Diary of a Restaurant: Ch 24 -A Waiter at Love’s FeastFeb 10, 2021
A Story Written By Kevin Gallagher
The romance of Valentine’s Day is often lost on restaurateurs. The day may be happily anticipated, for who could help but be pleased with the prospect of bustling service throughout the day, but since we work when others play, there is little time for love – even when you work with your partner.
Because of this, and because we know that the same experience could be had in a more relaxed environment on the thirteenth or the fifteen, it’s sometimes hard to grasp the urgency that people feel to book a table for dinner on the fourteenth. In the early days, when we did not accept reservations, our reputation as a romantic destination would mean we were swamped with hopeful diners. While most were happy to be there, sometimes one partner would be simmering with resentment at the other not having had the foresight to make a reservation somewhere else.
One of these evenings a young man came to the door, breathless and frantic.
“I need a table for two.”
“We have a bit of a wait list,” I said, “It will be about an hour.”
“But I need it now. I told my girlfriend I made a reservation and she’s on her way.
“We don’t accept reservations though.” I said,
“Couldn’t you just say that we have one? She’ll be mad if she knows I didn’t make one.”
“What do you want me to do? Say that you had a reservation and then make you wait an hour for a table?”
He took a butterfly shaped picture frame made of burnt leather from a bag and put it down on the host’s station, then began trying to wrap it in tissue paper. The frame contained a stock photo. I didn’t think he had a chance. Should I offer him a little support? As much as I didn’t want to take the blame unnecessarily, what would an apology and a couple of glasses of bubbly cost?
I was still trying to decide how to handle the situation when his date arrived.
“They’re a little backed up tonight. We’re going to have to wait a few minutes for our reservation,” he began.
“They don’t take reservations,” she answered brusquely.
I managed to get them seated in what I thought was a very good time, but I never found out whether he had won her over. The next time I passed their table, it was being bussed; they had eaten and gone, and the picture frame lay on the table with its wrapping.
Because couples are immersed in their private celebration, a restaurateur usually has limited engagement with them. The anomalies stick out like a party of three, or the gentleman who arrives for dinner with one woman, clearly his wife, having had a cozy lunch with another. One evening, two couples at adjacent tables, both of whom had been engaged in serious conversation, pulled their tables together and ordered champagne. Apparently they were separately discussing plans for divorce and found their common cause worth celebrating.
Marriage proposals on Valentine’s Day are almost a cliché, and restaurants are seen as ideal venues. A cynical person might say that by opting for such a public place, the proposer feels he will have the crowd on his side tipping the balance in his favour, but I prefer to think that it’s an attempt to orchestrate a perfect romantic setting for the big question.
I get a call asking, “Is your restaurant romantic?”
“There are some who say that it is.” I answer, trying not to think of the drain I have been trying to clear for the last hour.
“What about you? Would you say it was romantic?”
“Yes, I guess I’d say so – I’m still married to my business partner after fifteen years.”
So we may get drawn into helping plan the presentation of the ring and this can take on the scope of an Italian opera.
“Presentation of the ring as part of the dessert platter? Yes, we can do that?”
“A cushion for you to kneel on. Certainly!”
“No, I wouldn’t recommend submerging the ring in a bloody Caesar, even attached to a little fishing rod.”
One Valentine’s evening, a middle aged couple arrived for dinner. There was a sort of uneasy formality between them as if it were a first date. I found out later that it was. He wore a sober suit and tie and a serious expression. She wore a bright red blouse with a diamond heart brooch and a big smile. He was unhappy to be told that there were no tables available and that they would have to wait and grumbled as they took a seat at the back of the bar.
“It’ll be fun.” she said.
Every time I came near them in the next half hour, he’d say,
“Is that table ready yet?” and I would give my best estimate. I noticed after the first couple of times, he asked with a bit of a smile and she would laugh. When I did come to take them to a table, he told me that they had decided to eat at the bar, they were having so much fun. It was she who told me it was a first date as they left,
“It was great to have Cosmo, your bartender, and the staff around to keep the conversation going – you know what I mean?.”
They were back the next year and again dined at the bar. He was a little more relaxed in his dress, but she again was dressed for the occasion.
The following year they took a table. The year after he arrived a little before service with a small arrangement of white mums and red carnations for their table, a card with a single question mark and a ring tucked into the tines of the display fork.
When I showed them to the table he casually said,
“Oh look, we’ve got flowers.”
To which she replied, “God, what an ugly arrangement. They usually have more style than that.”
“Just look at the damn flowers.” he said, gruffly
Looking down she saw the ring and the card and laughing said,
“Yes, I will.”
Being recruited to boost a romantic plan is often a lot of fun. There are times when we are given credit we hardly deserve. One evening at an event outside the restaurant, I was approached by a young woman who recalled the perfect night at Mildred Pierce.
“You must remember,” she said, “You made that night so special for us – the food and wine, the flowers, the music and lighting – it was magical.”
I didn’t remember the night and although I was gratified by the praise, I couldn’t take all the credit.
“Ah, Corrine,” I said, “but you were in love, and that makes all the difference.”