Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hip Hop at The Supper Club Part 2

The night proceeded in a normal fashion with big band music and gourmet food for New York's upper crust and around ten PM we had our final seating. As promised I organized the busboys to begin stripping the dining room of tables and chairs as they were vacated so by 11:30 the room was pretty empty. It was about that time that, as I was cashing out the last of the waiters at the service bar, that Tito, the bar back, approached me.
"J.R.," he said, tooling up to me as I stuffed a fist full of green backs into the register, "you better take a look outside, bro."
I followed him to the service stairs just a few short steps from the bar where the staff congregated to smoke, and cracked the side door onto 47th street. There was a line snaking back towards Eighth Avenue as far as the eye could see of people waiting to get into the club. "Holy shit, we're going to be busy!" I said.
Tito gave me a funny look, "And?" he asked raising an eyebrow, "What else?"
I focused a minute longer on the crowd. It was composed of hip hop 'Gangstas'. I drew in a deep breath, we weren't ready for this and at that very moment a group in the crowd noticed us, noticing them, and all at once executed a mad rush at the big, metal service door. We only managed to get it slammed shut just in time and then the banging started as if all the demons in hell were crashing at the door.
"What are we gonna do, bro?" Tito demanded as a couple of waiters coming off duty strolled down from the upstairs kitchen, their bow ties loose, their white dinner jackets un-buttoned.
"What's all that banging?" one of them asked, reaching out to the crash bar to pop open the door.
I grabbed his hand just in time. "Do not do that!" I ordered through clenched teeth.
"Stay here," I ordered Tito, "and make sure no one opens that door!" Then I stepped back into the club where the staff scrambled madly to de-construct the posh venue down to its bones. Scanning above the heads of the crowd, I caught sight of Joe, our erstwhile floor manager. He was standing there in his wool suit and round glasses sucking up to some departing silver fox in a Brooks Brothers blazer.
I made a bee line towards him across the crowded floor, "Joe," I started.
But he whipped around and cut me off, "Not now." He hissed through clenched teeth, and then swung back to continue his chat, something about the history of the theater the club was in. I realized anything else would be pointless so I waited the full five minutes while he continued his desultory conversation. What made it worse was that I could see two out of my three bars from where I stood, the staff, in the absence of direction, getting nothing done while I knew we had to prepare for war.
Finally his conversation with the departing guest concluded, he turned to me, an irritated look on his face, "Couldn't you see I was talking to someone, J.R.?"
"Right. Sorry. Have you looked outside, Joe?"
"No." He replied and made to move off.
I put my hand on his arm, "I need your approval to pull the glassware off the bars….we need to use plastic tonight."
"No." He replied as he walked quickly away from me. "We're using glass, just like we do every night."
"Look outside and then tell me how you feel." I called to his retreating back.
I found Tito where I'd left him, guarding the side door. "Tito, take off the dinner jacket, we're working in T-shirts tonight. I'm going to start getting the glassware off the bar, why don't you go start bringing plastic cups to the bars. And if you see Big Mark (our head bouncer) ask him if we can have a radio on each bar in case there's trouble." Tito sped off and I called out to one of the other three bartenders working with me on the main bar. "Ronnie, lock all the bottled beer up into one of the coolers, we're not selling anything but tap in plastic cups tonight."
Suddenly Joe was there peering over the bar at me. "J.R.," he said, and he had a ring of keys in his hand, "Take this, you're in charge tonight."
I stared at him.
He stared back, and then he dropped the keys on the counter. "I have a family emergency," he reiterated, "I have to go." Then he turned on his heels and was gone.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hip Hop at the Supper Club Part 1

It was back in the early 90's and I was working at Supper Club on West 47th in Manhattan's Theater District. It was a good gig, pleasant, there was a 10 piece Big Band on stage and in between sets they would roll videos of 30's and 40's music, kind of MTV for the nostalgic and the geriatric. As for me, I was in a great spot, working on the main bar five nights a week, wearing a white dinner jacket and bow tie, shaking the martinis, flirting with the waitresses and being well paid for my trouble. Of course there was trouble in paradise, and a lot I didn't know; like the club was ridiculously expensive to run, an outdated and untenable business model which the owners had not foreseen and at first did not acknowledge.  Instead they went through manager after manager, blaming each one in turn for the financial shortcomings of the club. And then one day they hired a tall, thin, Swedish hipster named Rick and with him a bunch of downtown club guys. At first I couldn't figure it out because for the initial week, after an inaugural visit, we didn't see the new GM at all. His boys did hang around but they didn't interfere with any of the operations or even mix with any of the staff, instead they left the day to day operations to the manager Joe, who had always handled them, and they kept to the office, looking fabulous and talking on the phones.
I showed for work on the first Friday of the week that the Swede took control of the club. I picked out a white dinner jacket that would fit me and looked up Joe, the floor manager, to get my briefing for the night.
"Well, J.R.," he said, pushing his horn rimmed glasses further up the bridge of his long nose, "We've got a party of forty at 8pm. They're going straight to the tables but we need to set aside a case of Grigich Hills to pour for their dinner and then there's a party of thirty at 8:30 and they have a cocktail hour. It's open bar, but only up to premium, I don't want any one drinking the fucking Louis 13th or those expensive fucking grappas."   Joe, who could be an arrogant prick, then turned his back on me to indicate that the interview was over so I turned to go, but then he called me back in the absent minded way of one who has forgotten something, "Oh and J.R., I almost forgot, can you get the bus boys organized for me around 11pm, we're going to flip the whole place over into a party room at mid-night, we're going to have a DJ and we need to get the tables and chairs out. You don't mind working late do you J.R.?"
Well I didn't, it all sounded like extra money to me so I responded cheerfully, "Any love is good love man. Who's the party for?"
"Well it's not going to be a party exactly, J.R., more like an event, cash bar. You've heard of Russell Simmons or Funk Master Flex?"
Well I hadn't, so I shrugged.
He shrugged back, "Neither have I. Well, that's it." He concluded and turned away.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Visit

    When my son was just two years old my wife and I came to a decision that New York City was too tough of a place to raise a family so we bought a contract on a pre-construction house in Miami and headed south for the land of eternal summer. I was a GM in an upscale place in Manhattan at the time and didn't think I'd have much trouble setting myself up in a good job in South Florida, but I was wrong. The restaurant culture outside of New York is different from any place else and I wasn't connected there the way I was back home so it took me some time to find a job, especially in light of the fact that I was looking during the economic down turn immediately following 911. In fact it took six months to find anything and when I did, it was as an assistant manager for a chain restaurant. At first I was miserable and full of self pity, all I could think of was "How the Mighty Have Fallen", but I gradually got used to it. I mean I had to eat, and I had to pay the mortgage and the GM I worked for, Anthony, was a good guy, hard working and competent, about my age and with a young kid in my son's age group. Our wives got along too and we became friends, and that more than anything else, is why it hit me so hard when the job caught up with him.
    There's this concept they have in chain restaurants which at the time was foreign to me, it's called a "visit". For anyone in the industry slaving away 60-70 hours a week, missing weekends and holidays with their loved ones and grinding it out in the greasy trenches it is truly, a thing of dread. The visit you see is an inspection of the facility, from the quality of the food to the cleanliness of your storage shed, to the accuracy of your bookkeeping, to the performance of your staff, everything is inspected under a microscope and while you can, and better, prepare for it, no one can ever be 100%, there are just too many variables. It is, in fact, beyond a certain level of preparation, merely a popularity contest.
    Now Anthony had been the GM in this location for several years and for most of that time produced good numbers. But in the past year, six restaurants opened in a three mile radius from ours with the inevitable consequence that our sales began to decline and once sales begin to decline in a restaurant everything else starts to go south as well. You see everything is based on a percentage of sales, in particular labor, so when sales go down labor goes up and when that happens you have to cut labor or there's hell to pay. But when you cut labor and you get busy, you don't perform well, it all ends in customer complaints that further reduces sales which in turn snowballs the problem.
    So we were getting a lot of pressure from corporate and I and the other assistants were on a six day work week. Anthony had actually gone five weeks without a day off just trying to pick up the slack. The ob was also becoming an increasingly hostile environment where the employees who were being asked to work harder in fewer hours were becoming ever more resentful. It may have been taking its toll on me, but it was really kicking Anthony's ass. He was so worried about losing his job and his health insurance and his home that he was sleeping only about four hours a night and spending every waking hour in the restaurant working as hard as his body would allow. I watched the poor guy transform over a period of two months from a vibrant, humorous, healthy thirty three year old man into a shadowy, pale, almost spectral shell, he started losing weight and hair. Sometimes I would spy him working in the kitchen and I could see his hands were shaking and every day he was getting angry threatening calls from the area director and rude e-mails from the corporate office.
    One day while we were doing prep in the morning because the guy who was supposed to do it hadn't bothered to show up, he confided in me; "J.R." he said, "I don't know what I'm going to do; I barely ever see my kids anymore and my wife's been talking divorce. John (the area director) wrote me up twice this month for poor performance, and in this economy I don't know where I'm going to find another job when they fire me."
    I shook my head sympathetically about to offer some empty words but the phone rang just in time and he ambled off to answer it. He came back a few minutes later and he looked like he'd seen a ghost. "That was John," he said, "The regional vice president will be here on Friday and John says if anything goes wrong its going to be my ass. That's what he said, my ass! Like I'm some kind of kid instead of a grown man killing myself to give him impossible results."
    Well we spent the next four days scrubbing and cleaning and generally busting our ass until that restaurant shined and sparkled like a diamond. They arrived at two pm in the afternoon Guy, the regional and John the area director and right away they criticized us for having too much staff on. Of course if we'd had any less on they would have criticized us for that too. But that was just their opening salvo, they then they proceeded to toss the place down to the minutest details and they found fault with everything. When they were done they sat poor Anthony down and grilled him like a couple of hard boiled detectives in some dime store novel after which they left, well satisfied with themselves, to hit up a strip club on the company dime.
    I approached Anthony as he was packing his briefcase in the office and asked him how everything went. "Not good." He said, "I'm going to go home, I don't think I can take anymore today. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow and we'll get started on their list."
    I nodded and said good night and as he was walking out the door I noticed him twitch and clutch his side. About twenty minutes later I answered the phone by the host desk and it was Anthony calling from his car, "J.R." her said, "I forgot to tell you; Jane and Ellen switched shifts for......." All of a sudden we were cut off. I stood there holding the lifeless piece of plastic in my hand for a few seconds then dialed his cell back but it went right to voice mail.
   Well I worked my way through an uneventful shift that night occasionally wondering why Anthony hadn't called back because it wasn't like him but not letting it bother me too much because I also understood, if after the day he had, he didn't want to. Then just before closing I got a call, and it was from my wife, who also happened to be a good friend of Anthony's wife. She cleared up the mystery for me; why Anthony hadn't called back, you see, it seems while he was driving home he had a massive heart attack, drove off the road and died. Sometimes I think there should be a warning label on the job postings for restaurant management jobs, just like a pack of cigarettes.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The System's Down, Part 3 of 3

"What did you do?" My voice drilled into the phone, "don't you know it's Rush Hour Saturday Night!!?"
"Calm down, you have a corrupt file server, I'm resetting things, you should be back up in five minutes." The faceless voice of Glen oozed through the phone line at me.
"Should I put you on hold?" I asked hopefully.
"No, I call you back. I have to escalate the problem," he replied evenly.
I looked at the clock, it was 8:05. "Five minutes?" I repeated, but he was gone and now Donny's voice came panicking through the headset;
"They're running out of checks!!"
The big plastic box marked 'Crash Kit' was open on the desk in front of me, there were maybe a hundred paper checks still inside, the thing was meant to accommodate a small bump in the road, a brief power surge, not a long term system failure. I scooped up the checks and returned to the kitchen where I detailed one of the hostesses to pass them out then I went back behind the line to orchestrate the chaos of hand written orders being pushed at the cooks over the expo line. A half hour went by and every time the phone rang I looked up hopefully, but there was no call and we kept pushing food into the window. Through the window I could see waiters hurrying out with plates and back with re-fires, bearing tales of enraged customers and begging for table visits that neither Donny nor I could make. Another hour went by and IT didn't call and the orders kept coming, by the to-go station I could see servers bent over calculators and scraps of paper, toiling like accounting clerks in the stone age while behind the line I was sweating and squinting at sloppy orders trying to sell complete tables from the disparate scraps of paper (For we'd now run out of 3 part checks and orders were coming in any old how) to Donny on the other side who was having a real struggle now, getting overwhelmed servers to run food. 
I caught up a bit and glanced at the clock; 9:30.
The host called through the head set, "Tables 21, 34 and 83 all want to speak to a manager!"
I broke away and headed out to the dinning room, table 34 was the closest; a 4 top with a fat, middle aged couple and two kids. The fat middle aged man was in surgical scrubs and even from a distance I could tell he was pissed off.
As I approached the table he was shaking his head as if in disgust, "You're the manager?" He demanded, looking me up and down as if I were some kind of gross object.
"Right," I said, thrusting out my hand for him to shake and introducing myself.
He Ignored my outstretched hand keeping his own folded across his chest, "No wonder," he said, still staring at me through hairy eyeballs.
"No wonder, what?" I asked.
"No wonder this place is being run like crap, look at you!"
I looked down and I must admit I've looked better, there were grease stains covering my button down and my black Chinos were speckled with flour, my usually spit shined shoes inundated with food particles. I dug down deep and somehow managed to conjure up a lame smile, "Sorry," I said, "you see we've been having a a bit of a tough night. Can you tell me what happened here, maybe I can try and make it better for you....."
He let out a little frustrated laugh and stood up, dropping his napkin onto the table, his family following suit, and started to walk away, then he half turned back to me, "You're honestly that incompetent," he said, "that you don't even know what happened!?"
I shrugged my shoulders as my headset crackled back to life, "J.R., J.R.," it was the voice of my assistant Donny, "I really need you on the line, I can't get anything out of these guys....."
I pressed in the button, about to respond when the to-go girl cut in, "J.R., I've got a guest complaint on line one."
"Be right there, Ashley, then I'll be on the line, Donny."
"Forty open, fifteen parties on the wait....." came the voice of the hostess.
I looked over and noticed table 83 was already empty so I didn't go there, but 21 was waiting for me and this time when I stopped table side the guy actually shook my hand.
"I don't like to complain," he said, then he looked at his date, "I never complain, do I?"
"No," she said, "he never complains, "But our food took like forty five minutes to get to the table and when it came it was supposed to be a seafood platter with  the shrimp fried, not grilled, no sauce on the crab cake, three clams instead of three oysters with all sauces and lemons on a separate plate, and look what I got!"
I looked down, he had a seafood platter, the way we make it. I sighed, it's always the special orders that get fucked up, its just got too many moving parts when there are that many modifications, somethings bound to go wrong. I sighed, "I'm sorry," I said, "We're having a tough night. Can I have it re-done for you?"
"And wait another 45 minutes?" he said, "No way. I'll just salvage what I can from the wreckage."
I nodded, "I'll take it off the bill. Sorry we disappointed you."
I picked up the phone in expo while everything burned around me and listened to a woman who was enraged that her chicken wings which she wanted to be all flats tossed in BBQ sauce instead of mixed in Buffalo sauce still had one wing in the bunch. I took her address and promised to send a gift certificate. Then, since I was at the phone anyway, I dialed the number for IT and after a few voice mail messages and pressing innumerable buttons I finally got someone on the line. A woman with  a fine southern drawl.
"Glen, no Glen's not available right now, he's on break."
I gripped the black, plastic receiver so hard in my hand that my knuckles turned white, "What?" I croaked. I gave her my case # and asked if I could speak to anyone else.
"No," she said, "It's just Glen here right now, but he should be back in a half hour or so."
I hung up the phone and jumped back on the line. It took forty-five minutes to clear the window and by the time it was through we were off the wait and there were only about four or five menus open. I decided to close the doors about ten minutes early and just as I finished that task one of the servers came to me and said Glen from IT was on the phone.
"You should be coming back up now," he said.
"What about the money?" I asked.
"You're going to have to reconcile it by hand and then enter it all into the system one check at a time." He said.
I looked at the clock and it was almost mid-night. It would be five or six AM before we would be done and I had to open in the morning at seven.................Some days are like that.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

I make a bad decision? Part 2 of the system's down.

"J.R., J.R.," Samantha, one of the more sensible servers, says, tapping me on the shoulder as I push through the crowd at the waiter's station en route to the gauntlet of complaints in the dining room.
"Not now," I mutter, stressed to the max; the sacrificial lamb on his way to be slaughtered in atonement for the sins of chaotic circumstance. Samantha, however isn't having that and pulls me back by the shoulder.
"You don't have the option of ignoring me, J.R.," she says, "The system's down, you have to deal with it."
I stop in my tracks, look over at the terminal where the waiters are gathered. It's terminal # 1, The Master Terminal, the main computer. All the other POS terminals are what are referred to in restaurant networks as slaves.
Anyway, I do a quick calculation and hand Samantha my keys, "Go to the office and pull down the box marked 'Crash Kit', set up the manual credit card machine in to-go with a calculator and the price lists you find in the box. In the box you'll also find manual checks, they're split into packs of twenty-five and each pack has a cover sheet with the check numbers and a place to jot down the name of the server who's receiving them; tell Cindy, the hostess that I want her to pass them out and give me back the cover sheets." Samantha, who like I said, is quick on her feet, nods her understanding and sprints off toward the office.
I turn to the master terminal and there's a message flashing, a virtual button that asks the question; Make File Serve? I consider it then go to the back office to call IT. On the way I stop by the fry station and pull my assistant off, I call for the bus boy, he's been training on the station and even though he's only had two shifts on fry and the tables in the dining room won't turn as fast (which is probably a good thing) I give him a pair of plastic glove, a cook's hat and a field commission.
"Donny," I tell my assistant, "we've deployed the crash kit, I'm going in the office to call IT, Take over expo so you can run the line with paper and mouth and brief the staff."
Donny looks pale, pale and a little greasy, but he nods his head gamely and I continue to the office, muttering a few Hail Mary's under my breath. As I pass the salad station I notice a man with an angry red face staring balefully at my stressed out expo, I turn towards him because you can't have angry guests invading the kitchen, there's a terrified waitress standing behind him, "I TOLD HER WELL DONE AND THIS IS RAW!!!!" He roars just as I approach. I take a hot minute to glance at the meat in the guy's hand, it's mid-well and really not the live or die issue this asshole is making it out to be.
"Sir," I tell him, "If you'll just return to your table we'll cook up your meat and bring it out to you."
He turns to me, smoke gushing from his ears, "AND WHO ARE YOU!!?" He demands.
"I'm the manager," I reply in a calm voice.
"What's your name?" He asks, this time in a lower, tenser voice.
"J.R." I reply.
"Well J.R., I'm going to need the number for your corporate office, every time I come here-"
I cut him off, "That's fine sir and certainly your prerogative. In the meantime I'm going to have to ask you to leave the kitchen. We'll bring the steak out to you when it's ready."
"I need that number, that number and your last name too."
Normally I'd kiss the guy's ass for him or whatever it was he needed, but I just didn't have time. "Fine, I'll send it all out to your table now you have to leave the kitchen before I HAVE YOU ESCORTED OUT!" I lost it and raised my voice.
The guy must have realized he'd pushed too far because without another word he turned and walked out. Then I realized that the entire kitchen had come to a stand still, "Everybody back to work!" I shouted, the scene around me returned to bedlam and I entered the office. After ten rings and two automated menus I got a recorded message at the 24 hour IT help desk. I left a message out lining my problems and slammed down the receiver. And that's when I noticed the message flashing on the screen of the back office computer, it said 'fileserver corrupt.'
My head set crackles in my ear and Cindy the host reports in; "We've got 45 open menus and eighteen party's on the wait."
I make a decision and shut down the back office computer, then I rush back through the kitchen where Donny is calling out tickets; "Walking in two sirloin mid rare, one chicken pasta......" I feel guilty but I keep going and don't stop till I get to the Master Terminal, the same message is flashing; "Make File server?" I touch the icon and four numbers appear, one on each corner of the screen and now the message is changed, now it says; "Enter Code." And there's a number pad on the screen. I think hard for a minute and then enter the four numbers from the screen and get back an error message. I bite my lip and think again, this time I add the four numbers together and enter the product. The screen flashes away and enters DOS, my pulse quickens as I watch the strings of code roll by. Still thinking I slap a sign onto the computer screen that says "DO NOT TOUCH." Then I rush around the restaurant turning off all the other terminals. When I get back to the master there's a message flashing directing me to restart the terminal, so I re-boot and after about a minute the terminal comes back up and it's operational and ready to use only now, instead of saying Master across the bottom it now says; FILESEVER. I shout out to the near by waiters that we have one terminal up and then I go around and one by one, re-boot the remaining terminals.
I head back into expo where tickets are rolling in again and I start working with Donny to clean out all the manual orders. It's hard as hell, and it takes more than a half hour, but we get it all out and I head into the dining room and begin apologising and explaining to the guests, most of who are now eating and actually pretty cool and understanding. Then Ashley, the to-go girl calls me on the head set to tell me I have a call from IT on line one.
The IT guy's name is Glen and he tells me he's been trying to dial in and can't seem to get through. I explain what happened and everything I did and he's pissed; tells me to go into the office and turn on the computer so he can get in and see what's going on. I got no choice so I do it. I'm still on the phone being lectured by the guy who is now in control of the mouse on my back office computer which he is moving furiously around in DOS when I get a shut out from Donny over the head set; "J.R., the system's down again!!!"

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Just before the System goes down. Part one of the system's down

So it's seven o'clock on a Saturday, seven o'clock on a Saturday; we seat 375 people and we're full. We're full and we have 25 parties on a wait. Almost 100 open menus with 14 servers on, a full bar two deep, three bartenders on, two expediters in expo, three to-go people with about thirty five open orders and a line of impatient people snaking out the side door waiting to put their orders in. I've only got five guys and a manager working behind the line, cooking for all these people, because one of my cooks got arrested the night before and another walked out ten minutes ago because he was new and discovered he couldn't take the pressure.  A wave of orders floods the kitchen and they call for me on the head set, they're going down behind the line. I rush towards the back line, grabbing an apron as I go, several servers pawing at me in a futile attempt to get my attention, I've got to cook. Fry is where they need it the most, that's the station where the new kid broke and ran moments before and my assistant manager is working there now and he is not gifted with fry skills. He's not gifted with fry skills and he's got maybe thirty orders hanging and more coming in, I watch as the top half of his screen goes red and the page counter clicks back another screen. His lead tickets on twenty and he barely has half the food dropped. I dig in, while the guys around me struggle to put plates in the widow and the expediter screams shrilly for runners. I burn myself at least twice and I'm so focused that I barely notice that, I also ignore the waiters who come after me, one after another, trying to get my attention. I just can't, I know they have problems I need to tend to, but if I don't get that food up in the window nothing else is going to matter, so I tuck in my chin and I keep going. Finally, fry caught up I swing around to the other side of the line to where the expediters have created another bottleneck, it's not really their fault, the servers have come to something of a standstill. I push aside one of my expediters and start organizing plates onto trays and pulling tickets, then I start barking for runners and  don't get ignored. Ten minutes later the window is cleared out and one by one servers begin to approach me; "Table thirty two says she has a hair in her salad, can I get a table visit?" "The guy on twenty-two is furious that we ran out of pecan pie, he says he wants to know what kind of F-----g place we're running here." And so on, so I heave a heavy sigh and head out into the dining room to run the gauntlet of petty, pissy complaints from petty, pissy people who feel the need to blow up, completely out of proportion, their responses to really minor problems just because they can get away with it. But I never make it out onto the floor, the entire computer system goes down and that will be the subject of my next post.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Addition by Subtraction

You know how they say the customer's always right? Well I'm here to tell you that sometimes your "best customer" can be the kiss of death for your business. So it's not an absolute truth that the best policy in business is pander to the customer's every whim. Sometimes, in fact, you have to discourage a little business to make a little money.
Back in the mid-nineties, down in the Times Square area of Manhattan I worked a bar in a French Bistro on 43rd Street. Prosperous business district teaming with office workers, tourists and theater goers. Every bar in the neighborhood was packed every night, but not Le Mark. Now that's not to say the bar at Le Mark was empty, no most of the seats were full, full of regulars; freaky regulars, cheap regulars, special regulars, loud regulars, creepy regulars. They all knew each other and felt that they somehow, collectively owned the place; They decided the music, the menu, the drink prices, how much alcohol went into which kind of glass and the buy back policy. They were special creatures, God's special creatures, and because they were there every night, they dictated how much money the bar would make and by extension the bartender. Oh, and here's the other thing, the thing I'm driving at; you see, they were creating the scene and because they were creating the scene, if you didn't fit in, you didn't stay long and you didn't come back. Come on, let me introduce you to some of them, the special creatures of God in Times Square as Shakedown Street approached the New Millennium.
I'm changing the names but I'm going to be as accurate as I can in my descriptions. This first one I'm going to call Brenda; Brenda was a big woman, I'd say she must have been in her early forties, but it's hard to be sure, she worked for the ACLU which had their headquarters near by, and she had very particular purchasing habits. Let me explain; these days I live in Florida and work in the corporate world where the customs are different from the free booting ways of Old New York back in the day. In the here and now I see Happy Hour chips, two for one drink specials, Ladies night and this and that, all very explicitly stated, all very official, incontrovertible. In my opinion it takes the art out of bartending, but whatever. Back then, in jolly old Manhattan we didn't have much of that bull shit, what we had was the custom of buy backs, unofficial and up to the bartender's discretion, within reason. These buy backs would generally occur on the third or fourth round, you'd just drop the drink on the bar and knock on the wood and the customer would know it was on the house. Now like I said, these buy backs were optional, to be used as a sales building tool, but this woman, this Brenda, she had the annoying habit of keeping a most careful track of what she called, in her annoying voice; her "freebies" as if they were her God given right and if she thought you were holding out; God help you! Of course this wasn't the real reason she had to go, this was just an annoying habit and sense of entitlement, and would become the mechanism of her leaving. Brenda would come in at 5:30 every afternoon and take the same spot near the service bar and there she would sit till closing consuming six to nine drinks, of which she expected 2-3 for free, torturing me and the waitstaff and pair bonding with another over weight, middle aged woman I'll call Gladys, and Gladys would drink even more and tip even less. Still none of this would justify the 86, but here's the thing; at 5:30 when they arrived they would start out at a reasonable volume but by the time 8pm rolled around and straight through to closing they would be howling at the moon, cackling and shouting at the top of their lungs and some of the stuff that would come out of their mouths for the whole Bistro to hear were offensive, for example, Brenda would erupt from her seat and shout out; "Who do ya gotta blow around here to get a drink?" every time she needed a round. And the whole carnival freak show playing out for couples and families sitting down to pre-theater, prix-fixe $45 menus.
Then there was George Lockhart the 3rd, who was the publisher of a group of trade journals and was the nicest guy in the world until the precise moment that he finished his third scotch and water at which point he would turn into an obnoxious, uninhibited pervert who would zero in on any vaguely attractive woman in the joint and pursue her in the most offensively inappropriate mean at his disposal. Needless to say, these women would leave and never return.
Steve DiAngelo would show up just about every other night, always impeccable in a tailor made suit and Italian made silk tie with a matching pocket square. He'd pay for his Tom Collins with a crisp, new C-note laying down a fresh one for each round. Then he'd start in on his conversation much to the merriment of Gladys and Brenda. It was what a psychologist would call word salad, a classic symptom of schizophrenia. It was okay, annoying but okay. That is until he began to pound the bar and exhibit other violent behaviour patterns. And so I would have to escort him out and he would always turn to me at the front door and admonish me, placing one thick finger to a blubbery lip; "Don't tell nobody!"
Well there were a lot of other pathetic creeps and freaks infesting the place than these, but this should give you an idea as to why the bar, and indeed the restaurant were not as busy as they should have been. You see, the customer isn't always right, sometimes the customer is killing your business. So after a meeting with the manager and the owner, a decision was made; It was time to cut off the freaks.
11:30 and Brenda was blind drunk, loud but only drooling a little bit and still functional.  She lifted her tab off the wood, her reading glasses perched on the tip of her nose. She stared at it for just a bit longer than normal before calling me over a look of friendly confusion on her boozy face.
"I think you made a mistake here, J.R.," she said, handing the tab over for my inspection.
I glanced at it very quickly and pushed it back towards her, "No mistake," I replied.
She pushed her glasses up the ridge of her nose, squinting myopically at me from behind the lenses, "No, you forgot two freebies, plus my freebie carryover from yesterday."
"No," I said, flinging my rag over my shoulder and focusing on her, "it's just that there are no freebies today."
She slammed her hand, palm down on the bar, "We'll see about that," she shouted, "I want to talk to Jean!" (Jean was the owner).
"He went home two hours ago."
"Give me his number!"
"I'm not giving you the guys home number, you can call him during business hours tomorrow."
"Well I'm not paying that bill until I speak with him."
"That's fine with me."
10 Pm the following night and George Lockhart the 3rd finished his third scotch and fixed his bleary eye on a fourtyishJuno sipping a kir royale down the end of the bar. I watched as he stood and stumbled down to her, stuck his hand rudely into the bowl of nuts just inside of her personal space and whispered something in her ear. Immediately she pulled away like she'd been stung, picked up her purse and stormed out. George Lockhart the 3rd snapped his fingers at me and pointed arrogantly at his empty glass. I dropped my bar rag and walked down to where he was seated. I placed my hands, palm down on the bar top and leaned in to his personal space.
George leaned back, surprised, "Can I get another drink?" He asked.
I shook my head, "George, you're cut off."
He looked at me as if I'd farted, "The money I spend here-" he began.
"Sorry," I said, "that's just the way it is."
"You do this," he said, "I'm not coming back."
"That's fine with me."
Steve DiAngelo I just intercepted at the front door on the way in. He seemed to know the drill because he didn't give me a hard time at all. And by the end of the month sales had doubled. Addition by subtraction or the customer's not always right.