“You’ve got an outside table!” the hostess yells at me over the din.
I’m swamped. It’s Saturday night and my section’s hopping.
“Can someone else take it?” I beg
“It’s your turn,” the hostess barks while juggling two phones.
I sigh and head outside. Al Fresco diners, as I might’ve said before, are a pain in the ass.
This table proves to be no exception.
The middle aged couple starts out friendly. I smile. They smile. I rattle off the specials and they listen patiently. The man decisively orders the snapper.
I look at the man’s wife. Her lips are pursed. Consternation creases her brow.
“Can I help you make a selection?” I ask.
“Do you have anything light?”
Uh oh. Here we go.
“I’m on a diet.”
“Which diet are you on?” I inquire. It’s a valid question.
“I don’t know. I just want to lose weight.”
Having known lots of women I can make a fair guess at what’s happening. This lady got on the scale today and didn’t like what she saw. She made one of those forgotten tomorrow resolutions to trim the fat and her anxiety’s now bubbling to the surface.
“Might I recommend the tuna with the tomato mango salsa?” I say, “It’s light on the carbs.”
“I don’t like tuna.”
“Then might I suggest the chicken sautéed in white wine and artichoke hearts?”
“I don’t feel like chicken.”
The husband shifts uncomfortably in his chair. He looks at me. “What the hell am I supposed to do?” I telepath him.
“Perhaps the steak?”
“I don’t eat meat.”
An off color comment comes to mind. Running out of options I suggest some pasta dishes.
“Well the Spaghetti Gamberi looks nice,” she says.
Ah, a personal favorite of mine – plump juicy shrimp with spaghetti in a spicy pepper oil and garlic sauce. Delicious.
“An excellent dish madam,” I reply.
“Ok, I’ll take that with no spaghetti.”
“Pardon?” I say surprised.
“Give me the dish with all the seasonings but without the pasta.”
I look through the window into the bistro. My other table’s drinks are getting low. I know I have to deliver entrees. I need to detach myself from this table NOW.
“Very well madam,” I say. I run inside, enter the order, and attend to my other, less troublesome, tables.
“The chef wants to talk to you,” another waiter says as she walks past me. I head into the kitchen.
“Spaghetti Gamberi without the spaghetti?” Armando says waving the ticket in disbelief.
“That’s what she wants.”
“Who knows? Just give it to her.” I say exasperatedly.
Armando shrugs and throws the shrimp in the pan.
A short while later I deliver the entrees. The man’s eyes widen with anticipation when he sees his snapper, lovingly prepared, with leeks, fresh tomato, and cannelloni beans.
I set the lady’s entrée down. Armando did a nice job with the presentation. He carefully arranged the shrimp in a bowl – artfully placing a sprig of basil on top.
“I can’t eat this,” the woman says instantly.
The husband groans.
“Is something the matter?” I ask warily.
“Look at this! The shrimp is swimming in oil! How am I going to lose weight eating this?’
“This is not what I ordered,” she says petulantly.
Somewhere in our employee handbook it says, “The customer is always right.”
Now is not one of those times.
“Madam you asked for the spaghetti shrimp without the spaghetti,” I say.
“I didn’t want this – this oil!”
“Madam, you said you wanted the dish with all the seasonings and none of the pasta.”
“Well, it isn’t what I wanted,” she pouts.
“Marjorie I think you ordered it that way,” the woman’s husband says carefully.
The wife throws her husband a withering stare.
“I’m on a diet!” she says with a hint of menace.
What can I get you instead madam?” I ask plaintively.
“Just get me a plate of steamed broccoli.”
I return the woman’s shrimp to the kitchen. Fluvio walks in after me.
“What the hell is that?” he says pointing to the dish.
“Spaghetti shrimp with out the spaghetti,” I say shrugging.
“What’s the matter with it?”
“Lady on a diet,” I say simply.
Fluvio throws up his hands and leaves the kitchen. I feel for him. The Bistro is not a hospital kitchen. We try out best to accommodate people’s dietary requests but people like this lady are just off the wall. I can’t tell you how much profit Fluvio’s lost to finicky eaters over the years. But it’s probably enough to buy a small boat.
“Hey everybody!” I announce holding up the shrimp, “Got some free shrimp here. Help yourselves.”
The wait staff descends upon it like a pack of ravenous wolves. I’m lucky I don’t lose a finger.
The pickup bell rings. I deliver the lady her broccoli. She stares at it glumly.
“I can’t believe you don’t have anything for dieters,” she says reproachfully.
We do. But it’s too late to argue now.
“I took the shrimp off your bill sir,” I say turning to the husband.
“Thank you,” he says wearing an “I’m sorry for this shit” expression.
The woman picks at her vegetables. The man happily eats his fish. I go back inside.
I feel for the woman. I really do. I’ve got a few pounds to lose too. But that’s my responsibility – not a restaurant’s.
Restaurants specialize in combing salt, fat, and sugar into an astounding myriad of combinations. Why do you think the food tastes so good when you eat out? Oh sure, we have healthy stuff but they’re not big sellers. People come for the artery clogging stuff. The Bistro has probably provided enough patients to pay off some cardiologist kid’s college tuition.
If you’re on a diet, examine the restaurant’s menu before you go in. See if there’s something you can eat. Don’t assume the waiter is a psychic dietician. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
And please – check your neuroses about food at the door.