It’s eight o’clock on Saturday evening. The Bistro’s mobbed. It’s the busiest hour of the busiest night of the week. Two couples hang anxiously outside the front door, hoping to get a table. Since no customer’s close to finishing they’re going to have a long wait.
“Anything opening up soon?” I ask Celine, the hostess.
“I think the people on table three are finishing entrees,” she replies.
“Anyone on dessert?”
“Those people are gonna wait forty five minutes at least,” I say, pointing outside. “Did you tell them that?”
“They’re walk-ins just trying their luck,” Celine says, “They’re cool with it.”
The phone rings. Celine picks it up. Suddenly she makes a face and says, “We’re not interested.” The caller keeps talking. Celine listens a few more seconds before saying “You’ve called a restaurant on Saturday night and the owner’s not in. Please call again Monday.” Then she hangs up.
“Who was it?” I ask.
“Some jerk from Acme Credit Cards,” Celine says. “He said he was making a courtesy call and that it was being recorded for quality control purposes.”
“If some putz I don’t know calls me and the first thing he tells me is that he’s recording the conversation? I’m hanging up.”
“Could you imagine that?” Celine says, “Guy’s trying to sell us something on Saturday night?”
“Obviously an idiot,” I snort.
Restaurants are under constant assault from salesman. We field hundreds of calls from people selling everything from payroll services, soap dispensers, free range chicken, and South African wine. If Fluvio talked to all these people he’d never get out of his office. The staff always runs interference on sales calls. Credit card companies, however, are relentless.
“I hope I didn’t sound rude,” Celine says.
“You were firm,” I reply, “Not rude.”
The phone rings again. Celine answers it. Suddenly her face pales. She covers the receiver with her hand and whispers, “It’s that guy from the credit card company again!”
Unusual. Salesmen usually wait to call back after getting the brush-off.
“That’s weird,” I say.
“Could you talk to him?” Celine asks.
I take the phone out of her hand. “Hello,” I say, trying to sound official. “How can I help you?”
“This is Martin from Acme Platinum Member Concierge Services,” a nasal voice whines, “I was talking to your hostess when she hung up on me.”
“How can I help you?” I repeat flatly.
“First I have to tell you this call is being recorded for quality control purposes.”
I want to say “Good, then you’ll be able to replay my telling you to go fuck yourself over and over.”
“And?” I say instead, irritation creeping into my voice.
“We have a VIP member who wants a reservation for four people at 8:30,” Martin says proudly.
“Yes,” Martin replies, “In twenty minutes.”
“I’m sorry sir. We have no tables available.”
Martin draws a sharp breath. “You don’t have a table?” he squeaks.
Concierge programs are marketing gimmicks designed by credit card companies to elicit higher fees from members in exchange for making them feel like big shots. The feeling’s purely illusory.
“Sorry sir,” I reply politely, “It’s eight o’clock on Saturday night. We’re packed.”
“You’re not willing to do something for a VIP member?” Martin asks.
Martin’s feeble attempt at manipulation pisses me off.
“I’ll be happy to seat your client at 9:30,” I counter. “That’s when I’ll have a nice table for your VIP.”
“No,” Martin says, “That won’t do.”
“Our VIP wants to eat at 8:30 in your establishment,” Martin says, sounding nervous. He’s dreading telling some self important orthodontist from the suburbs “no.”
“Nine thirty,” I say, “And even then there might be a wait.”
“Can you recommend another restaurant?” Martin asks prissily. “Because if you’re not willing to accommodate an Acme VIP……….”
I want to hang up on this officious twit. I feel like calling Acme Credit and telling them we’re no longer accepting their cards because Martin at Concierge Services pissed me off. I take a deep breath and struggle to relax. I try and remember Martin’s in the same boat as me – eeking out a living from crumbs that fall off affluence’s table. I try and muster up some compassion.
“Well,” I say, “You could try Café American, Alain’s or Café Really Expensive.”
“No,” Martin says, “Our VIP’s in the mood for Italian food.”
I give Martin the name of a well regarded restaurant far away from us.
“That’s too far away,” Martin says.
“Best I can do Marty.”
“Martin,” he says automatically.
“Thank you for your time,” Marty says, trying to sound polite. I can tell his heart’s not in it.
“Good luck,” I say.
Marty hangs up.
“Well,” I say, “That’s that.”
“Was he mad?” Celine asks.
“He’ll get over it.”
The phone rings again. A party of four cancels. Problem with the babysitter. That loosens up the floor plan a bit. Celine signals the people waiting outside to come in.
“You have a table for us?” one of the men asks incredulously.
“Someone canceled,” Celine says, “Tonight’s your lucky night.”
The quartet walks in, congratulating themselves on their good fortune. If Marty had called a few minutes later this might be have been his VIP’s good fortune. Sometimes the difference between getting a table or not is measured in seconds.
I go back to work. I imagine Marty hunched up in his little Acme Credit Card cubicle, getting screamed at by entitled people with pathologically low frustration tolerance. Despite the angels of my better nature I smile to myself.
Oh well. Life’s a bitch.