Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"But I wanted a table on the patio."

(A fictional story, although stuff like this happens all the time.)

Bob the restaurant manager checked the weather one more time. It was 8:00 a.m. and while Chicago was tricky, he tried his best to predict the temperatures each day.

"Warm and sunny. Great!" Bob said as he stood up from the office computer and strode out into the main dining room. He gave the word to set up the patio tables and made sure he had five servers to staff the deck. This was in addition to the four servers he had scheduled to work the inside tables that day. He knew that when the weather was nice, he'd better have those outside tables ready to go or his guests would be mad.

Four hours later, his enthusiasm was gone. His outdoor servers huddled in the dining room, glaring at him for making them work on a gray, chilly patio that no guests wanted to sit on.

"Hi, folks. How are you today?" Bob asked of a group of four business people who had just walked in for lunch.

"We're good," a stout man replied, "though it's a bit windier than I expected."

Bob tried to keep a cheerful front as he seated the foursome at the last table he dared to seat. With only four servers inside, he couldn't allow any more customers to sit down until some left. Meanwhile, the patio sat empty and cold.

At 1:00 p.m. the temperature still hadn't hit 65 degrees, with no sunshine in sight. "What the hell are our weather forecasters good for?" he muttered. "They were completely wrong about today." Glumly, Bob joined some staff in breaking down the patio, bringing in tableware and glasses and pushing all the tables and chairs up against the building. He told four servers that they didn't need to stay for the dinner shift and prepared for an evening inside.

Then the Chicago weather changed. By 4:30 p.m. Bob was facing his third irritated guest.

"Your patio isn't open? But it's beautiful outside!" a woman in a red blazer insisted. She gestured toward the calm, bright afternoon.

"I'm sorry, but I can give you a nice table in the window, overlooking the river," Bob said.

"Ridiculous! It's seventy degrees out there!" the woman said to her companion as they followed Bob to the best table he had available.

For the next two sunny, warm hours Bob did his best to handle countless people who wanted a patio table, including people who said they'd only come to his restaurant because of its beautiful patio. In private moments, Bob cursed the skies for tricking him. "God damned Chicago weather!"

The moral of the story: please have mercy on restaurants when they can't give you the table you want. They are truly doing their best, but when circumstances conspire against them, getting mad won't help. Please keep in mind that they aren't idiots or lazy, but the Chicago weather in spring and summer make it even harder to run a restaurant.


Mick said...

Not sure this is fictional.

Just a point but if he had nine servers working wouldn't it be best to split the tables he was using between them irrespective of indoors or outdoors.

Regina Rodríguez-Martin said...

Mick, in the U.S. servers aren't paid a living wage. Employers pay them about three bucks an hour and the rest has to be made up in tips. If a server doesn't make enough tips, then the employer supplements their paycheck so it works out that they did earn the minimum wage for that paycheck.

American restaurants staff their shifts with the minimum of servers they can get away with because they have to make sure all servers have enough tables and tips to earn enough. A (good) restaurant manager would never leave nine servers to work a shift that only requires about five. That's a waste of resources. So, it was Bob's job to try to guess where his minimum number of servers needed to go: mostly inside or mostly outside? Tricky.