waiter. Fabulous.

Be rude at your own risk...
If you've ever ready Anthony Bourdain's brilliant book 'Kitchen Confidential' you will be a little more mindful next time you feel like barking at a waiter...tales of what they do to your food backstage in the kitchen are legendary. (Bourdain also advises never ordering fish on a Monday; that the person who orders a well-done steak gets the oldest, dodgiest piece of meat; and that hollandaise is generally always made from the leftover pats of butter from the tables - it makes for a fascinating read.) Top restaurant workers assure me that no matter how rude the customer is, it's just too risky to mess with their food and risk bringing down the reputation of the venue. We all know too well what happened with Poogate at the Coogee Bay Hotel! If you're nice to your waiter and order heartily they will love you, I promise...

The Vegetarian Conundrum
One of my favourite greeting cards ever has two women on the front eating dinner, with one stating: "I started my vegetarianism for health reasons, then it became a moral choice, and now it's just to annoy people." I can't explain why this makes me laugh so much but as a born & bred carnivore all my life I have admittedly found vegetarians, well...annoying, simply because I used to pride myself on being 'able to eat everything'. However - I have recently given up eating meat, so the irony that I now find myself in a position of potentially annoying people is not lost on me. The great thing is I am discovering it's actually extremely easy to be a vego or pescatarian in this city - literally every restaurant has extensive options. However, apparently there's always the ones who insist on being annoying to waiters: vegetarians who theatrically start picking apart food, people who call themselves vegetarians but then order the chicken, or my favourite was the woman who visited one of the top steak restaurants in Sydney. She stated she was a vegan, and created such a fuss about it that the restaurant went to great lengths to order her meal from the restaurant next door while her companions dined on their fare. The clincher: she ordered chocolate cake for dessert. Ever heard of a cake without eggs in it?

Bon appetit, and be good to restaurant folk!

xxx Tiff

1 comment:

  1. Oh so enjoyed! I always caution anyone dining with us not to send back food unless they want a lurgy sauce accompaniment when it is returned to the table. Feel bad for wait staff most of the time at poshy places in Sydney. Unless you are from Golden Century... you allowed to be nasty because your food is so good.
    Delighted to find you!
    Mrs Woog