Let’s face it, sometimes restaurants have a bad night. Maybe the food takes too long or your table is not ready when you arrive. It is frustrating. A restaurant that has impressed you so many times before just doesn’t live up to your past experiences. It is easy to be upset. It is also important to remember that restaurants are staffed by humans who are inherently fallible.
Shortly before Valentine’s Day my Great Aunt passed away. It led to a great deal of introspection on my part. I thought about how many opportunities I missed to see her while she was still with us because he visits typically fell on the weekend. I couldn’t take a Friday or Saturday off to go to my parent’s house and sit around the table playing Scrabble. I had to work. The restaurant was going to be busy and I had to be there.
This was particularly true of Valentine’s Day weekend of 2013. Because the actual holiday fell on a Thursday, the restaurant was overbooked for the entire weekend. There was no one who could fill in for me. I couldn’t transfer my tables to another extension or leave a cute “away” message for them to let them know I would be with them when I returned. Restaurants do not operate like offices. Five minutes can be an eternity in this business. Asking someone to wait until Monday morning for a response is unthinkable.
My manager didn’t think twice when I told him the funeral was scheduled for Saturday. He told me to go and that the restaurant would be fine without me. Quite frankly, on one of the busiest nights of the year it was not going to be. Sure everyone would survive, but running one server short would make a visible impact on the restaurant. I was honestly surprised by his reaction. Most of the restaurants I have worked at would not have even considered giving me the night off. I honestly did not think they would agree when I asked.
The next day, my email was buzzing. I signed up with a program to monitor restaurant reviews for my restaurant. People left reviews complaining about the service being slower than normal. They had no idea the restaurant was one server short. No one would think of telling them that or why I was gone. I have to think, if I want to have any faith in humanity, they would have thought twice about their review had they known. It all goes back to the first rule of the restaurant business: never let our problems be the guests’ problem.
This morning I checked my email and found another review. A guest complained about the food not being as good as on previous visits and about us running out of the vegetable special of the day. Last night was a rough night. We were all a bit distracted. As she was preparing to leave the restaurant after the lunch shift, one of our chefs had a mild stroke. She was the one who was supposed to make the vegetable special of the day. Quite frankly I wish I could send that reviewer her room number at the hospital she is laying in and let them take it up with her personally.
Restaurants do have bad nights. They are filled with people who have lives filled with triumph and tragedy. Real humans with emotions just like yours. Quite frankly there are nights when giving you baked orange ginger carrots as an option for your side dish could not matter less to us. We refrain from telling you why they aren’t available. Instead we apologize and ask you to forgive our mistake. It is part of the business. In our business we are not allowed to forward our phones or leave a simple email response that says, “I will be out of the restaurant until Monday morning. My Great Aunt is in town and I have a game of Scrabble to play.”