View From the Kitchen

Hospitality should have nothing to do with the hospital; accidents shouldn't happen. But sometimes, even at the best of restaurants, bad things happen to good customers. And like an I Love Lucy episode, bad just gets worse. Below are a few of the funnier mistakes we've made at my restaurants -- that is, the ones that don't involve choking (never funny) or heart attacks (too serious) or anything to do with customers' cars (too expensive).

Cough, cough:Boulevard Bistrot is a small restaurant, about 65 seats, and one night, when the room was full early, I was at the host stand, admiring my crowd, satisfied at having so many people so early in the evening.

Then the customer at Table 32 coughed. And across the dining room, someone else coughed. Another cough here, another cough there. And then more coughs in rapid succession.

Soon I started to cough, and my eyes welled up. Tears fell down my face. Out in the dining room, there were frantic faces, coughing, eyes tearing. Handkerchiefs came out. Napkins covered mouths. Some people were getting up, leaving to get fresh air. The crowd looked at me, accusingly. I thought they were going to revolt.

Smoke began rolling from the kitchen. The dining room was getting hazy. I ran toward the disaster.

All I found was a cook toasting spices -- including red chili flakes -- for a curry.

They say that wonderful smells from the kitchen are great advertising. But spices that choke guests are hard to market.

Is that a Med Bowl in your ear? It seems that some employees are sadly lacking in awareness of their body space. We've had numerous discussions about giving customers the right-of-way down hallways or at the bar, but still servers accidentally crash into people. (When it begins happening, we try to have everyone slow down.)

Customers are usually understanding about spilled glasses -- especially when we're quick to pay the laundry bill. But once, a waiter, still in training, misgauged the spatial relationship of a customer's head to a Mediterranean Bowl -- a 14-inch platter, loaded with Middle Eastern noshes, and weighing two pounds.

The customer's ear immediately swelled up. We brought her ice, apologized profusely (it's hard to put a customer-service spin on beaning someone in the head), and sent the trainee home for good.

We added to our employee manual a new reason for termination. In addition to "refusing to perform one's job responsibilities" and "numerous complaints by customers," there's now "bodily injury to customers and/or co-workers."

You dropped it where? If something can happen, it will. One night, after their dinner, a family asked to see our garden patio. The manager took them there, and the waiter followed to return the credit card they'd left at the table. As he handed it to the guest, it fell -- almost in slow motion. It landed, vertically, in a one-fourth-inch-wide crack between planks in the patio. Not even a millimeter of plastic stuck out.

Everyone looked at each other. As it turned out, the card's owner was in town only for the weekend, and this was his only credit card. (Another amazing stroke of bad luck: Who has only one credit card?)

At least he was nice. He even stayed around for the painstaking half hour it took our busser, Javier, to jack up the planks.

Monica Pope is executive chef and owner of Boulevard Bistrot.

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