It was last year or maybe the year before, or even the year before that. It doesn’t really matter because this sort of thing happens every year. I took one look at the rumpled gentleman in his untucked tuxedo shirt and plastic New Year’s Eve top hat and knew exactly where this was going.
“I need another champagne,” he said and then giggled as if that was the funniest thing he had ever heard.
His date, replete in her plastic New Year’s tiara and equally rumpled gown, giggled as well. Birds of a feather flock together, someone once said.
“Sir,” I said. “I told you 20 minutes ago that we are closed.”
He giggled and so did she. I, however ,didn’t.
“I guess I need a taxicab then,” he said.
“I know, you told me that 20 minutes ago.”
“Well, where is it?”
“It will be here in an hour,” I said.
“You mean that I am stuck here for the next hour?”
“That sucks,” he said.
For the both of us.
Maybe you’ve heard the term amateur night? Well amateur night is a misnomer because really it’s an entire amateur season. From Dec. 10 to about Jan. 10 we in the restaurant business are inundated with people who don’t go out a lot. They don’t really know how the whole restaurant thing works. Like how a taxicab after midnight on New Year’s Eve is going to take a long time. All of which is fine, it is the hospitality industry after all; the only problem is that amateurs don’t seem to know that they are amateurs. We as service professionals, however, can usually identify amateurs by the first thing that they say.
Here are a few examples:
• “I’ll have a chardonnay.” As if any restaurant in Northern California has only one type of chardonnay. Even the deli by my house has two, albeit in little bottles, but you get the point.
• “Do you have gherkins?”
Gherkins? In a bar? Unlikely.
• “Can I order a Manhattan?”
That remains to be seen.
• “Do you work here?”
Let’s see, I am wearing an apron in a restaurant. I am gonna go with yes.
Sometimes amateurs are not identifiable by what they say but rather by what they do. Here are examples of actions speaking louder than words:
• If you couldn’t get reservations on the phone, showing up at 8 p.m. without them is probably not going to get you a table.
• If you have never been to a restaurant before, it’s probably not going to waive a corkage fee, especially for multiple bottles. Incidentally, corkage is just restaurant terminology for bringing in your own wine. Pulling the cork out yourself will also not eliminate the charge.
• After making the hostess cry, then yelling at the manager and then creating a scene in the bar, shouting, “I am never coming back here!” is probably going to have far less of an impact then one might think.
• Similarly, announcing to all the people seated at the bar, “I wish I could get a seat,” is probably going to have the opposite effect than intended.
But not everyone out in amateur season is an amateur. Sometimes time and circumstance dictate that a person just ends up, out.
“I’ll have a Maker’s Mark 46 Manhattan up, with Antica vermouth and a Luxardo cherry if you have it,” said just such a person. “And an orange twist if you don’t.”
She then stood back out of the way, letting the cocktail waitress get through to the area that she knew she had to. It’s really not that hard. If someone has asked you to move more than twice, you are probably in the way.
I returned with her Manhattan and set it down.
“Would you like to run a tab?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “I am waiting for my Uber.”
“This one’s on us.”
“Why is that?”
“I don’t understand.”
Before I could explain a man in a Santa hat pushed his way up the bar.
“I’ll have a chardonnay, two cabernets and Manhattan.”
Nearly 10 minutes and 20 questions later I had sorted out the brand of chardonnay, the types of cabernets and exactly what sort of Manhattan Mr. Claus wanted. It was in those ensuing 10 minutes that I suspect Ms. Manhattan figured out why.
Leaving me with just one thought. Only one more holiday to go until we get back to normal, unless you count Orthodox Christmas or Chinese New Year. Luckily, most amateurs don’t.
Happy holidays indeed.
Jeff Burkhart is the author of “20 Years Behind Bars: The Spirited Adventures of a Real Bartender” as well as an award-winning bartender at a local restaurant. Follow him at www.jeffburkhart.net and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.