I am a sucker for anything that smacks of romance–first date, blind date, 95th date–whatever.
But nothing beats a proposal of marriage.
So when the notes in one Open Table reservation read: “I am proposing tonight. It’s a surprise,” I had to double check that against another set of reservation notes that stated: “We are getting engaged tonight, but the proposal will happen before dinner.”
Recipe for disaster…or bliss.
Disaster Scenario 1: We congratulate the wrong couple when they sit down and mess up the surprise.
Disaster Scenario 2: We watch helplessly as the surprise groom-to-be pops the question and she doesn’t answer with a resounding, “Yes!”
Blissful Scenario I Was Determined Would Play Out: We don’t mess anything up, she kind of suspects what’s happening anyway, and she says, “Yes!”
I assigned the surprise couple to booth 307 as double insurance that all would go as planned, and gave the already-engaged-by-minutes couple a quiet table next to a window.
And still, I fretted.
Both couples would remember this night for the rest of their lives. They would regale friends, family, their children and grandchildren with every last detail about how it unfolded. There was no free drink, no comped meal–NOTHING–that could make it right if we did it wrong.
We had to do it right.
We had to do it better than right.
“I can’t believe you’re calling me,” said the surprise groom-to-be. “That is so nice of you to go to so much trouble.”
Believe me, pal, I know my place in your history. Of course I am calling you!
“Well, I know you made the reservation online, and I thought we should chat first, plan the evening so it goes exactly as you’d like it to.”
“Gosh, I hadn’t really thought much past dinner. I mean, what do you recommend? It’s my mother’s antique engagement ring that I’m giving her. And I may be older, but this is a first for me. For us.”
Mom’s ring? And this is a surprise proposal?
I needed more info on the bride.
“So, this is a total surprise?” I asked him, hoping he’d laugh and say she might have an inkling.
“Total surprise! But she’s really looking forward to our dinner.” Oh dear. I couldn’t exactly ask him if she was really looking forward to marrying him, too. I’d have to leave that one up to Booth 307.
“Well, sir, we want this to be a wonderful evening for you both,” I told him. “How would you like us to handle the surprise?” I rattled off several options via various courses. Thankfully, he thought better of asking us to hide the ring in the fois gras studded beef, and opted for utilizing the dessert course.
“Our pastry chef can make a chocolate box, and we’ll put the ring box inside that and bring it to the table with whatever dessert you order.”
“That would be perfect. It’s my mother’s antique ring, did I tell you that? That sounds really nice.”
“Sir, it is all our pleasure.”
“Thank you,” he added, “for thinking of everything.”
So now we loved this man. “Please, please,” I willed his girlfriend as we hung up. “Please be deserving of this guy and his mom’s ring, and be happy and smiling and loving. And for God’s sake–just say yes!”
I looked across the room at Both 307. “Yeah, you too. Make it happen.”
At line-up, I reiterated to the staff how critical it was not to ruin the surprise couple’s surprise. “No extra smiles, no winks, no nothing to give it away.” I assigned one of the sweetest servers we have to tackle the task. I also explained that we needed to be really happy for the already-engaged couple.
“But will we know the difference? asked a worried server.
“I’ll be on top of it and let you know. All good.”
Thankfully, the just-engaged couple was on time and easy to spot. She came in holding her left hand up, gazing at the glittering stone, smiling as broad a smile as is humanly possible. I wondered if he’d literally just given her the ring in the corridor or at the valet stand. But no matter. She loved the ring, he loved her, she had said, “Yes!”
I brought champagne flutes filled with bubbly to their table, congratulated them, remarked on the ring, and thanked them for celebrating such a wonderful moment in their lives with us. I almost choked up on that last comment. Yikes. Was I in over my head with the surprise couple? I was pretty sure tears were not a professional add-on to their special moment.
Not a half hour later, the surprise couple arrived. I was so smooth as I acknowledged the reservation name and showed them through the packed dining room to Booth 307.
“Oh, what a perfect table!” smiled the hopefully bride-to-be. “This is great!”
I whispered a quick thank you to Booth 307 under my breath.
They hadn’t been seated two seconds when the would-be groom asked, “Can you show me where the rest rooms are?”
“Certainly, follow me,” I said.
As soon as were out of view, the groom thrust a red ring box in my hand. “Here, can you keep this until dessert?”
Oh, shit. I was now responsible for the mother’s antique ring for at least two hours. Where to put it? The safe in the office? My pocket? On my hand?
Naturally, I made someone else responsible. “Chef, here’s the ring for the chocolate box,” I said putting said ring box into the Pastry Chef’s hands.
At which point the Pastry Chef, the food runners, a couple of servers and I took a moment to gaze at the ring. It wasn’t a big stone, and I wanted to give it a quick cleaning so it would sparkle more. But, we were quiet for just a second as we gazed at it.
“I’ll keep it right here,” said Chef, snapping the lid shut. “Let me know when it’s time.”
And that was that. How it all went down was completely and entirely on me–Restaurant Gal’s very nervous shoulders.
For better or worse we were slammed as the night went on. I had only had a moment to glance at Booth 307. They seemed happy. And the server reported she kept asking a lot of questions, “Like she is trying to remember everything,” he reported.
When the moment finally arrived, I alerted the Pastry Chef and began pacing. I have to say I actually had to take several deep breaths before I delivered the desserts. I was that nervous.
“Here is your creme brulee, and a special dessert from the chef,” I said as I placed the chocolate box in front of the soon-to-be-we-hoped-bride-to-be.
“Thank you!” she smiled. “Thank you, so much.”
And I knew then that she knew, that he knew that she knew, that we all knew it would be okay.
Because as I stepped away to the other side of the dining room, I watched as she lifted the top, opened the ring box, and hugged her certain-to-be fiance.
In the end, I think she knew, all along.
In the end, I knew we’d get it right, all along.
In the end, it was all alright, all along.