As I drove into the parking garage of the hotel, I noticed the color of the sky shifting towards the shade of gray that I associate with my pajamas and old lifetime movies. I knew that if it actually started raining it would be a busy night. So I went in, slid my key into the safe deposit box where my bank is kept, set out the half consumed bottles of scotch and red wine, and began slicing limes. SportsCenter was playing on the tv behind me, and before I knew it people started drifting over to the bar for a quick beer or a glass of whiskey and coke. I saw a few of my regulars. Paul joined me around 5pm, earlier than usual, but like always he drank a few coronas and ate a wedge salad. While he was there, Wayne came down for a glass of red, and Kenny stopped by for a quick beer before heading to the pub to watch Monday Night Football.
And then the bottom fell out of the sky, and rain pounded the pavement outside the floor to ceiling windows.
Within twenty minutes the bar and the restaurant filled with guests all asking for menus and requesting glasses of water and iced tea. As the bartender, one of my responsibilities is to answer the calls that come in for room service. I take the order, write it on a form, and then pass it off to the server on duty who puts it in the system and then delivers the order when it is ready to go up. Normally, this isn't an issue as the volume of guests is fairly manageable. However, last night was unlike anything I've ever seen. It was almost as if every guest in the hotel conspired against our dining staff, consisting of one server, one supervisor and me, and decided to descend upon the dining room all at one time.
As guests found seats wherever they could, the room service phone began ringing non stop. For the next two hours I juggled 6 dining tables of guests, 6 guests dining and drinking at the bar, and over 50 room service orders. I ran between tables refilling water glasses, grabbing silverware, filling ramekins with extra salad dressing or extra tomatoes, refilling wine glasses, making martinis, pulling beer from the refrigerator, and jotting down room service orders to hand over to the server, who was also running wild. It was pure insanity, and it was no better in the kitchen. If you were brave enough to venture to the other side of the swinging door between the dining room and the kitchen, you would find one supervising cook slinging pans and flipping steaks with a non stop ribbon of orders sprouting from the ticket printer. It didn't help that it was his line cook's first time to work at night. And it didn't help that she didn't know what the dinner plates were supposed to look like. And while we're at it, it didn't really help that she didn't speak English.
The wait time for a burger went from the normal 20 minutes to about an hour, and before long room service callers were buzzing the phone again to check on the status of their food. About an hour into the chaos, a couple walked into the lounge area and requested menus and a couple glasses of wine. I brought their wine and they, apparently having taken in the sea of heads in the dining room impatiently tapping their fingers on their tables and the sweat dripping from my forehead asked if we were having trouble in the kitchen. I acknowledged that we were a bit short staffed. They requested an appetizer and said they didn't mind waiting. Not long after I put in their order for tomato artichoke dip, I answered a room service call and wrote down the order after the woman stated this:
"I want a chocolate brownie sundae. But I want the brownie, warmed for 30 seconds in the microwave, on one plate and the ice cream on another. And I don't want the hot fudge, just the whipped cream. You can put it on the ice cream. Not the brownie. I don't like for them to touch. And don't put the walnuts on the ice cream. You can put them on the brownie. On the side. And also...a diet coke."
My response was "that will be up in 30-45 minutes."
Her response was "THIRTY TO FORTY FIVE MINUTES FOR A DAMN BROWNIE?!?!?!?"
She hung up the phone and I delivered the order to the server.....and I may or may not have made a noise of contempt in the process. Then, I returned to refilling drinks, delivering food, and apologizing to about 50 different people for their wait and thanking them for their patience. I offered a third round of drinks to the couple in the lounge who at this point had waited about 45 minutes for an appetizer, and again they were pleasant. A few more minutes went by and I was finally able to bring them their food. They complimented the dip, told me I was doing a great job, and asked for their check.
While printing their check the room service phone rang. By this time, the dining room had cleared out some and most everyone had their food, but the frustrating feeling of helplessness hadn't quite gone away. I answered. This is what I heard in a not so pleasant tone:
"This is room 808. What did I order?"
"I"m sorry, ma'am. I don't have your order in front of me, Can you refresh my memory?"
"I asked for a brownie..."
"Oh yes ma'am, you wanted the brownie on one plate and the ice cream on another."
Pissy...."YES....THAT'S RIGHT. AND WHAT ELSE DID I WANT?"
At this point, I was done. I replied that I didn't have her order in front of me but would be glad to get my supervisor to which she responded,
"YES. DO THAT. I'D LIKE TO TALK TO SOMEONE ABOUT YOU."
I called Dave to the phone, feeling as if just one glass tipped over or one fork fell on the floor, that I just might cry. He took the call, and I could hear him apologizing and offering to do everything but lick the woman's big toe while I gathered plates and laid checks on tables.
In the few minutes following, the room cleared out and we were left with a heap of dirty dishes to bus and checks to close out. My tomato artichoke couple had waved goodbye to me during the chaos. They had signed their dinner to their room, so I grabbed the black presenter and held it in my hand as I asked Dave what the lady on the phone had been so upset about. He prefaced his story with "This is the most ridiculous thing ever..." and then filled me in while I rolled my eyes. Just as I was about to go off on how some people are so incredibly rude, I opened the black presenter from my tomato artichoke couple and saw their ticket. They had signed their dinner to their room credit card, and across the top of their ticket they wrote, "You did a great job!" The encouragement alone was a welcome tip, but underneath the credit slip, was a crisp $20 bill.
I breathed in a little bit of Jesus in that moment, and I was hit with the realization that there are two types of people in the world. There are those precious few who go out of their way to build up their neighbor, to offer a word of encouragement, to leave a much needed tip, and to make a difference in someone's night. Just because they can.
And then there are those who pitch a fit because their nuts fell off their brownie.
God bless the tomato artichoke couple, wherever they might be...and God have mercy on the man that the brownie lady goes home to.
I have a feeling he might need a tomato artichoke couple of his own.