September 29, 2023

You’re the Boss: Someone Else’s Headache

Mystery sauce.Christoper Koszyk The mystery sauce.
Start-Up Chronicle

You don’t want to go out to dinner with me. Really. I’m no fun at all. Not even if I know the owner and get a free drink or a special meal. That happens. Restaurant people are good about that, professional courtesy and all. Still, going to dinner with me is like attending a college basketball game with an advance scout. All work and no fun. Lots of notes interrupted by an occasional drink and a high-five.

The other night, when my place was closed, I went out to dinner with my wife. We walked into a well-respected place in the Hamptons just as the bartender was yelling the Mets score across the room to a patron at a distant table. I froze. My wife shot me a look. We took a seat. I smiled.

“What’s that smell?” I asked.

“Here we go,” said my wife.

“Don’t you smell that?”

“I smell trouble is all.”

“Exactly. Trouble. Could be a gas leak.”

“I don’t smell anything,” she said.

“The candles on all the tables, they’re not really candles.”

“What are they?”

“They’re kerosene.”

“You wanna leave?”

I snuffed out the candle on my table.

“Why would they use stinky fake candles?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Here comes the server. Don’t say anything.”

The server approached and lit a match. I jumped. She froze.

“Don’t do that,” I said.

“What?” she asked.

“Light a match.”

“Why not?”

“Kerosene,” I said.


“I blew out our candle. It sort of smells. Don’t you smell kerosene?”

“It’s not my call. I just work here. Would you like tap water or sparkling bottled water?”

“I need some wine, please.”

I inquired about two similarly priced whites. The server did not know the differences. And she did not offer to find out. I had a 50-50 shot to select the drier, crisper wine, so I went for the Australian Cockfight Ghost, as much for the name as the reputation. There is so much to learn about wine, and one can so easily fall into a wine rut, that I force myself to order a new bottle each time I can.

Before selecting from the a la carte or prix fixe menu, I asked the server if the portions were the same. My wife shot me a look. I know. I am ridiculous. I am like a new convert, awash in information that has yet to settle. I try to be nice, but the questions keep bubbling up, and the asides move onto center stage. The portions were larger à la carte than prix fixe, by the way.

You would not like to dine with me. I am more annoying than any singular segment of any restaurant. The only person I can eat with is Chef Joe. We spend much of most meals sniggering and shaking our heads. We are arrogant and silly and glad to be someone else’s headache.

I ordered the duck spring rolls as an appetizer. They came with a dipping sauce on the side. I asked the runner what was in the sauce. She did not know. And did not offer to find out. I asked a passing server the same question. She too did not know. And did not offer to find out. I asked our own server and she also did not know. So I asked her to please find out. She did: ketchup, chili sauce and vinegar. The trifecta. Three bottles from the supermarket.

My wife got the Caesar salad with white anchovies. I wanted to know from where the anchovies hail. I did not ask. Instead, I asked for some bread. We got some bread. It was good bread. I stole an anchovy and made a mock alici bruschetta.

My wife and I discussed the roof of our home. Shingles have been blowing off. No leaks yet, but it is an old roof and will need either repair or replacement soon enough. We balanced the pros and cons. We need at least two estimates. The wine was politely poured by the server as the glasses needed it. After 30 some years of marriage, this was a romantic if candleless dinner.

The entrees arrived. The woman holding two plates said, “Pasta.” My wife, in mid-story about the roof at her zendo, did not hear. Again, “Pasta.” And then my wife said, “Oh, sorry, here.” And the waitress said to me, “You must be the chicken.” Indeed.

In the business, this is called auctioning. You name a dish and wait for someone to claim it. It is unnecessary. Every seat has a number: 1, 2, 3, 4. It is the same for every table. Every order has a corresponding number next to the order. It is a snap to know who ordered what. It is simply laziness by either the order-taker or deliverer not to know. We were only two people. The runner had a 50-50 shot. If an accountant strolled in from the street, he too would have the same odds. Maybe it would have been better to guess than to ask. I am only half sure about that.

Over pasta and chicken, my wife and I further discussed the roof. I have a guy in mind. She has a friend from her zendo. We weighed the pros and cons. I reminded her that another friend from her zendo installed our bathtub, and it has never drained properly. We discussed friendship versus professionalism until it was dessert time.

I passed on dessert. Being in the restaurant business, eating staff meals at four, and then at some point another meal after that meal, I have done my girth no favor. My wife got the biscotti to go. When the server brought the check, she smiled broadly and said: “Thank you. Have a great night. And I hope your roof doesn’t leak.”

My wife gave me a look. Not that look. She was stunned by the eavesdropping. I wondered if the server heard the comments about the chili sauce and the auctioning.

We skulked into the night, forgetting that the food was pretty good and the Cockfight Ghost had performed very well too.

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