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Monday, September 19, 2011

Rick's on the Wharf: Sofia

This is an excerpt from my 2nd novel I am co-writing with a friend. The novel is a collection of perspectives from all the different positions in a restaurant. This particular chapter is written from the perspective of Sofia, a manager of the restaurant Rick’s on the Wharf. Enjoy!

As Luke dimmed the lights of the dining room, Sofia straightened up taller and poofed out her hair. This sent a subtle wave of perfume that graced the air around her—although too bad the intoxicating whiff was wasted on the lousy hostess, Gwyn. The dimming of lights from lunch to dinner was the cue that this night, Friday, had officially begun. Friday nights (along with Saturdays) were the nights that any magic—good or bad—was bound to happen. And Sofia would be damned if she wouldn’t be dressed for it in her sexiest animal print.
“Sofia, we got a 10-top at 8. Who should it go to?” asked Gwyn.
            Sofia scanned the line-up of reservations for the night. “What do we know about them?”           
Gwyn clicked on the side notes of Open Table. “Some financial investors…it says they just won something and are looking to celebrate.”
            Sofia envisioned the 10-top of businessmen at the end of their work-week looking to celebrate: martinis and calamari for the first course, steak and bottles of wine for dinner, and expensive scotch for dessert. “Hmm. Businessmen, potentially young and attractive…Give ‘em to Lola.”
“Isn’t that slightly bias, Sofia?”
            “No,” she snapped. “Listen, honey, this is a tough business. If you want to be a good host, then you gotta learn how to work the door.”
“Look, Sofia, I’m not here for life. I’m only here because my parents said they’d pay for my schooling and rent if I work at least three days a week for my own spending money. Someday when I finish school and get a real job, I’ll look back at this and laugh.”
            “Honey, I hope someday you do get a ‘real job’ where you sit behind a desk because you couldn’t make it in this industry. You have zero communication skills and the work ethic of a lazy ten year old who just wants to play video games. I’m sure you’re great at the books, sweetheart, but this industry’s reserved for hustlers who know the art of charm.”
            The insult should not have hurt Gwyn, who considered herself far too above the job to work menial pay anyhow, but it did. Sofia was just always so blunt. She’d tried pointing this out to her once, but all Sofia had said was, “Sugar, if you can’t handle the truth, you know where the door is.”
The truth was that if Gwyn were Sofia’s protégé (or if Sofia even liked Gwyn as a person), then she would’ve gladly taught Gwyn some tricks of the trade. First and above all else, the person running the door had to learn their servers’ capabilities. Take Josie for example. Josie was jubilant, wholesome, and was so excited to be a server trainer at Rick’s that she would greet her table with pom-poms if she could. A family of five in San Francisco for the first time would love to have Josie wait on them. In fact there’s nothing she’d love more than to up-sell pink lemonades to kids in “rockin’ ” animal shaped cups. Then there was Elton. Sure, he was 6’5, a complete goof and more than a bit eccentric, but the gentle giant was harmless; he worked his shifts and was content as long as he wasn’t buried. He was even so fascinated by the Europeans that he would actually do okay with them, mostly by saying outlandish shit like, “So is it true that French consider eating snails a delicacy? Cuz if so, then I would’ve been considered, like, a total king of my childhood. Oui oui.”  Then there was Ingrid, the vegan yogini hippy. She did best with low-maintenance locals who’d gotten stuck on the Wharf for some reason or other. As long as no one asked her which steak she recommended, she usually did all right.
            Sofia knew all her servers better than they even knew themselves. Upon first impressions, she knew immediately who her guests would be best paired with—with the same knowledgeable complexity as she would know how to pair a certain steak with wine. But still, she had to mismatch her guests and servers often. Otherwise, Elton would start complaining that he only got sat with foreigners, and Daniel would start bitching that Lola only got hot young businessmen that he wanted. Besides that, tables would not be properly rotated and server counts would be off. In order to prevent a full-out bitch-fest, Sofia had to take all the rules and throw them out the window throughout the night, which was usually when things would get messy. Elton sucked at taking big parties if he wasn’t teaming with his buddy Jack, Ingrid had no idea how to sell steak and wine to the plush guests in section 5, and Daniel became bitchy with too many old ladies in his section—“hens,” he called ‘em—who slowed down his service with hot tea and lattes. Things would run in a controlled sense of chaos—controlled, of course, because Sofia was responsible for it. But even though she deemed them necessary, those “mismatches” were always foreseen train-wrecks without the servers ever really knowing why.
Sofia knew that running the door was one of the most overlooked, yet tactical positions in the restaurant—why couldn’t Gwyn see the authority she had as a hostess? She had the power to give a couple the tiniest table on 27—the crappy deuce that sometimes the restroom door would hit on the way out. Or she had the power to make their experience by seating them on table 15; the circular elevated booth adorned in velvet in section 5, that was best reserved for guests who wanted to show off their expensive bottle of wine they’d be more inclined to order. Location, so true in the real estate world as a dining experience, was everything. That power to make or break that experience was entirely up to the host. And yet, here this key person Sofia was supposed to have running the door was nothing more than a spoiled trust-fund kid.
            Luke joined them just then at the host stand. “Hey, there Gwyn, how you, uh, doin’ today?” he asked, fiddling with his tie. Fidgeting was such a helpless habit with alcoholics.
            Gwyn scowled. “I’ve had a headache all day.”
            “Aww,” he cooed.
            “Drink some coffee,” Sofia smacked, unsympathetically.
            “Well if you wanna go home early, you can,” Luke shrugged.
            Gwyn lit up. “Really? Oh, that’d be great I have so much homework to do and—”
            “Excuse me!” Sofia cut in. “Honey, you can’t go anywhere. It’s Friday night, I need you here.”
            “But Luke just said—”
            “Luke says a lot of dumb things, but hear me out, you’re staying!”
            “Geez, Sofia,” Luke muttered, rocking back and forth on his toes. “I was just trying to—”
            “Well don’t,” she interrupted. “Running the house is my business and—”
            Two ladies walked up to the host desk just then. On cue, all of them straightened up and smiled their best fake smiles. Well, all of them, except Gwyn.
            “Two!” the old ladies barked.
            “Take ‘em to 37,” Sofia ordered Gwyn. It was Daniel’s section. He didn’t do well with old ladies and they would’ve been better suited with someone kind like Josie, but Sofia didn’t like their attitude and Daniel had been late.
            “Enjoy your dinner, ladies,” she smiled at them.
            “Ladies, enjoy,” Luke chimed in, even though they ignored both managers.
            Sofia dropped her smile as Luke skittered away and Gwyn took them to their table. Once she returned, Sofia made her rounds. Her heels tapped away across the floor, a slight echo stirring up behind her. She was pleased to see that as she turned the corners of the dining room, her employees were keeping busy. She was no idiot though. She knew more than half of them looked busy when they heard her coming, which was okay by her too. Besides, she already knew who her real work-horses were.
Saul was shining silverware, Dulce was lighting candles, Jack and Elton chatted about last night as they folded napkins, and Ramon was texting.
            “Ramon, get off that phone and go help Saul shine silverware,” she snapped. “Daniel, you just got sat.”
“I know,” he grunted, tying his apron with exaggerated irritation. “I seen ‘em dinosaurs stomping in.”
            She turned the last corner, finding Luke adjusting employees’ in-times from the morning. “Goddamnit, Luke. If you know competence isn’t your forte, why don’t you let people who are more capable handle the responsibility?” she blasted.
“What?” Luke exasperated, looking confused. It must’ve been too many big words in one sentence.
“Sweetie,” she softened her attack. “Let me handle the door and you handle your…whatever it is you do here.”
He looked sheepish. “Is this about Gwyn?”
“Don’t you think if the girl was deathly sick I would send her home?”
“Look, I’m sorry, okay? I just…I can’t do anything right today.”
Sofia felt sorry for many people in her lifetime, but never for drunks. It was such a selfish disease. But still, being the nephew of the owner, Luke had more job security than even she herself probably had. And like it or not, she had to learn how to deal with him.
“C’mon, Luke. We’ve got a ton of reservations tonight. But seriously, next time we’re hiring a host, let me do the interviewing okay?”
Not waiting for an answer, she turned the corner, her long zebra faux fur coat waving dramatically behind her as she clapped her hands at everyone sitting and goofing off in the empty back booths.
“C’mon, guys, it’s 5:00!  Who are our 5 o’clockers? Get on the floor, detail your section and put those napkins away. Jack, spray some Goddamn cologne on, you smell like cigarettes! Elizabeth, what section are you in?”
“Three,” she rolled her eyes, not pleased.
“Well get in your section three! Come on, let’s go! Hurry up!” She stopped Lola as she was walking away. “Sugar, what’s wrong?”
Lola looked surprised, even though she always wore her emotions clearly. “Nothiiiing.”
“Honey, spit it out.”
She sang like a canary. “It’s Günter. He’s such a jerk to me sometimes. I come in here, I do my job, I do a good job—”
“Honey, I’m gonna stop you right there. Günter was right in telling you that you need to be here at least ten minutes before your shift so you can be ready to go on the floor at the time you’re scheduled—not walk in strolling with a spring in your step two minutes after four, not even changed. If you want Günter to respect your hard work, then show him you can be professional.”
Lola nodded. “Okay.”
“Now come on. You’re one of my best employees. I’m giving you a 10-top of businessmen all looking for steak. I know you can handle it, right?”
Lola lit up. “Oh yes, of course I can!”
“And what’s the rest?”
“Wine, wine, wine,” Lola boasted, all-too-cheerfully repeating Sofia’s motto. “And I don’t mean the bitching.”
“That’s my girl. And where’s your lipstick or your lip-gloss, or whatever?”
            “Why, do I need it?”
“You just look a little pale, probably from before our talk. Go to the ladies’ room, freshen up and look your best. You’re my prettiest waitress here, and I want you looking sharp.”
“O-kay! I’m on my way now,” she chirped. She hurried to the restroom, the bounce back in her step.
Sofia applauded herself. She never felt bad that she’d never had children; she had an entire restaurant full of waiters instead. She made her way back to the host desk where Luke was sneaking peeks down Gwyn’s button-down blouse. Now how the hell am I gonna get rid of that host?

©Sarah C. Jiménez, All Rights Reserved 2011

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