First came daughter. “I am waiting for two other people, no reservations. Is there a wait?”
“No, I have a booth in one of our downstairs dining rooms. Would you like to be seated and we’ll send your other guests back when they arrive?” It’s almost noon, and if I don’t seat the next few walk-ins as they walk in, they’ll be on a 20-minute wait by the time the rest of their groups arrive.
Daughter was surprised, unsure. “You’ll seat me now? Um, sure. I’m waiting for my parents, though.”
As is always the case with incomplete parties, I have to coax the names out of her. Although I am almost clairvoyant at figuring out who’s who and where to connect the seats, I still need names, people!
“Oh, their names? Carl and Nan. They are coming really soon, I promise.”
Daughter, it’s okay. I can tell you are not a local, and I love you already because you are sweet and polite and willing to take direction from me, thus making my job easier during our five-second interlude.
“Oh, it’s my dad’s birthday. We’re kind of celebrating even though we’re on vacation.”
Celebrate away! What better time than on vacation?
Ten minutes later, in walks Mom. In a sea of suits, skirts and blazers, and other office-appropitate attire, Mom is easy to spot.
“You must be Nan,” I say as she hesitantly approaches the podium, while the locals standing behind her are practically drumming their fingers for her to get on with the check-in process.
“Oh my gosh. How did you know? I have never been to a restaurant where someone actually knew me, knew my name!” She is clearly taken aback and almost embarrassed.
She turns to the group of office folks in line behind her, exclaiming: “Can you believe she knew who I am? I’m not even from around here!”
Some of the office people get it, but they, like me, are drawn to her. They nod and smile.
“Come on, Nan. We go way back, remember?” I smile. I tell the office people next to her, “We exchange holiday cards!”
Nan laughs. The office people laugh. And I walk Nan to her daughter’s table.
Minutes later, Carl comes in. The foyer is less crowded, and it is easy to figure out who he is.
“Happy birthday,” I tell him.
“Oh? Me? Thanks!” he smiles. “Is my family here?”
“Right this way, sir.” He is less impressed than Nan that I knew who he was without asking, but I can tell he is a tad perplexed. He joins his wife and daughter, and the birthday lunch officially begins.
On the way out, Nan stops at the podium. “This is the best restaurant I have ever been in. Imagine, you actually knew who I was!”
“Just don’t forget my invitation to the family reunion this August,” I call after her.
She smiles, waves, and off they go.
Nan. One of 15 or so names on my incomplete-party list.
But now I know her.