They came running up the front stairs fully five minutes after we had closed. The woman, a little breathless, was clearly younger than her male guest. While she caught her breath her date pleaded with the night manager.
“You can’t be closed,” the man argued, looking at his watch as if his interpretation of the time might be different than the managers.
“I’m sorry sir but we closed five minutes ago,” said the manager.
The young lady had caught her breath and now was giving her best, please mister look to the manager.
“We know exactly what we want,” she said.
“We do know what we want,” the man echoed his date, seizing on a plausible argument.
The manager wavered, “I guess if you know what you want,” he said. “But it can’t be a salad because the salad guy has already gone home,” he said.
He sat them at the bar and went in back to round up what remained of the kitchen staff leaving two menus in front of the negotiators.
“Can I get you two something to drink,” I said.
“Give us a minute,” said the man brusquely his demeanor already beginning to change.
The young lady, her pleadingly innocent look long gone, began to glance at the menu.
“Do you have any specials?” she asked.
“No the specials are all gone,” I said realizing that we were now on the slippery slope.
The manager reappeared from the back saying he had caught three of the cooks who were leaving but they will stick around for a little bit longer.
The young lady who knew what she wanted only moments ago now seemed less certain. In fact everything was looking less certain.
“We’re going to move to one of those tables,” said the man, picking up the menus and heading over without waiting to find out if that was all right. As he left the last table in the dining room was saying their good-byes at the front door.
It was now the couple, the three cooks the manager and me.
I followed the couple over to their new table and asked again if they wanted something to drink.
“Why don’t you come back in a minute,” said the man without looking up from his menu.
Ten minutes later the couple that knew what they wanted had neither ordered drinks nor food and didn’t seem to be in any kind of hurry.
The manager decided to try and expedite the process by talking to them himself. He now had four hourly employees standing around waiting for these two people to order. A situation of diminishing returns.
The negotiation now switched sides.
“Sir, we really need you to order”, prodded the manager.
“Well, the lady was really in the mood for a salad,” said the man.
The manager was now stuck, these people were clearly not going to cooperate. He could ask them to leave but he now had arranged for the staff to stick around. He seemed to mull over his options while looking at the man through narrowing eyes.
“Which salad do you want?” he said making his choice of appeasement quite clear.
So it went back and forth for nearly an hour. With each little victory the couple became less contrite and more demanding. They sent back the salad and didn’t like the wine. When the check finally appeared on the table they let it sit there for an extra ten minutes while they stared long into each other’s eyes.
The last I saw of our Neville Chamberlain-like manager was him sitting alone at the bar glaring at the couple as they nonchalantly gathered up their belongings and ever so slowly vacated the table that they had commandeered over an hour ago.
So, the next time you run up to a restaurant that is already closed and the manager politely but absolutely refuses to let you in, you can probably thank a couple like last weeks for the cold shoulder and the empty stomach.