Mistress and Servant–Clark Humphrey

The menu’s first page contained a notice claiming that “All of our staff members are fully empowered to meet and exceed your expectations.”

She soon learned, however, that “empowerment” meant different things in different situations.

For her, it usually meant she had to make her own decisions, then to get berated when the owner found out she’d taken matters into her own hands instead of going to ask him what to do.

Alternately, if she did venture into his sacred kitchen space to ask him what to do, he’d shoo her away and tell her to go figure it out herself. This did not prevent him from berating her later.

As a server, then after her promotion to greeter and service manager, she faced one large or small crisis after another.

A server would call in sick, and nobody else was around to cover that shift. The online reservations company the restaurant used would overbook the place; or it would turn people away, mistakenly believing the night’s seatings were sold out.

In all of these situations, she kept her head held high and her voice steady.

This was a high-end ultra gourmet bistro, so she seldom had to deal with the worst of the worst in the clientele department. She faced few clueless tourists or screaming children. Almost never did she face someone trying to pay for a meal with a sequenc of three maxed out cards. Her diners were, for the most part, as courteous and polite as people paying a hundred dollars for dinner should be.

There were exceptions, however.

And this night featured one such table full of exceptions.

Oh they LOOKED all right, or they would if you saw a still photograph of them. Clean-cut, tall young men in “business casual” suits, with perfect hair and perfect teeth and perfect baby blue eyes.

But when they came into the restaurant, they came in screaming. They continued to scream the entire time they were there. They shouted, they cajoled, they high fived, they slapped one another on the back. They exchanged aggressive “jokes” about “whores and bitches” (all of which they uniformly found to be riotously funny).

The server, a short waif-y girl just out of college, approached their table. One of the tall men asked if it was true when the menu said that every staff member was “fully empowered” to meet guests’ every need. When she said yes, they grabbed her by the arm and “joked” about taking her into the alley for “a friendly little gangbang.” They even “offered” to take turns videoing the proceedings with the new cell-phone video app they’d just launched. She jerked her arm away. Two of the tall blue-eyed men joined arms to encircle her. She ran into the kitchen. They remained seated at their table, screeching with laughter.

That left Annabeth to emerge from behind her greeter’s podium, to remind these young gentlemen that they are guests here, paying guests but guests nonetheless, and that they should behave accordingly.

The tallest of these tall boys reached to grab Annabeth’s hand. She deftly withdrew it just in time. With breath reeking of Jåeger shots, he claimed she, and every employee here, really worked for him and his friends. He claimed they knew how to hack Yelp and every other review site, so only their own negative reviews of this place would show up. They said they could take down the restaurant’s website and hijack its social-media accounts, and there’d be nothing she or her boss could do about it.

Annabeth stepped back a single step; just far enough that no one seated at the table could grab her without standing. She stood up straight, alternating eye contact with each of the men. She admitted aloud that lecturing them on decent public behavior would be obviously futile. What she could do, she unhurriedly explained, was to remind them that this establishment was owned by one of the city’s most renowned chefs, and that it supported by investors who included some of the city’s most prominent and well-connected citizens. Some of these, she assured them, held leading roles in the local software industry. These people could ensure that the young men at the table would never work at any major technology firm on the North American continent, or attain the financing for any such firm of their own. Should the young gentlemen at this table do anything other than leave this establishment on their own feet, without incident and without entertaining even the vaguest fantasy of retaliation, they could expect productive futures in such dynamic industries as sanitation, long-haul trucking, or even washing the dishes at great food and beverage establishments similar to this one.

By the time she finished her short lecture, every person in the dining room, guests and servers alike, had stopped what they were doing to listen. Even some of the kitchen crew had come out front to see it.

When she was done, there was a half minute of silence (except for the canned chamber music playing softly on the speakers).

Then, one by one, the young men rose, gathered their coats, and walked out amid the icy glares of everyone in the room except Annabeth. She had returned to her greeter’s station. She deleted the young men’s party from the evening’s reservations list, but not before she looked up, and wrote down on pen and paper, all the contact information for the man who’d placed the reservation. She cleanly tore that sheet of paper from its pad, attached strips of adhesive tape on all four sides, and stuck it to the inside left side of her greeter’s podium.

She looked up as the last of the six men closed the door on his way out, scowling and mumbling under his breath about “cunts, dykes, PC thought police, can’t take a fuckin’ joke….”

The instant the door slammed shut, everyone in the dining room stood and applauded.

The young female server hesitantly re-entered the dining room, darting her eyes every which way. Once assured that her nemeses were out of the place, her hunched shoulders visibly lowered and her facial muscles relaxed. She took one long outward breath, then another. She walked up and hugged Annabeth so hard that Annabeth implored her to let go.

Finally, the chef/owner strode into the dining room, something he seldom did during serving hours. (He’d always privately said, “What’s the point of owning the joint if you can’t do the things you love and have other people do the things you hate?”)

He clomped through the room on his big feet, approaching Annabeth.

“The guys just told me what you just did. I’d have done it all different. And I’d have gotten it all wrong. I’d have gotten angry. I’d have yelled back at those clowns and it would have made everything worse.”

From that point on, the chef/owner actually listened to Annabeth’s suggestions and complaints. He gave her the staff and budget she said she needed to keep the place running properly. And he inflated her job title from “service lead” to “director of dining room operations.”

Only once did they again talk about that night. They did it just as they were preparing for the public radio interview promoting their newer establishment. During the sound check, she asked him if there was any tech money behind his operations. He said there was this one minor investor whose ex-husband had retired from Microsoft, “oh, back in the days of Mirosoft Bob or something like that.”


About bbcstudiowrites

This blog is me archiving the BBC Studio Writers Workshop.

Posted on March 25, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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