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The Serial That Takes You to Dinner
by Chef Bob Munnich
Back of the House is a real chef's fictional story about running a restaurant and the politics behind the scenes that diners rarely see.
Jan came through the door first, and it closed behind her with a thud. Tom soon followed. The baby sitter sensed there was some tension. Tom greeted her and asked how the kids were. Jan went straight to the phone. While Tom was reviewing the kids' behavior with the baby-sitter he could hear Jan on the kitchen phone. Tom paid Ginny twenty dollars for her four hours, and said good night. Then he slipped into the kitchen to eavesdrop on Jan's conversation.
Jan was fuming. She obviously had called the restaurant, and was on hold, waiting for the manager. When he came to the phone, Jan described the situation. Realizing she was talking to Marcel, she let him know who she was by pointing out how "he" gave "her" table away. He remembered and was definitely doing some serious listening, because she was doing some serious talking.
"Then, to top it all off, when I saw the bill it was wrong. Not only do you insult me with poor service, but then you steal my money!" she finished up. "The wine we never got was on the bill, and based on that my husband over-tipped"
Marcel was now ready to speak. "Madam, I am very sorry that you were not pleased with your dining experience. I assure you that this is not typical of an evening with Tuttopronto. I would like to do something to make it up to you."
Jan, skeptical as always, said "I don't think you can. My husband and I don't get to go out very often, and this night was a tragedy. You couldn't possibly change what has already happened."
Marcel, very apologetically (he was getting good at this), told her that he would immediately credit her charge card to reflect the proper charges, and he would even change the tip to reflect twelve percent. After doing so he promised to call her back and confirm the new total.
She agreed that this would be the least she expected. She definitely would fight the credit card charge if he didn't.
After informing him that she would only be awake for another hour, she coldly said good night to Marcel.
Well, now it was time for bed. Tom hated it when Jan was upset before bed. Tom was the kind of guy who liked to talk things out. Jan was more like a pressure cooker. She stewed about everything until she blew up. The only way Tom was going to get some sleep was if he hashed this thing out with Jan right away.
"I'm sorry the night didn't go better, honey", he said sheepishly, trying to get a reading on Jan's mood after the phone call.
"Oh, I'm just upset with the restaurant. How can they expect to be in business if they let shoddy work like that go unchecked. Don't they realize that their responsibility is to take care of their guests? I just wish we had had a better time."
Tom thought to himself, "Boy I'm glad she forgot about the tip thing. I liked the waitress. I think she just was having a bad night. She deserved to pay her rent this month. Just because she forgot to bring something is no reason to put her down." Tom believed in rewarding a job well done, not punishing mistakes. He felt that the tip was appropriate.
Just then the phone rang. Jan answered it. She was expecting Marcel to call but it was her girlfriend Phoebe on the phone.
"Well how was the restaurant?" Phoebe asked. "We're bringing a couple of Joe's prospective clients there tomorrow night. I hope it was great. He needs this account."
"Oh, don't get me started!" Jan said. But she started anyway. After reviewing all the dirty facts, Jan said, "Well I don't think I'll ever go there again." After hearing the details, Phoebe agreed. She made plans to cancel her reservation. She was disappointed, but didn't want to take any chances.
Jan said good-night and hung up the phone. As she was getting into the shower, the phone rang again. This time Tom grabbed it. It was Marcel.
"Good evening sir, this is Marcel, the manager at Tuttopronto. I wanted to call and let you know I adjusted your credit card bill to reflect the new charge. I am dreadfully sorry that you did not have a pleasant experience at our restaurant."
Tom reassured Marcel that he knows "things happen" sometimes, and he was sure it wasn't typical.
Marcel humbly explained to Tom that he didn't believe that things like this should "ever" happen to guests of "Tuttopronto". He explained that after consideration, he could not possibly charge them for their meal. He is in the business of making his guests happy, and he had failed. He wouldn't charge a guest for services he hadn't delivered.
Tom was a little shocked at Marcel's generosity, but insisted that Marcel charge him for the server's tip.
Marcel refused, informing him that the waitress felt awful also, and wanted him to apologize for her. Marcel then asked for Tom's address, so he could send him the old and new credit card slips. Tom was pleased. He gave Marcel the address and said good night.
While getting ready for bed, he told Jan about the conversation. She was pleased that they weren't being charged for dinner, but still was frustrated and unhappy about the evening. She decided that no matter what Marcel had done, she still would never return to "Tuttopronto".
Tuesday afternoon an envelope arrived with the "Tuttopronto" logo on it. Tom didn't make much of it. "Just the receipt, I suppose" he thought to himself. He left it for Jan to open. When she got home she hung her keys by the door and started flipping through the day's mail. She got to the "Tuttopronto" envelope, opened it, and couldn't believe what she saw.
Do you think the restaurant did the right thing? Was Jan just over-reacting? Would you decide never to go back? What would you have done if this happened to you? Do you think Mandy still has a job? Should she? What do you think was in the envelope?
Copyright © 1996, 1997 Bob Munnich. All Rights Reserved.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
Copyright © 2008, Forkmedia LLC. All Rights Reserved.