It’s Saturday night and Café Machiavelli is bursting at the seams. Impatient customers waiting to be seated are laying siege to the hostess stand. Since my section’s closest to the entrance, I get to hear the panicked bleating emanating from the entitled hordes. Aggravated, I remember how defenders of medieval castles repelled besiegers by dumping cauldrons of boiling oil on top of their heads. Now that I think about it, I do have access to a deep fryer.
“My reservation is for eight o’clock!” one aggrieved customer, a fat man with a bad comb over, shouts at the hostess. “It’s already eight-fifteen. I want to sit down now!”
“I appreciate your patience, sir,” the hostess replies sweetly. “But I can’t seat you until the rest of your party arrives.”
“Unacceptable,’ Comb Over, says, tapping the expensive watch strapped to his fleshy wrist. “We shouldn’t have to wait to sit down.”
“I’m sorry, sir.”
“I want to speak to the owner,” Comb Over demands.
“Get him now!”
The hostess picks up the house phone and dials the owner’s extension. Within thirty seconds the owner is talking with the folliclly disadvantaged customer.
“Has everyone in your party arrived, sir?” the owner asks, smiling a broad friendly smile.
“No,” Comb Over says. “The third couple’s gonna be half an hour late.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” the owner says. “I cannot seat you until the entire party arrives.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Comb Over snorts. “Who ever heard of such a rule?”
“As you can see, sir,” the owner says, ignoring the man’s question. “We’re very busy. I’ll be happy to seat you when everyone’s here.”
“If you don’t seat us right now,” Comb Over says, “We’re leaving.”
“Then I’m sorry to lose your business, sir.”
“Are you serious?” Comb Over says, looking aghast. “You’ll let six paying customers walk out the door over some silly rule?”
“Yes, sir,” the owner replies, still smiling his broad smile.
“I’m never coming here again,” Comb Over says, in his most intimidating wealthy man’s voice.
Café Machiavelli’s owner is 6’2 and weighs two hundred and fifty pounds. A retired cop, he’s got a semi automatic pistol discreetly holstered underneath his blue blazer. After a lifetime busting down doors and arresting some very bad dudes, he decided to open a restaurant. Somehow I don’t think Comb Over’s intimidating him.
“I’m sorry it didn’t work out tonight,” the owner says, unperturbed. “I hope you’ll come back another time.”
I enjoy watching the expression spread over Comb Over’s face as he realizes he can’t push the owner around. Besides, his options are limited. He’ll never get a reservation some place else this late on a Saturday night. He’s screwed.
“All right,” Comb Over says. “We’ll wait. But could you at least give me a nice table?”
“Certainly, sir,” the owner replies. “I appreciate your patience.”
“Okay then,” Comb Over says, slinking back to his wife.
Many restaurant owners, afraid to lose a single dollar, mistake submissiveness for hospitality and turn themselves into doormats. That’s a mistake. Trust me, if the dining public thinks you’re a wimp, they’ll run roughshod all over you. Sure, a restaurateur has to be friendly and accommodating, but he must also possess a core of iron. Well run restaurants consistently enforce rules governing cell phones, small children, partial seating, and customer behavior – even at the risk of lost revenue. That’s the only way to ensure a pleasant dining experience for everyone. And if a customer storms out – good riddance. You probably didn’t want them in your restaurant anyway.
Eventually the night ends and the customers go home. The waiters, post shift drinks in hand, assemble around a back table to divvy up the night’s take. As we count the money the smell of cigarette smoke and the soft murmur of tired bitching fills the air. After a few minutes the owner comes over, drink in one hand, holstered gun in the other.
“The money ready?” he asks.
“Almost,” Willem, the manager, replies.
“You guys got any vodka left?” the owner asks, rattling the ice in his glass.
“Want some?” I say, holding the bottle out to him.
“Don’t mind if I do.”
The owner sits next to me, places the holstered gun near my right elbow, and extends his glass.
“What caliber is that thing?” I ask, pouring out three fingers of grain alcohol.
“It’s a forty-five.”
“Well,” I say. “That’s one way to keep the staff in line.”
“Work wonders with the vendors too.”
“And I never get robbed.”
“Good to know,” I reply.
As the owner drinks his vodka and sorts out the cash, I covertly glance at the black pistol resting inside its well worn holster. Remember what I said about a restaurateur needing a core of iron? My boss just happens to carry iron too. For a moment, I wonder how I’d act if I was packing heat underneath my waiter apron. After a few seconds of reflection I realize that would be a very, very bad idea. Think of Travis Bickle with an order pad.
That’s okay. I always have my thousand yard stare.