Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Be my Valentine!

My friend L took me out for Valentine's day on Tuesday. He'd made reservations at 6:30 at Ivy's, a restaurant he really liked, but I'd never been to. The plan was to meet him at his place around quarter to six and then head to dinner. When I got there, he was standing next to the car, keys in hand.

"We have to go," he says, climbing into his car.
"I thought we were at 6:30?" Now I'm confused... I could have sworn he'd said 6:30.
"Well, we were at 6:30, until they lost the reservation. Now we're at 6:00."

So it's Valentine's Day... it's one of the biggest food-days of the year, next to Mother's Day (it may actually beat Mom's out, but you'd have to ask somebody who knows... I'm not in the food business). Maybe they've been crazy for the last few weeks. Maybe the book got lost or something, and that's why they dont have the reservation. Maybe.

The parking lot, which is shared with a half-dozen or so other restaurants, was full of cars. I was positive the restaurant would be packed. In the foyer, though, there seemed to be a problem. Not only did they lose the original reservation, but they seated some one else on the pencilled-in reservation they made when he called to confirm. We were standing there blinking at the hostess, while she frantically searched through the (very full) guest list for somewhere to stick us. Just as I thought she was about to chew a hole through her bottom lip, a couple came out of the dining area, scowling.

The waitress (who was serving them, I assume) was following them out, appologizing profusely. "I'm very sorry, sir. Your drinks are on the house."
He stopped dead, turned his head, looked her square in the eye and snorted, "Oh, I know."
He then strode out behind his puffed-up wife.

L and I watched the exchange, watched the hostess ask the waitress what the couple's name was, watched her erase the couple's name from the guest list and pencil in his. Obviously pleased with her ingenuity, she picked up a couple pieces of paper from the host stand and chirped, "Follow me!" with a grin.

She dropped us off at a cozy table in a corner, near a window. It was a nice, intimate table a bit removed from the rest of the dining hall. The first thing I noticed was that the room was nearly empty. There was one other couple there with an infant in the opposite corner, and a table of fifteen or so men across the room from us, laughing noisily and kicking back a few beers. Strange, on Valentine's Day. Maybe the dinner rush starts at 7:00? The Midwest isn't known for it's night-owls, though. Something wasn't right.

The entire time I was looking around the dining room, the waitress was babbling about the "select" menu. She put a piece of paper down in front of us with four menu items on it. I scanned over it. L scanned over it. There wasn't one item on the menu I wasn't allergic to.

"Excuse me, Miss?
Where's the regular menu?"" L knows what I can and cannot have. He pays attention to that sort of thing.
"Well, because of the holiday, we have a special menu tonight."
"She can't eat any of this. Is there any way we can order something else?"
"I'll have to check. Hold on just a sec." She pranced off to the kitchen, presumably to ask the cook if he could fix up somethin special.

"They didn't tell me about the menu," L said, pursing his lips and wiggling the table, which is teetering back and forth unsteadily on a gimp leg.
"So, let me get this straight," I said, eying him. "They failed to inform you when you called to make the reservation the first time that they had a restricted menu. Then they lost you reservation. Then, when you called to confirm your reservation, they rebooked you, but gave it to some one else before you got here, and again did not inform you of the restricted menu. Nor did they inform us of the restricted menu while we were waiting to be seated out front."
"Yeah, that's about right," he said, leaning on the table edge, which caused the entire table to shift a good three inches towards him. "We're gonna need a new table."

The waitress, of course, came back to inform us that no, there were no other foodstuffs in the kitchen that could be scrounged together to make a meal that wasn't already listed on the menu, but she'd be happy to take our order and request that they not use any sauces or butter, and that would probably be okay.

She shifted us to a new (structurally sound) table as L grilled me about why I was willing to risk a trip to the Emergency Room for a night out.
The waitress, who has heard this entire exchange, blinks at us with an empty-headed smile. "So, can I take your order?"

"Actually, I'd really like to speak with your manager," L says. The waitress, not nearly as bouncy now, slinks off to retrieve the requested manager, and returns with the hostess.
"Sarah* says you asked to speak with me." No question, just that simple statement.
"Well, yes," L starts. "We were never informed that the menu wouldn't be your normal menu. No one told me when I called to make the reservation, or when I called to confirm. We wouldn't have come here if we'd known. She has food allergies that prevent her from eating anything you're serving tonight. It's now nearly 7:00 on Valentine's day, and we're sitting in a restaurant looking at a menu from which we cannot eat."
She just stood there and blinked at him, and L blinked back. They did that for awhile. Finally, she said, "I'm sorry, Sir," collected the menues, and turned to walk off. As an afterthought, she turned back and picked up the bill (for the two drinks we ordered but didn't drink, since we wern't staying for dinner). "The house will take care of your drinks." She laid his card back on the table and carried off the bill folder.

We wound up chowing down on hot, fresh, EDIBLE Chinese food from a place two doors down. We laughed and talked and had a great time in our cheap little booth with the plastic flower on the table. Damn shame about Ivy's, though. They've lost L's business, and probably a few of his friends', too. Cozy little place, and I'm sure their food is delightful, but eating out is about more than what's on the plate. It's about service. Apparently, the folks at Ivy's don't understand that.

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