Saturday, September 29, 2012

Google Wha?

Some genuinely entertaining search terms have been appearing in my blog's Google Analytics of late. For the uninitiated, this program tracks a website's traffic stats, including whatever random stuff someone typed in Google that led them to my page. I've started writing down the funniest searches:

"Buddha hippie weed"   Okay, I guess I rag on hippies a lot

"wife fucks wino"  Lol, poor guy, whoever this is

"the drunk wino restaurant blog"  Interestingly phrased but accurate

"smeagol drinking"  That would be this post

"winter dream wino"  How romantic. Makes me picture a figurine of a passed out vagrant in a snow globe

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Silent Treatment

     Sometimes customers like to make the simplest things difficult.

     "Hellooo," I begin, attempting to exude warmth, friendliness. "How are you this evening?"

     The seated couple stares back blankly.
     "May I start you with a beverage?"

     Their eyes blink.

     "A glass of wine or a cocktail?" I try to define what "beverage" is, since these people clearly have never heard the term.

     "No we'll have water." Of course, how dare I assume that you have come to spend your hard earned money to relax and have a good time?

     The stoics, the wraiths of the service industry: They come early, eat quickly, don't spend money and basically do their damndest to look like eating is a miserable slog of an event. Their facial expressions say: "I haven't pooped in days," or: "I'd rather be at a time share sales pitch."

     And despite my familiarity with the unsmiling and aloof, the faulty wiring in my brain tells me one thing: Somehow their misery is my responsibility. I smiled wrong, or maybe my latest snippy conversation with the Sprite is showing on my face; or that they just think I'm ugly. Sigh. Even in my thirties such depressing interactions bring out my inner insecure mope. Since early weekdays are a veritable minefield of these joyless soul suckers, I find myself feeling defeated, to wander to the back computer and slowly bang my head against the swinging doors, murmuring "whyyyy?"

     Some servers are burlier and can ride out these bumps with ease. Servers with real social skills, unlike mine which are sort of a collection of miscellaneous phrases and exclamations that I have learned to parrot from more competent comrades. My bartender has this skill (hence the reason he is a bartender). He can not only sail right into the depths of the silence, he hauls the weirdoes out of it, and befriends them in the process. I've watched him sit down and have long conversations with some of the most stubborn and seemingly hopeless of the miserables, and give hugs to regulars who have perpetually mortified me with awkwardness.

     Considering I used to be a server who would get nervous and panicky before greeting each new table, being able to have smooth interactions with guests constitutes success in my book. But I'll never make the kinds of tips that hardier souls are able to extract from the dark corners of the customer base.

     Thankfully the weekend comes, along with the 7 o'clock seating. People look excited to see me, have good questions that allow me to geek out and give in-depth answers. Not only does this crowd like me, they love me- I sell specials, find people their food soul mates on our large menu, and introduce people to new, exciting wines.  My sexy is back. Maybe I'm not terrible at this social thing after all, I start to think, as the tips roll in.

     But there's always a 4 o'clock stoic waiting for me the next day.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Please Don't Throw a Diaper at My Head

I find my 60+ set fascinating. Many of these people are my best customers: relaxed, talkative, happy to be waited on; They are particular but predictably so. And then... well, some of them seem to have transformed into five-headed hydras upon retirement, waiting to spit venom at any poor server who should stumble at their table.

I will write about a few Hall of Shame favorites someday, but for now, here is a theory of mine in graph form. As you'll see, some people arrive at a happy place, while others end up sort of back at the beginning.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Boob Juice

     I give up. They‒my chardonnay contingent‒have killed the Ramey.

     Chardonnay rules our bar. Particularly our high-end pour, always a big-ass chardonnay, served in a big-ass glass. Gallons of the sweet, buttered fruit juice practically evaporate amongst the raucous bar crowd, who return day after day to preen in the mist of alcohol and conversations held too loudly. From makeup-ed blondies, grumpy retirees, to macho bar dudes, the variety of participants in this contingent is impressive.

     Sociable and cliquish, group-think is in full effect with this crew. Both tough-guy bartender and breast-surgery house wife enforce a policy of collective brand acceptance, even if someone may sheepishly deviate from the court of opinion. If it does not taste like crushed-up, charred popsicle sticks, Orville Redenbacher and sticky mango, and have the right branding, the wine is doomed to failure.

     Rombauer, "cougar juice," or "Danville crack" as it is known here, was the wine that started it all. The mere mention of this brand will elicit instantaneous scoffs from sommeliers and wine geeks. Even the servers at my second (higher-end) gig like to join in the 'Bauer bashing. They will use the name to make a point: "This chardonnay is big, Rombauer-like," while also letting you know that they, of course, would never touch the stuff, and that it doesn't belong on their wine list. My bar crowd is blissfully unaware of this contempt.

     From my standpoint, as a buyer, I have no problem giving people what they want. They can be drinking Charles Shaw for all I care, as long as they are paying good money for it. But I decided to take the Rombauer off by the glass because I noticed the style had changed; from one vintage to the next the Rombauer went from butterball-on-steroids to tasting like burned canned pineapple juice. "Everyone is moving towards a lighter style now," a winery representative is reported to have said to one of my customers. Uh-uh, not at my bar. And considering the packaging itself for the Rombauer became lighter-weight, it looked to me as though they'd stretched out production and lowered costs: less glass, less oak, lighter fruit intensity, while still cashing in on the Rombauer name.

     So, why lose momentum? I figured I'd be ahead of the curve and pull the Rombauer before the bar could grow disenchanted with the new version. I'd give them Frank Family, a consistent restaurant favorite. They were disgruntled at first, and kept asking about the Rombauer. Then suddenly, they became addicted to the Frank, and this pour took off like wildfire. We had struck gold again, selling glass after glass of ripe, tropical-fruited goodness.

     And then... Well, maybe working with an experienced sommelier at the other gig put weird ideas into my head‒Thoughts about putting on a "sophisticated" pour. At that price range, I had plenty of options. I chose the '09 Ramey Russian River, a huge chardonnay but one with elegance and refinement; a step away from the top shelf at BevMo. Balla' juice, if you will.

     On the restaurant floor, the Ramey flew. Good weekend customers who knew their wines would light up at seeing this offered by the glass. "This is simply delicious" I was told by many a suit. But the grumblings had started at the bar. "They keep asking for the Frank," the bartenders told me.  "Remember when they said that about the Rombauer?" was my reply. "Let's give it some time."

     I added the MacRostie chardonnay to the line-up as a peace offering to the contingent, but that spelled the death of the high-end pour. Sales of my Great Yellow Hope dwindled down to nothing, with bottles only moving on weekends. The bar had voted Ramey off the island. Then one night, a good regular of mine looked up from her table with imploring eyes and said: "I really miss your bigger chardonnays." It was the final, soul-killing blow.

     By bigger she of course meant sweeter, as the Ramey is a monster wine. All she wanted was something familiar, easy to drink, and comforting.

     "Don't challenge me," her eyes said. "Just make me happy."

     "Ok." Me, head down.

     They've killed the Ramey.

     You bastards!