Times being what they are, my restaurant is currently running with a skeleton crew. Like seriously, a crew of fossils and cartilage. On any any given night, there are only two staff members running the whole show; my boss who is the owner/chef and one other person each shift who is the server, bartender, busser, food runner, to-go person, host and telephone operator. My boss also washes all the dishes. Skeleton crew, indeed.
Two nights ago, we were slammed. With the phone ringing off the hook for pick-up orders and the iPad dinging every three minutes to alert us of another Grubhub. I barely had time to take care of the people who scoffed at the idea of COVID and ventured to eat indoors. My boss is standing in front of the grill that has no fewer than than ten burgers on it while simultaneously pan-searing chicken breasts, frying fries, making desserts and sautéing vegetables. I am bagging up to-go orders while trying to take orders and make two Manhattans at the very same time.
The phone rings again.
“No more to-go orders!” my boss yells across the open kitchen. “We can’t do it right now.” For someone who very rarely expresses emotion, the teensiest tinge of panic in his voice is slightly surprising.
I pick up the phone. “Hi there, can I help you?”
“I’d like to place an order to pick-up,” the woman on the other end of the line says to me.
“Unfortunately, we are just too busy right now to take anymore. Can I ask you to call back in twenty minutes, please?”
With a disgruntled sigh she agrees, so I hang up the phone and hop right back into the weeds.
Like clockwork, twenty minutes later the cordless phone in my apron rings again. I am standing at Table 15 taking an order and my boss immediately looks at me and shakes his head, so I send the call to voicemail. “She’ll call back,” I think.
And she does. Every thirty seconds for the next three minutes. But I am always too busy to answer it, feeling like I should give the bulk of my attention to the customers who are there in the flesh rather than someone on the phone who probably isn’t going to tip me anyway, so I let the phone ring in my apron one or two more times before silencing it. And then the phone just stops ringing at all. For the rest of the night, it’s as silent as a walk-in cooler when the fans are turned off.
At the end if the night when I’m leaving, I warn my boss he will probably have at least one or two messages on the answering machine. Thirty minutes later he texts me:
“You didn’t hang up the phone for 2.5 hours, so no messages.”
I must have accidentally left the phone on in my apron so anyone who called was getting a busy signal for over two hours. I felt awful.
The next day at work, I look at the caller ID and decide to call the woman back to apologize. I figure if I’m gonna be a bitch online, I can at least be kind in real life. Also, we can’t afford to lose a regular customer these days. I take a deep breath and dial the number which sends me to an answering machine.
“Hi, it’s Darron from the restaurant, I begin. “I am so sorry about last night and I want to explain what happened…”
As I tell the story, the woman picks up the phone and I instantly recognize the same disgruntled voice from the night before.
“Hello,” she grunts. “I’m here.”
“Oh my god, I am so sorry. I didn’t mean for that to happen-“
She interrupts me. “Yeah, I was really annoyed.”
“I understand that and I apologize. When you first called I did expect that in twenty minutes we would be able to take your order, but you happened to call back when I was taking an order at another table and-“
She interrupts me again. “Is Tim still the only one doing all the cooking?” she wants to know.
“He is”, I explain. “And I’m the only other one here. Last night was a perfect storm of business when you called and then I inadvertently left the phone on which is why you were probably getting a busy signal or going to voice mail for the rest of the night. Again, I am so sorry.”
“Well, in my opinion, he just needs to hire someone else to help him cook.”
Wait, did she just say that? In the middle of a fucking pandemic when my boss is struggling to keep his restaurant open and I am risking my life to go there so I can continuously be stiffed on to-go orders and bag up food for Grubhub, she thinks my boss should just come up with another $500 a week to hire someone else? “Inhale and exhale, Darron,” I think to myself.
“Well, in a perfect world, that’s what he would do, but we aren’t living in a perfect world right now so this is what it is. I just wanted to reach out to apologize for your inconvenience last night. I’m so sorry.”
One more disgruntled sigh and then, “Well, I appreciate the effort of the phone call. Good bye.”
I try to prove to the universe I’m not always a bitch and someone out bitches me. Fucking 2020.