Friday, July 01, 2005

Soldato's Host Shift

-A Description of Soldato-

Soldato is in his early 30's. He stands about 5'7", weighs about 190 lbs. He has a small potbelly. He has short dark hair and a goatee. His voice is raspy and deep from smoking 2 packs of Reds a day.

In Italian, "soldato" means "soldier." In this case, Soldato's name has a double meaning:

-Soldato is an Italian-American from New York City. He harbors an intense interest in the Mob lifestyle. "Soldato" is the foot soldier/enforcer position in the Mob. I think he'd be honored to have this name.

-Soldato spent time in the Army during the first Gulf War, and he has the tattoos, scars, skin condition, and stories to prove it.

Soldato is loud, obnoxious, funny, and incredibly volatile. For some reason, my presence seems to calm him, so I rarely experience the volatile side. He is one of my good friends.

He has years of experience in restaurants. His father owned a restaurant in NYC, and he's been working in a restaurant for the past 20-odd years. He knows everything from fine-dining service to what size shrimp to order for a shrimp cocktail vs. a shrimp scampi. What he's doing in The Restaurant, I have no idea. But I'm glad he's here. He keeps us entertained.

-Soldato's Host Shift-

It's a Tuesday morning in the summer. It's a beautiful day outside. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and you can smell the fresh-cut grass. I know The Restaurant is going to be busy. I'm working a double, so I'll walk with a good chunk of change at the end of the day. Life is good.

I walk through the double doors and into a shit storm. Valerie is arguing with Soldato.

"Valerie, I don't want to host. I took a cab to work today, so I'm already in the hole for fifteen bucks. I need cash to get home."

"You get ride home with The Server." She noticed me walking in.

"Great, but what about tonight when I come back? Valerie, read my lips...I need cash!"

"You get cash on your shift tonight. I make sure pm manager give you good section."

"Valerie, no."

"You work host or you not work here anymore." Soldato is defeated and he knows it. It's easy to find another job waiting tables. But when cash is tight, switching restaurants can cripple you financially because of the time it takes to train. Servers need to be on the floor to make a living.

"Fine." Soldato is pissed. Valerie turns and marches towards the back. Soldato flips the bird to her departing back.

"Beautiful day, huh?" I love getting Soldato wound up. I expect him to go off on a rant. I want him to get it all out of his system before the customers arrive. Surprisingly, when he turns back to me, he's smiling.

"Stay close to the host stand. You don't wanna miss this."

Oh shit. There are millions of ways to mess with customers. I try to avoid all of them, unless the customer really deserves it. However, Soldato has no reservations about screwing with people, and he's not picky about which people he screws with.

A quick aside here: the host/ess is one of the most important spokes in the restaurant wheel. These people must be part metronome, psychic, and personality profiler. And they must maintain a cheery disposition the entire time.

Metronome- The host must seat tables at a steady rhythm. If they seat the restaurant to full capacity in too short a period of time, they are going to mess up the server's rhythm and the timing in the kitchen. If they do this early in the shift, the entire shift gets shot to hell. Instead of slow, continuous table turn-over, servers experience something more like a line-change in hockey. Full section, running around like madmen, towel off, start all over again.

Psychic- They must know when the server is ready to take another table. Servers move at different speeds. The ideal time to seat a new table lands in between dropping off drinks and taking the entree order. This is a small window of time, and only a skilled host/hostess can make this work.

Personality Profiler- The host must read the customers and place them with the correct server for their needs. If the customers seem to want to enjoy a slow lunch/dinner, then the host should seat them with a server who will best accomodate those needs. A slow, friendly, talkative server. If the people have twenty-five minutes to eat because they're catching a movie, then the host/ess should seat them with a fast server with a good knowledge of what items can be prepared quickly.

Many restaurant managers make the mistake of hiring young people that can't handle the stress of being a host. The consequences are often disastrous.

Back to Soldato.

The first table walks through the door. They're regulars. Here we go.

I feel like I'm watching a car wreck in slow motion. There is nothing I can do to stop what's going to happen, I'm horrified what the end result is going to be, yet I can't turn my eyes away.

Soldato is grinning like a fiend.

"Hi folks, welcome to The Restaurant. Three for lunch?" So far, so good. I relax a bit.

"Yes please! Outside, if there's any seating available." The Restaurant is empty. Customers are hilarious. Original too. We only hear this one fourteen times each week.

"Hahahahahahaha!" Soldato laughs for a good ten seconds, finishing with a coughing fit.

"Of course. Would you like to be on the patio or on the roof?" He says this completely deadpan. I have to stifle a laugh. Our roof is filled with heaters, air conditioners, and bird nests. No tables.

"Ummm... Uhhh..." the customers are confused. Then I see the light go on. "Oh, haha! Good one. Patio would be just fine." They are enjoying this. Good.

Soldato takes three menus. He walks the customers in a complete lap around all the tables in the restaurant before leading them outside. They laugh the entire time.

While he seats them outside, a solo diner comes in. I jump in and take him to one of the tables in the new server's section. I don't know her name. I do know that she won't last. She's been here two weeks, and she's struggling. I figure a one-person table is a good way to start her off.

As I'm heading back to the host stand, Soldato is heading towards me. He's still smiling like a lunatic. He's got three people with him. I hope he's not heading to New Server's section.

As he passes me, he winks. Oh no. He is heading to New Server's section. I turn around and watch.

He sets down one menu. One of the three peels off the group and sits down. What the hell?

There is an unwritten rule for seating customers. One table at a time. No exceptions. There is also an unwritten rule for seating servers. Don't overload a section. Some servers can handle getting double-sat (two tables at once), and a handful can even handle getting triple-sat. New Server is not one of these servers.

Soldato walks to the next table and sets down another menu. The second of the three sits. Finally, he drops off the third menu and the last remaining person sits down. All three are sitting in New Server's section. Shit. New Server has just been quadruple-sat.

I run to the back to tell her. She's just arrived, and is tying on her apron while examining her section on the floor chart.

"Hey Newbie! I'm so sorry. You just got quadruple sat."

She looks at me. "Shut up. You're joking, right?" She looks half-bemused, half-terrified.

"No joke. They're all one-tops, so try to treat them like one table. I'll talk to the host."

It looks as though New Server's brain is going to liquefy and ooze out of her ears. Not wanting to witness that, I hustle back towards the host stand. I arrive just as another table is walking in.

"Hello folks, welcome to The Restaurant. Two for lunch?" It's a 30-something woman in business attire and another woman that looks to be her mother. The business woman is talking on her cell phone.

"Yes, please. Something by a window?" The Mother is polite.

Soldato takes two menus and leads them to the waiting area. Plenty of windows there. Apparently Mother should have specified that she wanted a table by the window.

"Here you are, ma'am." Soldato sets down the two menus on the bench, right in between the gumball machine and the cigar store Indian. Mother and Daughter don't know how to react. I rush in to save the day.

"Right this way, folks." I swipe both menus off the bench. Shooting Soldato a menacing look, I lead the women to our best window table. They look confused and slightly put out.

"Please don't mind the host, folks," I say, setting down the menus. "The Restaurant is an equal-opportunity employer." I say the latter in a conspiratal tone. Their confusion is replaced by pity. They think Soldato is retarded. At this point, I agree. "Enjoy your lunch."

I return to the host stand.

"Dude, knock it off. I had to tell those people that you were retarded. You're actually acting like such an idiot that they believed me. Seriously, quit it!" I'm sort of pissed, but not really. I'm having a good time. Soldato just smiles and grabs menus for the next group of people walking in the door.

Thankfully, The Restaurant gets incredibly busy, and Soldato doesn't have time to mess with people. He's running around seating people like crazy. He actually does a really good job. The Restaurant is hopping, the servers are making bank, and New Server even manages to serve her quadruple-sat section without incident. The flow is perfect. Busy enough that nobody is bored, yet paced well so nobody gets in the weeds. Life is good.

I head back to the host stand to talk to Soldato about making first cuts. He's speaking to a young boy who looks to be about ten.

"Can you tell me where the bathroom is?" Honest question with a straightforward, easy answer. Unless Soldato is answering the question.

"Yes, sir. You just head right up that ladder there. The bathroom is up top."

Apparantly Soldato isn't done for the day yet. The ladder he is referring to is located near one of the side stations. It provides access to all the junk on the walls if it ever needs to be cleaned or replaced. No bathroom.

The kid walks up to the ladder. He looks back at Soldato, looks up the ladder, and then back at Soldato again. He looks skeptical. Soldato flicks his hand in a "go-on" gesture and nods. The kid puts a foot on the lowest rung.

I sprint over to the ladder.

"Actually, Buddy, that bathroom is out of service. You should try the one over there." I point him in the direction of the real bathroom. I look back at Soldato and mouth "Asshole!" He's laughing so hard, tears well up in his eyes.

Soon afterward, the rush dies down. Mother and Daughter have finished their meal and are on the way out the door. Mother pauses on her way out and looks back at Soldato, who is cleaning up the host stand. She turns back and walks towards him. Smelling trouble, I make my way up front. I listen while pretending to clean a booth. I'm ready to jump in at a moment's notice.

"Young man?" Mother is standing a comfortable distance from the host stand, so as not to alarm Soldato. He looks up.

She looks him right in the eye and says, as slowly, loudly, and clearly as possible, "YOU...ARE...DOING...A...GREAT...JOB!" She quickly turns and leaves. Soldato and I look at each other and break out laughing. It's moments like these that I cherish being a server.

Soldato was the BEST and WORST HOST EVER!


curious servant said...

Fun posting!

todd vodka said...

Is that really true?

The Server said...

Yes, Todd. All stories on this blog are true. I've changed people's names, and I try to avoid revealing the names of The Restaurant and The Bar. I also try to avoid mentioning brand names, if at all possible.

The point of this blog is not to write good fiction. Writing fiction is easy. It's making non-fiction interesting that's tough.

So, to answer your question, yes, that's really true. Soldato (not his real name) is a real person. He really did those things during a host shift. I actually visited him last night to drop off a copy of the story. Soldato eventually got canned when his attitude merged with his antics... but that's another story altogether.

SierraBella said...

Good stuff as usual!

scoob717 said...

how is soldato? you should write the story of his firing. once again you capture the true spirit of the person.
of course these stories are true, you couldn't make this stuff up.
( i worked with 'the server')

The Server said...

Hello, JD! Soldato is doing just fine. Still at that pricey Italian joint. Looks the same, sounded good.

How's the doggie?

bbsgirl said...

as I read this great story I was reading it as 2 different people. As a restaurant manager I was irritated at Soldato's antics and knew that by the time I was done reading it I would have fired him on the spot......then the off duty person in me took over and enjoyed the humor and laughed my ass off. I love how you told the story. I'm glad I stumbled across your blog and will be back for future visits.

Ahh ha...after reading the comments I see he was fired. Seems a shame that someone that knows how to perform well at a job gets canned. I see and do it alot. That's what I call wasted potential. Hope he's doing fine.

The Server said...

Hi all! I'm so happy that a lot of folks are checking in. The counter has been cranking ever since I put it in, and I couldn't be happier!

Been a busy weekend, but I promise a post (maybe 2!) by the end of the day tomorrow.