“It is the life I chose,” was the recent response from one of my all-time, most matter-of-fact chefs, after the latest crazy guest request. (The burger-bacon-cheese-tomato-lettuce and roll should all be delivered on separate plates.) Chef said so with a smirk, no sign of annoyance, but rather a good humored “O ia mau no” perspective that roughly translates into “Same ol, same ol” in Hawaiian, chef’s home state. “No” is nonexistent in his vocabulary. His is the attitude we infinitely emphasize, and a cornerstone of our success. But Lord knows it ain’t always easy.
The customer is always right is our industry wide mantra, defining policy while helping us maintain both our sanity and pleasant demeanors. Laugh, or you might cry. Or throw a pan. However, the paradox created is one in which a few customers actually think the rule is absolute.
We hear some nonsense. We deal with some crazy shit. We encounter the overtired, the spoiled, the paranoid, the “I was in the business” experts, and the “I went to Puerto Rico and I know what mofongo tastes like” cuckoo nuts. And, mostly, we do so with good humor and patience. After all, most make great stories at the bar later on. Of course, we also occasionally celebrate and snicker internally when we hear a story like the one recently reported about a Boston chef/owner who acted after seeing a respected employee in tears. Said employee became the target of a customer’s loud and incessant demands, no matter what the staff did to make amends for a mistake. The chef left his kitchen and confronted the guest with something like this:
“Why are you still here?” the chef inquired in the middle of a crowded dining room.
The customer was perplexed. (Aghast, probably.)
“Here’s the thing,” the chef continued, “if this were a movie, and you hated it, you would walk out, right? So?” (Translate: Why stay and make everyone else miserable.)
When the offensive party did, in fact, exit, other guests thanked the chef.
On a whole other level, there is the bizarre behavior we have encountered when catering to celebrities. The “most crazy” award goes to the amazingly un-cool manager of the very cool Barry Manilow some years ago.
Manilow was performing at Lowell’s sold-out Tsongas Center, a city block from our Lowell restaurant. We received a call that he would like a private room to dine in after the show. While I was working in my office, awaiting his post-concert arrival on what had been a quiet night, the hostess by way of intercom suddenly beckoned me to the dining room “Now!” because Manilow’s manager is “freaking out.” Per usual on an event night, I arrived to a lobby jam-packed with customers. Clearly the show had ended — and a new one was about to begin!
It would seem Manilow’s folks were not expecting a restaurant crowded with ravenous, adoring fans. And apparently Manilow was bombarded upon entry, before being secured in one of our private rooms without harm. Now, with fans held in check through two sets of closed doors and out of sight, I attempted to enter the room to greet this iconic performer. As I stepped through the door, the manager did his best impression of another famous customer, Ray Bourque, delivering a hip check and physically attempting to prevent my entrance. Apparently he assumed I was a 250-pound adoring fan breaking into the room (“Oh, Barry!”). This guy was in full-on panic mode.
“Easy tiger,” I soothed while holding the small man at bay by the shoulders, approaching the superstar who now relaxed at a quiet corner table sipping on chardonnay.
“It’s crazy out there,” the fretful manager fussed from behind me. “A mob scene.”
“Um, he’s Barry Manilow,” I responded. “Do you find this unusual?”
“But we called an hour ago and your hostess LIED and said it was quiet here,” he bleated through a beady glare. “It was,” I pointed out in disbelief. “Everyone was at the show an hour ago!”
Amused, I addressed Mr. Manilow directly, convincing him to enjoy dinner now that he was safe, and suggesting we would sneak him out a private exit anonymously, directly into his limousine, when ready. Moments later, on Manilow’s request, the manager and I went to inform the driver of the plan and to identify the “secret” alleyway. Still nervous, speaking rapidly, the manager instructed the driver through the window to move to the spot around back and park, in advance, for a fast getaway after dinner. Again perplexed, I suggested alternatively that perhaps we should time the car with the actual exit, thereby not “tipping off” the fans as to where Manilow would exit.
As the manager scurried inside, I quietly asked the limo driver, “How’d this guy get the job?” The diver nodded and grinned knowingly. Whattygonnado.
Scott Plath, along with his wife Kathleen, own Cobblestones of Lowell and moonstones, in Chelmsford, MA. Scott possesses a deep well of humorous and insightful stories that he will share with us regularly.