Last week I worked a dinner shift and at the new job and dinner is what it’s all about. People come in there ready to drop some coins and I was happy to help them out. It’s funny when you’re the new guy because you want to know all the answers to everything, but you just don’t yet. When people ask me which is better, the lobster or the strip loin, do they really think that the restaurant lets the servers sample that? No. We get a shift meal of pasta and salad or tacos. So when I say that the lobster is so delicious because it has a subtle taste of the smoke from the wood in the oven, I am blowing said smoke up your ass. I just repeat what I have heard other customers say. And if every single person who orders the arctic char says it’s the most wonderful piece of fish they have ever had in their mouth, then I am going to say the same thing. Have I actually tasted it? No. No, I have not. When it comes to wine service, it’s even more difficult. I can look at the list and tell you how it is described (citrus with a cherry aftertaste and a full rich flavor of apple fucking blossoms…) but I have not really had it. But the other night, I had a big shot in my station. He was president of some major company and owns about 1000 restaurants around the world and I am pretty sure none of them are called Pizza Hut or Applebee’s.
“Pardon me, but do you have a sommelier here?” he asks me.
“No sir, we don’t, I’m sorry.” He reminded me of a Grey Poupon commercial. “Can I help you?” As soon as the words left my mouth, I regretted it, because unless he was going to ask me about a California Cooler or some cheap ass Yellow Tail Chardonnay, I wasn’t going to be able to follow through on my suggestion.
“Yes, I would like a good bottle of wine. What would you recommend?”
My mind started to race. “Should I just pick a random bottle? Which one? The most expensive? If it’s expensive it must be good. How do you pronounce that shit anyway? Maybe my two nights in Sonoma wine country over the summer was enough to make me come up with an educated guess. Oh fuck., I dunno.” Finally, I said to the man this: “Sir, I am going to be completely honest with you. I work mostly lunches. My wine knowledge is not what it should be. I could make up something so you would think I knew what I was doing, but I think you would rather me admit this to you. Would you let me find someone who can assist you the way you deserve to be?”
The man paused and I thought I had just royally fucked up. He tilted his head and squinted his eyes as if he was so supremely disappointed with me, the service, the restaurant and the entire wine making industry. He sat up a little straighter and cleared his throat. “Young man?” (Brutally long pause.) “I appreciate your honesty and integrity. Thank you for that. And yes, would you mind asking someone else to make a recommendation for me?” I may be paraphrasing that last part, because honesty I got a little woozy when he called me young. I sent someone over who knows the wine menu backwards and forward and he helped the man choose the most perfect bottle of wine.
The gentleman left me a huge tip at the end of the night, presumably because I was an honest upstanding waiter who was willing to admit to his faults if it meant giving the customer better service. Or maybe he tipped me huge because he and his table polished off a couple bottles of wine and several Grey Goose martinis and he was too trashed to tell the difference between his bills in his wallet . Either way, he left happy and so did I.