Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Black Saturday

Valentine's Day this year fell not only on a Saturday but also on a holiday weekend, so we were good and braced for a long, busy day.

Sarah and Neki raised spirits with Winnie-the-Pooh and Strawberry Shortcake Valentine cards. And Johnny Cannoli (sort of his real name) set the mood for the day by showing his love through what he does best: cooking. Before the restaurant got too busy, out from the wood-burning oven came a heart-shaped pizza.

What about that pie doesn't scream love?

So this holiday is known as Black Saturday because, theoretically, it's one of those busy nights that will help put a restaurant "in the black." Restaurants are infamous for jacking up prices and offering expensive set menus and overbooking their tables to help achieve this financial goal.

I will hasten to point out that this is not the case where I work.

In the industry, Valentine's day is also one of those events known affectionately as "amateur night," a night when non-restaurant-going folks feel obligated to go out to dinner. It's up there with Mother's Day and New Year's Eve, when restaurants are crammed with dazed and overwhelmed diners who might or might not actually want to be there. They are notorious for ordering cheaply, socializing poorly with the servers, and leaving tips not commensurate with service.

But we try to look forward to these nights anyway. Like any other night, we remind ourselves. Only busier. More challenging. We'll sleep really well after.

I only worked lunch so was spared the mania of the dinner shift, which, from all reports, was one of the busier nights we've had of late.
It was a night of controlled craziness, with the kitchen pumping out food at a furious pace and the floor staff scrambling in the most pleasant way possible, trying to appease a crowd of people who were competing for seats, food, and attention.

Me, I was home tucked into my recliner under a blanket with a big book and a big mug of tea while visions of festive pizza danced in my head.

All thanks to Jonathan for getting us off to a deliciously Valentiney start!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What We Like To Tell Ourselves

In my barista days, I made plenty of nonfat mochas with extra whipped cream. As a server, I've put in orders for pizza with extra cheese and bacon with a hot fudge sundae for dessert and a diet Coke to wash it down. I've heard men order fondue and steak in the same meal and say, Thank god I take Lipitor!

And now, as a bartender, I can say I did something that really, I never could have seen coming.

Saturday night was possibly the busiest night I've ever worked at the bar. From beginning to end, for at least six and a half hours straight, I was bounced from one end of the bar to the other, mixing drinks and taking orders and trying to keep clear in my mind the eighteen things I needed to be doing at every second. It was so intense that I swear the pressure I was under was making my hands shake as I poured drinks, my blood sugar plummeting and my adrenaline levels soaring.

It was way-super-crazy busy.

Anyhow, in the thick of the busyness, a woman waiting with her friends for a table watched me as as I built and shook a cocktail made from vodka, meyer lemon juice, and simple syrup.

That looks delicious! she gushed. Is it just vodka and juice? she asked.

There's also sugar in it, I said as amiably as I could while my mind frantically tried to figure out my next several moves.

Can you make one with Sweet 'n Low? she asked.

This question was enough to get me to stop everything I was doing.

Um, well, I don't know if that would work so well,
I said, feeling protective of the cocktail recipe.

Oh, I make drinks all the time with it at home, she said confidently.

Well, I said. I only have Equal.

That should have gotten me off the hook. But the woman fumbled through her purse and fished out a tiny pink packet.

Oh look! she exclaimed triumphantly. I've got some Sweet 'n Low with me!

She carried it with her? Couldn't I be tested on some night when I didn't have seven cocktails that needed to be made right at that moment, not to mention the plates that needed to be cleared, the cash that needed to be rung in to the register, the orders that needed to be put in the computer?

I was going to have to throw the game, lose the battle.

For the sake of keeping the flow of the bar going, I took the path of least resistance. It would have taken far too much effort and time for me to explain the importance of maintaining the integrity of the drink.

And at the end of the day, it was clear this woman was going to love the drink made her way; it was what she really, really wanted, and it was obvious that I was physically capable of making it for her.

I took the pink packet and, cringing on the inside, made her that cocktail.

She sipped. She swooned. She expressed pleasure and gratitude. I had made her night.

She liked it so much, in fact, that over the course of her dinner she ordered two more sugar-free concoctions, employing the servers as baffled couriers shuttling the packets of saccharin from her table to the bar.

And what did she eat for dinner? Not one but
two bowls of one of the heartiest dishes on the menu: pasta with pork sausage rag├╣ topped with a rich dollop of whipped ricotta cheese.

If she ingested less than an entire day's calories in just her main courses alone, I would be surprised. I guess that forty calories of sugar in those cocktails would have just put her over her edge.

They almost put me over mine.