At the little New York cheese and wine bar where I once worked, many regulars were friends. Many fast became friends. They were Broadway people, restaurant people, and cheese-loving people. Sometimes working pretty much amounted to hanging out with interesting folk I genuinely liked. That makes for a pretty fun job.
It's different at my Philly restaurant. Perhaps it's because our prices are higher and we're a more serious restaurant; many of our guests are old enough to be my parents, or even my grandparents. Usually we get a younger, livelier crowd later in the night. This makes for a livelier night for me.
It's not that I have a problem with older people. If you love food and dining, you're probably a wonderful customer, no matter your age. As an only child, I always hung out with the grown-ups anyway. And I do believe attitude is more age-defining than any number. But it's definitely a different vibe, and sometimes I miss being among my generation.
Some of our regulars are great. I'm happy to see them. We have a designer-clad blonde woman who lives nextdoor and dines in our garden with her fluffy white dog. She always eats alone, and usually orders herself an appetizer, entree, dessert, and a few glasses of wine. She and her canine friend are both really sweet. And I have a big soft spot for single diners.
Because K, an older flamboyant gentleman with neon glasses, met me and Micky when we first (re)opened, he has a sense of entitlement that gets on my nerves. He refuses to come in, say hello, and be seated like other guests. He walks straight back to the kitchen, even when intercepted with "they're really busy back there," and makes his presence known. We're happy to show guests the kitchen, but he barges in like he owns the place. Other customers stare: "who's this guy?"
My Glance of the Life of Mrs. P
Mrs. P was one of our first regulars, back when we were a casual Argentinian/Italian spot. When Micky came to work at M and the restaurant did a 180, she kept coming. She was old and prim, and usually joined by her old and prim friends. Her feedback was chronicled in impressively long emails to the owner, which were forwarded to me. Over time, our staff learned she expected bread on her table upon arrival (we usually wait until dinner is ordered), and she liked her guests' cosmos served before her own.
Mrs. P was a master of the backhanded compliment. "Your hair looks much better like that!" she told me, or "Thank goodness you lost a little weight." I smiled and nodded and tried not to take her too seriously. "She's just an unhappy person," Micky correctly postulated.
When she dined at the end of 2010, she made plans to ring in the new year at our restaurant. I made her a reservation for our second seating, at 9 p.m. On December 30th, her nephew called. I hadn't met this nephew, or known about his existence.
"I'm calling to cancel the New Years Eve dinner reservation for Mrs. P," then click, silence. That was it. I was a little miffed. We had turned away many potential tables for our biggest night of the year, and she was bowing out with just one day's notice!
"It's so weird," I told the owner, "Why didn't she call herself?" I wondered if she had a bad experience. Maybe she was mad at us for not sufficiently prompt bread, or the like. So mad she preferred someone else deliver the message on her behalf, lest she delve into a fiery rage.
A few weeks into January, our owner relayed the news: Mrs. P had not canceled her reservation out of chagrin. Her relative had called because Mrs. P had passed away a few nights before.
This news, as such news has the power to do, softened my view of the oft-grumpy Mrs. P. Her mean-spirited and demanding character got rewritten in my book: now she was lonely, lovely lady, who had sweetly and loyally supported our little business through good times and messy times.
I knew that if my aunt passed, and I was handling her affairs, I would never be so organized as to cancel her restaurant reservations and email the restaurant notice of my aunt's death. In a way, I miss Mrs. P, like one misses a surly aunt.
Our owners—a couple and their partner—have many connections, partners, and friends in Philadelphia. So we laugh when guests strut in, announce they are chums with Gene and Deb, and expect free stuff and royal treatment. The owners themselves pay for their drinks and dinner, and treat (and tip) the staff warmly and kindly, so we expect their friends to do the same.
Last night, a table dropped a partners' name and waited for the freebies to come. They also hit on our waitress and carried on that our food was too fancy.
We laughed at them. It's so simple: if they had been polite, and kind, and mentioned that they were close with one of the owners, we would have been happy to buy them a glass of wine, or a scoop of white chocolate gelato, or both.
But in my restaurant, and in most restaurants, we're thrilled to bend over backwards for appreciative customers who treat us well. Tell the waitress to turn around (!!!) and we will give you your check and ask you to please leave. Regular, friend, or not.