Monday, February 15, 2010

Essays in Restaurant Debauchery, number one

Last Day Antics

In a way, there’s nothing more fun than working in a dying restaurant. Everyone ceases to care, the stench of hopelessness is everywhere, and you can get away with pretty much anything you want. The only real drawback is that you aren’t making any money, but who cares because you can get all the free drinks you want from the bartender because hey, the place is going to be gone soon anyway!

Such was the case at this one spot – we’ll call it the Old Mill for the sake of the story. Within three months a restaurant that had an all-star staff and was supposed to be “Portland's new destination for upscale American dining” was scrambling to change it’s menu concept to “tapas.” In the business we call this the “death-rattle,” a desparate last attempt to breathe life into something that is almost dead. This occurs commonly when a place is foolishly opened before it has focus on what it is supposed to be.

Both the front and back of the house had descended into a full-blown pirate ship mentality at this point, and idle time was forcing us to get a little creative to keep ourselves occupied. One example of this was the day we loaded one of the servers into a mop bucket, wearing a cape and a bird mask, and pushed him downhill on the sidewalk outside while he used a broom to navigate. This happened in plain view of the entire dining room, including people the mop-bucket pilot was currently waiting on. We continued the fun that evening, when we sent the newly proclaimed “fire falcon” into Longfellow books to terrorize children at a Harry Potter book release.

The cooks would all get hammered on bitters during the day, causing them to have these rings around their mouths that made them look like bloodthirsty clowns. The few customers we had would be routinely ignored in lieu of the fun happening in the kitchen. The dishwasher, whom we had lovingly nicknamed “Chud,” would be running around with a sauce pot on his head while Mudvayne blasted on the radio. I felt especially bad for this kid the time he came in and discovered a tick on himself, and we convinced him that only way to deal with it was for us light matches and snub them out on his skin.

I already had two other restaurant gigs lined up when I started what I wasn’t quite sure would be my last shift there. I was on a double, and lunch was such a fucking joke that the minute I saw that there was someone else on the floor, I left. I told the other server that I would be at the bar up the street and to call me on my cell phone if I had any tables in my “section.”

I proceeded to drink for several hours, in my uniform, with no call from the restaurant. Only 2 tables had come in all day and soon, one by one, the kitchen staff began to join me at the bar. The other server followed shortly and at 3:00, we had pretty much the whole gang there. At this point I decided that it would be a great idea to start calling fake reservations into the restaurant for dinner. We take turns: An eight top, a four top, another eight, a “tour bus” of twelve, and we even have the cocktail server at the bar call in a ten top (of which 7 people had peanut allergies).

We roll back over to start dinner and the manager and hostess are frantically setting tables. “Where have you guys BEEN? We’re crazy busy tonight!” I actually feel a little guilty at this point, as I inform him that we don’t, in fact, have 48 on the books tonight – we actually have 6. Rather than get upset with me, he just looked defeated. He didn’t say much and left shortly after.

With the last shred of “real” management safely gone from the building, we begin drinking savagely. I grab a few bottles of wine and leave them in the walk-in, but this soon gives way to indulging right out in the open. We occasionally take breaks from getting recklessly drunk to deal with the 5 dinner customers, who may or may not have received good service. Their experience was entirely based on which of my 5 moods they were exposed too, those being: happy because I liked them, happy because I was drunk, indifferent because the customer was so forgettable, angry because the customer was such a piece of shit, and culminating with blind rage.

Service finally ends and we all pile into a booth to continue drinking. The new bar manager, who had been hired to “reel things in and save the restaurant,” came over and advised us to finish our sidework. I wasn’t very impressed with this, so I took a few of the candles that had been burning all night on the tables and whipped the hot wax all over the windows. We promptly left to go back to the bar, with a quick stop at other side of the windows to flip-off the bar manager as he frantically tried to scrape the wax off.

Later at the bar, at last call, the server asks if I’d like anything else. It goes something like this:

Server: Ok, it’s last call. Would you like another drink?
Me: I’ll have two.
Server: Ok, so two more glasses of wine?
Me: No, two bottles.
Server: (laughs)
Me: (straight face)
Server: We can’t do that.
Me: Fine, I guess Cecchi Chianti from the Mobil Station it is then!

And, like some sort of Gas Station Baachus, I cleaned the Mobil Station out of Cecchi Chianti (which we referred to as “The Cheech”). I have no idea what happened next....


  1. That's just... *sniff* ...just, beautiful

  2. Thanks Johnny! We should grab a beer soon, btw....

  3. You implied there are more stories...that is scary

  4. Nice use of the bottle to hide your third nipple.

  5. The "death rattle" indicators in other restaurants that I have seen include: Large costumed mascot urging people to come inside, "industry nights" with deep discounts for other restaurant workers, Karaoke in places not made for Karaoke, "beat the clock" drink discounts, late night happy hours, etc

  6. I was a bartender for a place about to be sold to another company. It was entirely out of control. We didn't even have any managers. Complete Mayhem....

  7. I think everyone should work on a "sinking ship" at least once....

  8. haha I hink know what place you're talking about! Now you need to do a piece on "Opening" a new resteraunt- doen that twice this eyar and doesn't sound too different from closing one! lol

  9. What place was this????? That story just made my day.