Stress, crowds and high expectations – a recipe for disaster

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By: Christina Tembo

I got married on February 10. My logic at the time was that we could celebrate our anniversary and Valentine’s Day together. It sounds like a good idea right? Two birds, one stone.

The reality is what we all know to be true. The most romantic day of the year is also often the most stressful on a relationship. Adding an anniversary into the mix? Well, it might work for some of you, but did I mention I have been divorced for over 10 years?

There is a lot of pressure surrounding February 14. Maybe you just started dating someone and you want to impress your new girlfriend with flowers and a nice dinner at a pricey place. Perhaps you are newly married and want to pretend like everything is still as perfect as your wedding day.

Consider for a moment the other side of this massive charlie foxtrot that is the most romantic day of the year.

Or, it could be you have been married for decades, your spouse worries that the magic is gone and you want to prove to him or her that the spark is still there by taking them to the restaurant where you had your first date. No pressure.

And let’s not forget the mother of all Valentine’s Day rituals, the proposal.

Regardless, it’s an evening filled with couples whose relationships and emotions are simmering just below the boiling point. One small mishap, and BAM! The lid blows off.

Now, consider for a moment the other side of this massive charlie foxtrot that is the most romantic day of the year. There is a whole group of people who have to not only attend to these couples, but also do it with a smile. Oh, and don’t forget that all of this happens on one of the busiest nights of the year.

One local restaurant manager told me that they had almost 700 reservations for Valentine’s Day. Of that 700, I am guessing about half them will be nice, normal couples who understand that on a night like this, nothing will be perfect. Maybe I’m being generous. This leaves at least 350 other reservations who will be on edge with unrealistic expectations.

The entire restaurant industry really took a blow from Mother Nature Saturday night. February 14, 2015, will forever be known as the Valentine’s Day blizzard. Anyone who ventured out was either brave or insane, as travel was restricted to emergencies only.

The restaurant I mentioned above lost hundreds of its reservations. It was devastating. Nonetheless, plenty of other couples braved the cold, wind and travel advisories to celebrate.

Many places chose to close, but just as many stayed open — meaning their staffs had to brave the elements on top of the usual Valentine’s Day pressure.

A server could make or break your perfect night.

I spoke with one server who has been in the industry for many years. Let’s call her Megan.

As much money as there is to be made this evening, sometimes it can be more trouble than its worth. There are some customers you just can’t make happy, no matter what you do.

Take for example a couple Megan served Saturday night. Watching them walk in, she noted the tension immediately and said a little prayer that she would not be given their table. Sure enough, they fell into her rotation.

As she approached, she plastered on a smile and greeted the not-so-happy couple. Whatever happened prior to their arrival, the husband was clearly trying very hard to please his wife and she was trying just as hard to remain sullen. Throughout the evening, the husband, like an eager little puppy, made several peace offerings, but to no avail.

As the night wore on, she complained that her soup was lukewarm, that her steak was undercooked (even though she had ordered it medium rare), that her glass had spots on it and that there was cold air blowing on her from somewhere no one could determine.

Megan tried to handle everything in a manner that would ultimately make the woman happy, and always with a smile, but it was a mission impossible.

The pièce de résistance came when Megan left the check and, as she walked away, noticed the wife take the leather folder out of the hands of the husband. Sure enough, whatever was going on between the couple had been projected onto Megan in the form of a 10 percent tip.

During all of that, Megan was juggling seven other tables, three of which were almost as high maintenance and all of which were just as important.

Mother Nature can be cruel.

Saturday night, hundreds of servers, bartenders, managers and restaurant owners left the warmth and safety of their homes, drove in a real blizzard and went to work so couples could celebrate Valentine’s Day exactly as they planned.

Even knowing the conditions those restaurant staffs faced to be there, I am positive there were still customers who gave them a hard time, and I am sure there were still checks like Megan’s with only a 10 percent tip.

I hope that if you managed to go out for dinner this Valentine’s Day, you made a point to thank your wait staff. Not just for serving you on the busiest, most stressful night of the year, but also for braving the whiteout conditions to be there for you and sure your night was special — so you could make Valentine’s Day special for someone else.

For more stories of Christina Tembo’s dining experiences in Michiana, subscribe to the Fancy Pants email newsletter.
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