Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Tale of Two Hosts

     The tiniest, little shred of a thing I miss about working at corporate chain spot "Peppers"other than my two hangover food favorites, the boneless buffalo wings and off-menu chicken fried chicken with mashwas the relentlessly logical seating structure. The host, with a huge restaurant at his/her disposal and unhemmed by reservations, could direct a Friday night with the accuracy of an air traffic controller. One table for you, then one for the next server; I'll take this group who came first, then the next on the list; so precise a pattern.
     At our restaurant, our night's stake can vary drastically depending the relative brilliance of the person standing at the podium. For us, seating is an art, a dance between our considerable walk-in business and reservations, and our weekly regulars who want a specific table or server. To watch the boss, or even our former boss lady, run the door, is to see a true maestro at work. Breaking tables up, moving them together, offering glasses of wine to reservations if their table isn't quite ready; they put the pieces of the puzzle together. As it is their business, their money, they make it work, and take all customers. When the boss is in charge, the place hums with activity and life.

     With a less motivated individual at the helm, however, our place comes to a screeching halt. There might be a host who say, doesn't want to run down in her 3-inch heels to reconfigure the floor plan with the busser. And possibly that same person gets annoyed with people for not having a reservation, and will flatly deny them a table or any chance to waitas creating a wait list makes things "complicated." And they also don't know how to charm reservations into waiting a few minutes with a free half glass of wine. It is more important to certain people, it seems, to stand pretty and calm at the podium and not lift a finger to drive the night home. The result by 8:30 is a restaurant so quiet, that beyond our muffled (malfunctioning) speaker system you can hear crickets.

     I did twice as much in sales last night as I did the previous Friday, when said under-motivated hostess was in charge. We started with 15 fewer reservations on the books too, and I had a crappier station. The hostess' night felt like a retirement community cafeteria. Last night, in contrast, was cranked at full blast, and our place felt like the hot place to be in town.

     We're not the most expensive fine-dining restaurant in the area, but what sets us apart, what practically forms our identity, is our extremely lively, packed weekends. "Energy" is key in the restaurant business, as our boss always points out. People might bitch about noise, but really, they want to be where everyone else is, to see and be seen.  As a server, this slightly chaotic environment is what makes working at our spot a profitable option vs working in a stuffier, more formal restaurant with higher check averages.

     I'm left to ponder the difference between two hosts: one, whose ego is motivated by how awesome the restaurant is, and the other, perhaps more motivated by their own self interest.

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