Early Birds

I recently read a post by Waiter about the arrogance some patrons display when they arrive a few minutes before closing and expect a full meal with all the trimmings. And like an idiot, I smugly smiled to myself and thought, “At least I don’t have to deal with THAT.”

In response, the this-will-teach-you-to-be-smug police sent me “The Early Birds.”

First, a behind-the-scenes-look at two hours before opening, from my perspective:

Chefs and sous chefs have been there for hours already. Chickens are roasting, cookies are baking, soups are simmering. Do not come into a restaurant kitchen early in the morning if you are hungry. You will drool. Conversely, do not come into a restaurant kitchen early if you are hung over or otherwise plagued by a sensitive stomach. You will throw up.

The opening manager has been there an hour at least, counting and restocking liquor, going over the roster, and steeling himself for the inevitable five zillion call-outs.

I arrive well before I can clock in, because I know we are always short staffed, someone won’t show, or a couple of large parties will call at the last minute to increase their numbers from eight to eighteen.

Plus, I just need a few moments of peace to survey the place, with my IPod blarring “Five O’Clock World” by both The Vogues and Hal Ketchum (awesome version), followed by “Lo Que Paso, Paso” by Daddy Yankee (live version) and ending with “Master of Disaster” by John Hiatt.

Yes, it’s true, Restaurant Gal has quite the eclectic taste in music. But it gets me ready for the day.

Two of the best hosts we have always arrive early as well. Waiters and bussers straggle in. By 9:00, we know what menu panels need to be stripped, copied, and stuffed. (I am of the opinion that carpal tunnel syndrome was first diagnosed in the host staff of a restaurant that changes its menus daily.)

By 10 a.m. we are setting up for large parties, downing coffee and Red Bull and candy, singing along to the music the managers have put on. These are the times to let loose, to get it out of your system, to rev it up. These are the times you don’t have to worry about “guests in the house.”

But sometimes, the guests are there, under the guise of the dreaded “Breakfast Meeting in the Private Dining Room” (PDR). And so it was this week, the early birds arrived for their meeting. They perched, then roosted, then flew all about the place–a full hour before our 11 a.m. opening, much to the staff’s horror.

“Guys,” I smiled. “Your board meeting is taking place in the Private Dining Room. The table is all set up. Follow me, please.” To which one replied, newspaper in hand, “Is the men’s room nearby?” This is not the way I want this to go.

“Sure!” And I lead the other guest to the PDR. Which he promptly wants to leave, saying, “I’ll just wait at the upstairs bar, until more people get here.” Oh, ugh.

“Well, sir, we aren’t really open yet. The staff is setting up. They like to banter and all.” Banter? What hidden part of my brain did that term come from? Now, however, it’s the term of choice.

“Oh, good! I’ll love hearing the banter!” says this patron. To which I want to reply (but don’t, of course), “No, no you won’t. The crude factor is high; the polite factor low. If you are here, you will mess this up and the entire lunch shift will be out of kilter. The banter is a necessary way of blowing off steam. It is NOT a freak show for you to enjoy.”

Instead I say, “Okay, sit here at the cheater rail.”

He sits, a bemused smile on his face as he waits for the banter to begin. The staff glares at me. What the f— is this, they wonder?

Newspaper man joins the patron soon enough, and now we have a full audience waiting for “the banter.”

I want to call out, but I am already there.

I decide to pretend said guests are not there, and continue to go about checking both podiums for lost-and-found items, forgotten menus, notes for managers. And then I notice the early birds have multiplied. One more is downstairs.

“Are you here for the board meeting?” I ask.

“Oh, no. The door was ajar, so I came in. I am meeting someone with a reservation at 11.” Um, it is 10:15. Are you kidding?

“But sir, we aren’t open yet. Not for 45 minutes.”

“Really, what are they doing here?”

And there THEY are. Newspaper man and banter boy, stupid smiles on their faces, wandering about like they own the place.

“Well, they’re here for a meeting in the private dining room.”

“That’s okay. I’ll just wait at this bar.” And, now, one of the downstairs bartenders is glaring at me.

Suffice it to say, I spent the next half hour reliving a year in my work life I never thought I would revisit–middle school substitute teacher. Keeping all the errant customers out of the staff’s way was like herding 7th graders on a field trip. OMG. It was horrible.

In the end, the rest of the board members arrived and went to the PDR. The guy waiting for an 11 o’clock reservation finally went outside to hang around. And a guy I hadn’t even noticed until I unlocked the front doors, emerged from a rear dining area saying, “I’ll be back in a few. Just going next door until my other person gets here.” Huh? Who the hell are you and when did you get in?

Early birds, hear me now. No worms here. Ever.






One response to “Early Birds”

  1. skye Avatar

    I hear you loud and clear, and have duly noted it! 🙂

    I can totally relate. I know how I get when I invite people over for 7pm and they arrive around 6:45 or even earlier. Don’t they realize that I’m counting on EVERY stinkin’ minute to get ready, ESPECIALLY those last 5? Serves them right to have to see that one curler left in my hair, or the stuff piled in front of the closet that just hasn’t quite been hidden yet.