Served: A Spring Full of Business, Drama, and Love
Note: Longtime SE readers will remember Hannah Howard's column Served about working in the restaurant biz. Now she's managing a Philadelphia restaurant, and we're excited to bring back her behind-the-scenes dispatches. Welcome back, Hannah! —The Mgmt.
Springtime is blossoming, which means my restaurant is getting busier.
The Philly world knows we have an amazing garden in which to enjoy a summer's eve martini and meal. The space is enclosed by brick walls, wrought iron gates, and blooming magnolias. Unlike most Center City spots, where you sit on the sidewalk and defensively grip your purse, you're in an oasis. "Magical!" people coo, "Like Paris!"
When I feel less than totally motivated to work, the flowers cheer me up. The place is stunning. How bad can it be?
We have many kinks to iron out before we are ready for the crowds. We have been in hibernation all winter—slow nights inside, punctuated by the occasional less slow night. Now we have to welcome the crowds, and serve them with grace, warmth, and speed.
Behind the Bar
The owner and I had a falling out with our beverage manager and bartender K, who maybe had the worst attitude of anyone in the universe. He seemed like a really good person, but he acted as if work was torture. In such a small restaurant, we desperately needed good energy.
So K left and I temporarily filled in behind the bar. When some bar-owning regulars came in, they had to instruct me how to make their Negronis. I downloaded a cocktail recipe app on my phone, clumsily consulting it when clueless.
Meanwhile we interviewed, and interviewed some more. Owner D loved T the most. She had a sexy hipster librarian look, with tattoos galore and little glasses. T was amply experienced and confident. "This is my plan," she told D and I: cool cocktails, better bar costs, better organization, in the biz nights. We needed a go-getter, and she came in going and getting.
First, she took everything out of the bar, cleaned, and rearranged. D took T shopping for glasses, glass racks, and bar paraphernalia. She made spreadsheets for costs, spreadsheets for inventory, spreadsheets galore. Wow, I thought, she's off to a good start.
Not So Fast
Except for a few problems. First, T had a mean side. Her co-workers were scared of her. Regulars started disappearing from the bar.
Second, she seemed to like the organizing and administrating side of her job many times better than the bartending and hospitality side. This was a problem. She'd disappear from the bar and head to the computer any chance she got. The staff kept running to get her: "we need drinks!"
"I have a bad feeling about her," my wonderful chef boyfriend M said. We went out for drinks after work with her once, and it was a bad night. We would never go again.
Boyfriend's Philly Career Chronicles
M moved from New York to Philadelphia. I was so happy. Love! We walked around Philadelphia, drinking in dive bars and lying in the grass in parks. He picked me up from work and cooked breakfast every morning. Now to find a job.
He had a killer resume (not to mention talent, and passion), but we were both new to the Philly restaurant landscape. I had interviewed The Big Philly Restaurateur for an article, so I had his cell number. M gave him a call, and ended up as a sous chef in a big bisto restaurant that was rumored to be one of the busiest restaurants in the country.
He mostly hated it. The cooks were competitive, sometimes nastily so. "The food loses its soul," he complained, which is inevitable when you put out 1,000 covers for brunch alone.
Goodbye Mean Bartender
M was walking home from work. It was late—he had just closed his restaurant. He passed by my restaurant and noticed T inside from the window. "What are you doing here?" he inquired. M and I had spoken on the phone, and he knew I had locked up and come home. T had booze on her breath, and no good answer.
That night, I received a text message (!) from T that she was not coming back to work. She had deleted her copious files from the computer.
Changes at My Restaurant
The week before the T incident, Owner D welcomed E back to Philly with a glass of wine in the garden. E helped open my restaurant the year before I arrived, when the restaurant was born. He is a world traveler fluent in many languages and in the hospitality industry. D called him up when the news of T's unhappy exit, and he came in that day, ready to start.
The first guests who walked in remembered E, and E remembered their drinks. Impressive. My boyfriend met E, and this time had a good feeling about him. So did I.
Watching the sun set in the garden, blowing out candles and waiting for M to pick me, I had a premonition: this restaurant could succeed.