Well, It's that time of the year again. Time for this years top ten list, where we chronicle the ten worst examples of restaurant behavior in the previous year. This year, as in years past, we found no shortage of buffoonery, nastiness and downright evil. You would think, considering the events of 9/11 and how our world has changed, people would be kinder and more considerate to each other. I must admit that things did change for a while. We saw a slight decrease in the levels of incivility (for about three days), but like all resilient Americans, the uncivil came roaring back. Minor inconveniences like the WTC, a stagnant economy or the threat of nuclear destruction will not deter the restaurant terrorists, hereafter referred to as "On the side Bombers." You know, kind of like "homicide Bombers" (sauce on the side, vegtables on the side, vinaigrette on the side, lemons on the side, and all sides on the side) but without the dressing; and totally capable of wreaking the same amount of havoc. Rosalie and Morris are kind enough to allow me to preform my annual exorcism on myself. So here we go. Here's my front line report on the war on Restaurant Terror. I've also listed one bonus event that I think deserves special recognition.
10: REPEAT PERFORMANCE
It doesn't happen very often, but once in a while, someone makes a citizens arrest on an "On the side Bomber." One Sunday night an elderly woman was eating soup at Coolfish. On Sundays it's always the soup. It wasn't hot enough. We reheated it. It wasn't hot enough. We reheated it again. It still wasn't hot enough. Right here I have to say something. I have never had a customer over the age of sixty-five whose soup was the proper temperature. Restaurant people know what I'm talking about. There is some mathematical connection between your age and the temperature of your soup. I don't know why, I just know it exists. I have actually witnessed an elderly uncle eating white-hot soup like it was gazpacho. (Imagine pronouncing the letter "P" rapidly, while inhaling through your mouth, and that's the noise I had to endure while waiting for him to finish). Sorry, I digress. She wants it heated again. Now I heat the soup a third time, but I go one better, I heat the bowl (very hot). The soup comes back Why you ask? It's not hot enough. At some point, we had to consider evaporation, because the last thing I wanted to hear is "Where's the rest of the soup?" So I heat the soup a fourth time, reheat the bowl, and in what I consider the genius move of the day, I gently heat the spoon. Doesn't matter, the soup comes back, It's not hot enough. While all this is going on, a table of four sitting next to this "On the side Bomber" is reaching the end of the line. One of the men at the table stands up and says, "I can't sit here and listen to this anymore. I was at Boccacio (Restaurant in Hicksville) last week and you did the same thing there. You're nuts! Shut up, eat your soup and stop torturing these people!" How cool is that?
9: MISTAKEN IDENTITY
Sometimes an "On the side Bomber" can be stopped before detonation. This, potentially, is a great move, but it requires nerves of steel and chutzpah of unimaginable proportions. A woman comes to Coolfish on a very busy Friday night without a reservation. My sister, Ann, who manages Tease, happens to be filling in as hostess (what luck). The woman approaches the hostess desk with a confident stride and announces "Table for four." Ann says, "Do you have a reservation?" The woman says "No." Ann says "I don't have a table right now but if you would like to wait at the bar, I may be able to get you down in about a half hour." Check this out. The woman looks at Ann and says, "Does the fact that I'm Tom's SISTER change your mind about my table Honey?" Ann says "You know, I'm Tom's sister too, and come to think of it, I haven't seen you at any family gatherings lately. How have you been?" The woman looks Ann in the eye and said "Well you can't blame me for trying. We'll wait." There is a God.
8: IT'S FUTILE TO NEGOTIATE
An "On the side Bomber" calls Coolfish one Thursday night and said, "I'm coming in with a large party and I want to know what you can do for me. Reasonable enough. I explain that we have catering packages that start at around forty dollars, if you behave yourself, and get more expensive as you add things. This doesn't include tip or tax. Yada yada. He said, "No, that's not what I mean. I just want to know what you can do for me." I said, "I don't understand the question. He said "I'm coming tomorrow with a party of eight people and I want to know what you are going to do for me for bringing such a large group. (I swear I'm not kidding). I said, "Oh, I didn't realize you were talking about that large of a group. We've never had a whole party of eight before. Tell you what. Tomorrow morning, we'll pick up your wife and take her for a day of beauty; hair, nails, facial, massage, the works. While she's at the spa, we'll take you to Pete's Golf and hook you up with a new set of Calloway's. Then Saturday morning after your dinner, we'll fly you to Miami for a weekend at Doral. How's that?" He said hopefully, "You're kidding, right?" I said, "Yes." He said, "I don't get anything for having dinner there?" I said, "Well dinner does come with a check." At this point I think he is going to cancel the reservation, and I'm kind of hoping he does because I can see this getting a lot worse. He does not. The next night he comes in for dinner. Tina, my general manager, and I are sitting in the office talking about how funny was that, "What are you going to do for me guy," when Tina says "Shhh… I think he's at the hostess desk. (It's just outside the office). I recognize his voice." The hostess asks if his entire party (all eight people) has arrived, and if so, would they like to be seated or hang at the bar for a while. He says "If we stay at the bar do we get something for free?" Tina and I are rolling in the office. "On the side Bombers" are nothing if not zealous and committed.
7: STICKS & STONES
For a short time someone special to me was helping me out answering phones and taking reservations. I know this person better than anyone and I can unequivocally state that she doesn't have an angry bone in her body. Non confrontational, accommodating, dignity and calm were some of the qualities she brought to this "Phone Phavor." Here's this poor woman, inexperienced in front line restaurant terror, completely at the mercy of "On the side Bombers." Reflecting on the situation, I probably should have prepared her better. (I hope she forgives me). A woman calls to change a Saturday (tough day) reservation from 7:15 to 8:00. My friend kindly explains to her that she can't do that because there were reservations behind hers and that would not leave enough time for her to enjoy dinner. The woman said that there's no way she can make it at 7:15 but she is not going to give up the reservation and she is coming in at 8:00. My friend said that we can't push the reservation behind her an hour back and that if she couldn't make the 7:15 she would give her another reservation on another Saturday that would better fit her schedule. This is where it gets good. The woman then says to my friend "You are a DICK!" My friend says, "Excuse me." (Like I told you, very soft and sweet) The woman repeats, "You are a D-I-C-K – DICK!" AND HANGS UP! My friend comes into the kitchen, way upset, and recounts the conversation to me. I said "OK, calm down, the woman is obviously crazy; and besides why get upset? The name doesn't even apply. It's like someone calling me a bitch. Whatever. It just doesn't get to me." Anyway, she's so upset, I get mad. I call the woman back and told her what I thought of her behavior and she said that the hostess was rude to her on the phone. I said that I was sure that didn't happen and not only did I think she was rude but a liar as well; so I was canceling her reservation. She said, "Fine, you're a DICK!" and slammed up the phone. Eight minutes later I get a call from the other couple who was to share the reservation with the lunatic. The woman said to me "We're the other couple from the (so and so) party. Please don't cancel our reservation! We didn't call anyone any names! We've waited a long time for this reservation. She does sh_t like this all the time. She's crazy! We'll bring another couple, just please don't cancel it. I mean, this is very flattering stuff. I said, "I'd love for you to come but you have to promise not to bring that woman." She said, "I promise." I said "Thank you, see you Saturday." How many times in your career do you get a compliment like that? I'm very grateful to her.
6: URINE COOLFISH NOW
"On the side Bombers" do not discriminate in the application of restaurant terror. Whatever happened to women and children first? A new waitress is working her first Saturday at Coolfish. Saturday at Coolfish is like WW2. Intense, huge and scary. The restaurant she worked at before was more like the Korean Conflict. Smaller and more contained. I think the expression "A deer in the headlights" pretty much summed up her demeanor. She is waiting on a party of six. She brings the drinks, no problem. She brings the first courses, no problem. She brings the entrees, and she was so close to getting out alive, when she asks the fatal question. "Is there anything else I can do for you?" A woman at the table looked up and said, and I kid you not, "Yes, go to the ladies room and reserve me a booth, and hold it until I get there because I'm not waiting on line to pee." Who thinks like this? The waitress said, "You're kidding, right?" The woman said, and this is word for word, "No, I'm dead serious. Now get away from this table and get me the booth. GO!" Trish, the waitress, is going straight to heaven.
5: THE THREAT
I need to explain this before I go on. Sometimes you have to "fire" a customer. It's not often, it's not pleasant and they certainly don't like it, but it needs to happen. You also need to have a "Firing Squad" to be able to deal with this very unhappy event. So here's the pecking order. If we need a "Bouncer," my general manager, Tina, is the one. I trust her to make the right call. She's smart enough; she's fair enough, and tough enough to do it. But, if the situation gets out of hand or potentially dangerous, I'm elected. With that background info, I proceed. "On the side Bombers" have no regard for the weak. It's all about the mission. They simply don't care who gets hurt. There I was, Saturday night, Coolfish, 7:30, on the kitchen line with a million tickets in front of me, when Tina and a very upset waitress walk into my station and say, "You may want to go out there and deal with this one yourself." Now, I'm crazy busy and I don't need this, so I say, "Deal with what?" Tina says "I have a huge problem on table #41 and I don't even want to tell you what happened, but you may have to go out there." I said, "What happened?" (More background info. We only cook Tuna "rare" at the restaurants. The problem with medium rare, medium, medium well, and well, especially with Tuna is that everyone has a different idea of what that is, and when it's busy, I'm just not talented enough to get sixty orders of Tuna right. Knowing that it tastes better rare, and considering my lack of talent, we go that route. It's listed on the menu as "Rare Yellowfin Tuna" and the waitress is told to let the customer know it's only cooked rare). The problem is "On the side Bombers" do not play by the rules. This man orders the Tuna and tells the waitress he would like it medium. The waitress explains that the Chef will only serve it rare and if he wanted his fish cooked through he should order something else. Get ready, here's the quote, "Tell the Chef to shove his pride up his f--ing ass and cook it the way I want it." Only a Dale Carnegie grad would think of saying this to a twenty five year old woman. What do you say to that? Tina recounts the whole scene to me and I completely lose it. Now I just want to know who I'm dealing with (Hell's Angel, Mafioso, KKK, Black Panther) and do I need a gun, a meat cleaver or three dishwashers and a lamb leg. So I said to Tina, "Who is this Guy?" She said, "I don't know. I said, "What does he look like?" He's about 5'3" and about seventy five years old." I said "Great, now what?" Tina said, "Can I handle this?" I said "Sure." But I have to tell you I wanted him out. She was brilliant. She said to him "Here's the deal, you have no shot at a medium Tuna. Have it rare, order something else, or leave." He said," I can't believe you won't cook my tuna medium" She said, "I can't believe you said what you said to this young woman. You should be ashamed of yourself. I can't believe the rest of your party would even eat with you, so choose something else or leave." He said, "I'll have the sea bass."
4: THE BILL
On what other business could you even think about trying this one? An "On the side Bomber" books a Christmas party at one of my restaurants. He wants us to set up a buffet for about 2 — 2-1/2 hours and an open bar for the entire length of the party. We settle on a price for the food but he doesn't want to be charged per person by the hour for the bar (standard stuff). He wants to run a tab and pay for it at the end because he's not sure everyone is going to drink (who goes to a holiday party and doesn't drink when it's on the company?). I must tell you, the gentleman who booked the party is not the owner of the company. The party goes off without a hitch. Food, open bar, holiday spirit, just a hell of a party. As the party nears the end, about twenty of the guests are still partying at the bar. Tina, the general manager, asks the host if he wants to continue with the tab or switch to a cash bar. He says that everyone is having a good time, so continue the tab and let them have fun. And fun they had. (Free cocktails on the boss? Come on.). They order cigars, single malt scotches, Sauternes, the works. At the end they leave in cabs, limos, etc. and the host pays the bill, thanks us for the party and leaves. The next day, he calls to speak to Tina (General Manager). He tells her he needs to speak with her that afternoon. She says "About what?" He says "The bill." He stops by that afternoon and tells her that he can't hand the bill in to his boss because he spent too much money and the boss will be livid, so he wants us to lower the bill. Is that beautiful or what? I spent too much and I'm going to get in trouble, so I want you to bail me out. How did this become my problem? Tina, I guess in the interest of future business, and completely without my knowledge by the way, feels his pain, and to my subsequent disbelief, decides to give him a discount. (This is turning into Star Wars). I said "What?" She assures me it's ok, good p.r., etc. I finally swallow this, and then receive a call a week later from the host. Between you and me, I'm expecting a "Thanks." I get, "We have to talk." Me, "About what?" He,"The bill." Me, "It was discounted." He, "It's not low enough, I'm still worried about submitting it." (Try applying this, in your wildest dreams, to any other business transaction in the world.) He, "You see, I asked everyone in the office how much they drank and no one had more than two." Me, "Let me understand this. You told everyone there was a problem with the bill, then asked them how much they had to drink and they all said two, correct? He, "Yeah" (is there one guilty man in prison?). Me, "Did anyone mention cigars?" He, "No." Me, "Did anyone mention shooters of Single Malt Scotch ($28.00 per)? He, "No." Me, "Did anyone mention Sauternes ($25.00 per oz.)?" Him, "No." Me, "If no one had more than two drinks then why did my parking lot look like the entrance to Penn Station with all the limos and cabs out there?" No answer. I don't know what happened ultimately with him and his boss. I suspect nothing did. But I mean, really.
3: FISH ORNAMENTS
Sometimes "On the side Bombers" look like everyone else. Ya just can't pick 'em out. We try to decorate the restaurants as best as we can for the holidays. It's fun. Every year among other things, we have a Christmas tree right behind the hostess station at Coolfish. I personally don't like gaudy decorations and my staff knows it. One of my employees came in one day with fish shaped Christmas ornaments for the tree. It was brilliant. Glass fish ornaments… Coolfish…it worked. Problem was, they were expensive. The whole staff was so cranked up about these ornaments they promised to carefully store them so they wouldn't break. They told me it was an investment, we'll have them every year, etc. I'm totally down for these ornaments, but I'm worried that they are going to disappear. Forgive me, I'm jaded. The fish ornament lobby was so powerful I relented. I think we bought twenty-five ornaments and I'd be embarrassed to tell you how much they were. But they were sooo cool. (I hope my partners don't see this.). I think we lost eight the first day they were on the tree. I flip. It's not the money (although it should be) I just really loved them. Day two, three more gone. Now I'm pissed off. I decide to tie the only fishing knot (no pun intended) I know, to secure the fish ornaments to the tree. I used the old "Flying Wilenda" knot or whatever it's called on the fourteen remaining specimens, secure in the fact that they will "live" to see another season. All is quiet for about three days. The fourth night I get off work, I'm hanging at the bar and I notice a large party leaving the restaurant. As the last woman in the party is leaving I see the Christmas tree slowly bending toward the front door as she passes by. The closer she gets to the door the more the tree is bent. She has one of the ornaments in her hand but the knot is hanging on. The tree is another story. About this time the "Inspector Clueseau" in me kicks in and I realize this woman is trying to take one of the fish. (It's Christmas for God's sake. Stealing is not cool.) I decide to confront her. I said, "I can't believe you would try to take an ornament from the tree. I'm totally incredulous, I mean…It's Christmas!" (I'm Exasperated). She looks me right in the eye, one eyebrow down, very serious and says in her best O.J. "Well if you're going to be an asshole about it, I'm not coming back." Can you believe that?
2: TABLE 18
One Saturday night at Tease, security was a little loose. A party of six on table 18. Tease serves multiple courses of small plates and this party each ordered three courses. Everything was wonderful according to the table until the third course. That was when The "On the side Bomber" struck. The entire table was happy to get their third course but he decides his came too fast. He says to the waiter "Hey Chief, take this lamb back. It came out too fast, and I don't want you to bring it back for at least a half hour. Meanwhile the rest of the table continues to eat. About twenty five minutes later. Chef Ron (Gelish) fires up another lamb rack. He plates it and sends it out. The waiter brings it to the table. The man says to the waiter, "Hey Pal, is this the same lamb you served me before?" The waiter assured him it is not. He then says to the waiter, "Then let me tell you something Big Guy, someone stole one of the chops. Now, Ron Gelish is a lot of things. Talented Chef, nice guy, hardworking, honest, etc,. but the one thing I do know that Ron is not, is a lamb thief. What on earth would be the point? So now he wants the pork instead (of course). We bring him the pork and everything is fine… until the check. He pays with a credit card, signs it and on the line where it says tip, he writes in very bold print $00.01 (Thanks Dude). He then leaves the restaurant and proceeds across the street to Meritage to have an after dinner drink (why not spread this kind joy around?) Rob, the manager at Tease, sees the tip and decides to go ask him if something was wrong. He goes across the street and says, "Was there a problem with the service?" He says "Well, there was a problem with the lamb but it was fixed." Rob says "Was the food OK?" He says "Great." Rob says "Service, drinks, atmosphere all OK?" He says, "Yes, very good." Rob then says, "Then help me understand why would you leave one penny for a tip." I swear this is what he said. "My waiter had no personality." Rob told me later he was at a complete loss for words. The epilogue to this story is that some nights later a man came in and asked where Rob was. After he was introduced he said "I heard my brother-in-law, so and so was in here the other night. Did he leave a penny for a tip?" Rob said, "Oh, you heard about that?" The man said, "Nah, I was just curious. He does it everywhere he goes. He finds some little inane thing to whine about, and then leaves a penny. He just can't stand to part with the money. That's why we're here tonight. We refuse to be seen in a restaurant with him." What do you say?
1: SALAD IMPLANTS
Sometimes "On the side Bombers" form small "cells" and work together in a magnificently choreographed effort. Six women having lunch (or so we thought) and then, all of a sudden, BOOM… detonation. This is going to be very hard for me to get this right, but believe me, this can't get as close to being as ridiculous as the original event. To give you some idea of what it was like on the front lines that infamous day, the runner, Dino, made, (and we did count), twenty six trips to that table. That's four point something trips per salad. Got to be a record. Poor Dino. That day changed him forever. He started out professional, concerned and polite. By the end his hair was a mess, the knot of his tie was on the side of his neck, there were X's where his pupils once resided, and…he was in full blown Tourettes…in Spanish. The first seven or eight trips were the usual stuff – the room is cold, the room is hot, turn the air conditioner up, turn the air conditioner down. It's too light in here, now we can't see. I don't like my fork, I need another knife, and the one that always gets me, "Are you sure this is decaf? Because if it's not, I'll be up all night (It's 12:30 p.m.)." Although, come to think about it, how much fun would that be? This believe it or not is pretty tame stuff. All of a sudden one of the women gets inspired and uttered the six words that sent Dino into his mental decline. "Her salad is bigger than mine." That's when things really got exciting. Dino takes the smaller salad back and we make it larger. Dino takes it out. Now they are in a frenzy. I need more endive; hers has too much dressing, I can't eat Radicchio, onions make me fart, etc. Dino takes them all back. We fix 'em. Dino takes them out. Now the woman whose salad was originally too small has a bigger salad than the woman next to her. Dino takes it back. We fix it. Dino takes it out. While he's out there (breathing heavily, I might add) they decide they need fresh water glasses. Dino removes the glasses. Dino brings new glasses. Dino fills the glasses. Now it gets tricky. The woman who just had her salad enlargement now has a bigger salad than the other three, but… the other three have been nibbling through all this activity. So, in reality, they're really not smaller, just somewhat eaten. This matters not. "Excuse me waiter" Dino goes to the table. "Now our salads are too small." Dino brings them back. We fix 'em. Dino brings them out. Now all six women are staring at their salads and in their eyes you could sort of see a "mental micrometer" carefully measuring, taking a vegetable inventory, counting the leaves. Just as all six seem finally satisfied, the leader emerges. The Alpha Female. And, in one final display of pure salad envy, she announces "I'm short a tomato." Dino brings it in. Dino brings it out. Finally, they eat. We are on the floor in the kitchen. We were laughing so hard it was impossible to work. Except for Dino who was weeping quietly by the bread warmer. They all split a chocolate bag for dessert. Thank God they didn't order two or we may have lost Dino completely. "Waiter, we don't like these spoons." Dino takes them away. Dino brings new ones back. "Coffee and a check please." Dino brings the coffee. Dino brings the check. "By the way, this is decaf isn't it? Because otherwise I'll be up all night." Dino says, "Yes maam." And when he turned around, Dino was finally smiling.
A friend told me this story a couple of years ago and I have never included it because it didn't happen at one of my restaurants. I'm including it now as my first induction to the "On the side Bomber" Hall of Fame. Now, to realize this special recognition, one has to perform on a level that pales the competition. Years of practice and flawless execution are the hallmark of an Inductee. Episodes are judged on a case by case basis and reviewed for induction by a fair and impartial panel, (me). Inductees are invited to give their acceptance speech in next year's issue. So without further ado, I present to you the first inductee ever into the "On the side Bomber" Hall of Fame. A couple of years ago on New Years Eve, in a very fine North Shore Restaurant, a waiter collapsed on the floor. It was horrible. The manager called the ambulance and it was chaos as you might well expect. The E.M.T.s arrived and suspected a heart attack. There was a Doctor who had been eating dinner, assisting in treating this man and I believe he accompanied the stricken waiter to the hospital in the ambulance. (Very cool). You can imagine the effect this sort of event will have on a New Years Eve Party. The employees are all worried about their co-worker. The diners are feeling terrible. It was just horrible. The manager is running around, trying as best he could, to put out the "fires," rally the staff and insure that the patrons are as back to normal as they can possibly be considering what happened. In this kind of situation, most can identify with this poor waiter, his family, and the staff. "On the side Bombers" see opportunity. This man approaches the manager and says the words that got him into the Hall of Fame. "Excuse me, are you the manager?" The manager "Yes." The man, "What are you going to do for me?" The waitress "What do you mean?" The man, "I witnessed something here tonight that was very upsetting to both my wife and I." The manager, "Yes, it was terrible. We just hope he is going to be O.K.." The man said, (sit down for this) "I think you should consider taking something off my bill for what happened here tonight, what are you going to do for me." The manager, "What?!" The man, "You heard me. I want something off the bill. I saw someone potentially die. This is not how I planned to spend my New Years Eve." The manager said "What if he makes it, will you come in and reimburse us?" The man, "Why would I do that?" (Here's an idea: lets set up a sliding scale for discounting checks. I propose 5% for forgetting a cocktail, 10% for if your entrée is late in coming and 50% if your waiter dies). I'm as dumbfounded now as I was when he told me the story. The rest of the details are somewhat foggy, but I believe the waiter survived.
Every time you think you've heard it all someone reaches deep down inside and comes up with something so bizarre it just can't go unrecognized. Welcome to the "On the side Bomber" Hall of Fame. I would like to recognize Diane Flynn for all her help in organizing and typing this article. If I don't I will never hear the end of it. Hope you had fun. I did. See ya next year.
Thomas G. Schaudel
Coolfish By:Chef Thomas G. Schaudel