Served: The Blessing and Curse of Our Garden


Hannah Howard has worked in several restaurants, but she's made the switch to the grocery side of the industry. She's now a cheesemonger for a small market chain, and will share her experience here.

20080616-servedbug.jpgLast summer, I dreaded emails from my boss, the owner, that read: "We just picked up a big load of flowers from Home Depot. Please plant the big pots this weekend, and make sure to give them plenty of water!"

So music to my ears: "We're hiring a landscaper this year." Lo and behold, our garden is filled with bright, blossoming things. All I have to do is an occasional round with a hose. And no matter how grumpy I am while on my way to work, the beds of pink and red and brilliant blue have a way of cheering me up.

Spring is here, which means the phones are ringing with people dying to know if our patio is open. Indeed! On a beautiful night, we open the gate and people start streaming in. Where do all these people come from?

Oh, the magic of the garden. It fills itself.

It really is a special place. You would never know you're smack in the middle of Philly. Enclosed in wrought iron gates, the space is sanwiched between our historic colonial boutique hotel and the more modern restaurant building. "It's an oasis!" Our owner has taken to saying, "Like you're in a little village in the south of France." She might be effusive, but she's right.

We are all happy for the boom in business and thrilled to spend more time outside. The mood of guests and staff alike is instantly elevated just by being alfresco. But the garden brings with its happy-making magic a host of complications and challenges.

We Just Want to Sit

It's a gorgeous day, and a goregous place, and so I want to sit here nursing the cheapest drink on the menu for as long as I can possibly get away with.

I don't mind that people are lining up to wait and lobbing dirty looks in my direction. I like this spot, and I'm going to hold onto it until the staff drag me out kicking and screaming.

We Don't Care About Your Restaurant

A variation on the theme above. We just like the garden. A lot. We are not interested in your food, your service, your philosophy. We just want to be outside. We're taking our business meeting out here, with big posters and portfolios and setting up shop. We're taking over. We'll order a beer or two and an appetizer for five people and camp out all night.

It's A Lot of Territory to Cover

It's amazing how increasing the space by two makes everyone's job three (four? more?) times as hard.

Our inside dining room is small and compact, and so you can see all the tables in a minute and assess: table 19 has been waiting awhile; table 22 is having a short rib-induced orgasm. The garden is really big and sprawling, and you can't see anyone from anywhere. Table 101 is behind a tree, and table 42 is behind a fountain.

Also, the kitchen is inside, the bar is inside (we just bought an antique bar for outside...that story coming soon!). So our poor chef is yelling "pick up, pick up, pick up!" with increasing urgency, and the whole staff is scattered around behind the brick wall, far away from the kitchen.

It Gets Really Hot

We've only just had our first taste of this yet, but in the height of the sticky Philly summer, the heat is brutal. It's one thing to sip an icy cocktail and nibble on duck prosciutto. It's quite another to run around carrying trays of things and steamy dishes from a steamy kitchen. One hour into the shifts, everyone could use a shower.

The waiters want to know how we will tweak our uniform for the dog days. They need to look professional and put together, but as cool as possible. Suggestions welcome.