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Dinner Waits for No Fish, or Man.

11am: RING, RING! “Thank you for calling Mai Grille at Waikoloa Beach. How can I help you?” “I was told you specialize in modern farm to table. If you do, I would like to make a reservation for 3 people at 7:30 pm under Smith. The party might be slightly larger.” “Yes we do Sir and we can accommodate. See you at 7:30 pm.” Why does everyone want to eat at 7:30 pm? It is the busiest time at night for every restaurant in the US. Lunch service is slow. That is fine, I finally can catch up on paper work.

1pm: RING, RING! “Thank you for calling Mai Grille at Waikoloa Beach. How can I help you?” “Hi Chef, it is Tom. I need to bring down the cost on our wedding. Can you give me an itemized quote for all the items you will be serving?” “I sent that in the last e-mail and this is the 6th quote I have given you.” “Yes I saw that but, how can 1 cook cost $250 for a salad station?” “Tom, you are paying for the cook to prep the food, drive to your house, set up his own station, make 100 farm to table salads, break it all down, and then return to the restaurant.” “Well, we need to talk. I will be down at Mai Grille at 5pm.” “I am very busy today, I don’t think I can meet with you.” “It will be fast.” “You said that last time. It was my day off and you were an hour late, please do not be late.” Tom is renting some bungalows for the week of the wedding that is costing him $37,000. He is questioning a $250 cook? Come on.

4:45pm: I tell my manager to let anyone asking for me know I will be in a staff meeting AND my whole fish, which we roast, still has not arrived. I figure I can do a 30 minute meeting. Hopefully the fish will arrive and by 5:30pm I will be ready to talk salads.

5:15pm: No Tom, but fish. Whole Snapper has arrived. Dinner service waits for no man, better start on the fish.

5:30pm: Still no Tom, but I am almost finished with the fish. Cell phone vibrates. New Text Message: “Chef, just left the house, be there soon.” Reply: “You are already 30 min late. I have to get ready for dinner service so I will not be able to meet.” Sent.

5:55pm: “Chef, Tom is here.” “Tell him sorry but I do not have time.” “He said he is going to wait for you.” “Let him know he will be waiting all night.” “Ok.” 5 minutes later. “Tom just left and he is pissed.” Some people! Orders rolling in, better call out the tickets.

Let me jump on my soapbox here. Why do some people think, because we are a restaurant, the prices are negotiable and our time is not important? Go into a grocery store, demand to see the manager, and then negotiate pricing. Try it, they will enjoy the unusual experience. Meanwhile, dealing with these characters is a reality of the restaurant industry.

I really believe all people should have to work in a restaurant, at least once in their life. This environment is one of few where you are required to explain yourself, good or bad, and answer to the customer directly. If you do not live up to each individual’s standards, they expect a full refund. They didn’t like my cooking style, the dish, or waited longer than expected. Customer satisfaction, it’s a moving target. They go online to give Chef Allen Hess or Mai Grille a bad review. Now, imagine if we could do this with the cable company, cell phone provider, HELCO (electric) or, hell, even your spouse….Love you Honey 🙂 .

7:30pm “Chef, Smith party is here. He is upset we do not have a table for him.” “Yes we do.” “I don’t know Chef but he is mad. Can you talk to him?” “Sure.” “Aloha Mr. Smith, what can I do for you?” “We are here with 10 people.” “OH, O.K. We were not ready for 10 people. Give me a minute and we will set you up.” “Well, I told the person on the phone the party might be larger. Apparently, he did not relay the message.” Well buddy you said the party might get slightly larger, 3 up to 10 people is not “slightly”. “I understand Sir, but 3 people to 10 people is quite a large jump.” “Just get me my table.” I throw a knowing look at my staffer. “SCOTTY, make the man a drink and let’s get them sat.” “YES CHEF!”

Sure enough, Mr. Smith, a cocktail in hand, settled right down. He later asked me to come out and talk story with him about the dinner. “We love your food, Chef, where have you trained?” “I worked with a Chef in Louisiana, named John Besh; a high end private resort in the Caribbean, I then moved back to San Francisco and worked at Pan Pacific; a country club in Los Angeles, and, of course, Hawaii with Roy Yamaguchi, Peter Merriman and Alan Wong.”

He was intrigued with the chef profession and the travel. We talked more, about wines and my approach to our wine list, foods of Israel and had an overall great talk. He ended up leaving happy and so was I. In our business, nothing makes Chefs happier than a happy guest.

We have lots going on throughout the day and many characters in our business. There is a reason for the common saying, “if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.” It is because this business, good and bad, is either in you or it is not.

9pm: Wash dishes, put in produce and meat orders. Text my fisherman to find out what is coming in tomorrow.

10:30pm: Home, early for once. Drink a bottle of Big Island Brewhaus, kiss the kids and wife goodnight and read some Hemingway.

[Note: Guest names have been changed, any similarity is a coincidence.]

2 thoughts on “Dinner Waits for No Fish, or Man.

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