(Blogger’s Note: Each Friday I run an excerpt of my soon to be published book, Faux Pas is French for Restaurant.)
The antique lectern, to the right of the front door, played host to a reservation book bulging with notes and scribbled names of people who had called weeks in advance to join us for New Year´s Day brunch. Covering the pages of the book in a variety of angles, the pieces made it appear business was booming, the bank account bulging. Bob Swanson, five people. Mrs. Rogers, three people. Charles Bain, two. Cindy Lauper- the hairdresser down the block, not the singer. Andy Internet, four adults. Get more lettuce. Buy a turkey and a ham from Safeway. Mr. Red Jacket French, and of course, Luisa San Francisco´s notorious Grande Dame of culinary concepts gone awry all had called to book a table, and their names crisscrossed the page in cluttered uniformity.
The phone was still ringing, tempers were getting shorter, and the tension was mounting. Hang-overs have a way to make simple, sacrastic, pleasantries sound cuttingly bitter. The staff knew this particular day was going to be hell.
Previous New Year´s Eve evenings were always special. Elaborate celebrations with a band, friends, partners and special customers. A celebration of extravagant proportion. Whether at The Fish Ranch, Chez Foley, The St. Alban´s Boathouse or The Cottagewood Store, each New Year´s Eve for the past decade was memorable.
This New Year´s Eve was also one to remember. It was a disaster. Not elaborate, no sterling silver roasting domes, no crystal glassware, the guest list even suffered, with the exception of two couples, the other hooples at the table attended for the complimentary hospitality. The night did little for my ego. There was no band. No music. No,it was different. I realized you can´t go from fine dining restauants to casual restaurants if you don´t have the experience. Or the patience.
Casual dining transforms fine diners into different beasts. "Excuse me sir" turns into "Hey you", "Could you get me some Ketchup", becomes "Ketchup", and of course the kids are abundant. Oh, the kids, and the sp[ills, and the polished hardwood floor.
On top of all this CAMP was in the land of spoiled dot-com paper-wealthy stock option addicts who had yet to realize what the phrase "bursting bubbles" really meant.
But on this day, that didn´t matter. It was going to be a big one. I had already allocated the money that would bring the bank account slighly past a little. And, so, my depression and cynical attitude that had infected my demeanor would be momentarily cured. It always was when I was going to have a bail-out day and make some money, justifying the misery that customers from hell inflicted.
And, we needed a big day, in a big way. Camp Americana was not the rocket ship we had hoped it would be. As a matter of fact, it was a disaster. After leaving the culinary cocoon of the western suburbs of Minneapolis, where the clientele became friends and family, the California coast had kicked our asses.
And, considering the chef still hadn´t arrived, we were about to get another bruise.
Soon, 250 people that made reservations weeks in advance were going to show up at various times throughout the day to enjoy brunch at CAMP Americana. The onslaught of hung-over dot-com, Range Rover driving yuppies was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. when Mr. Jason Barrington III was to arrive with his in-laws, two kids, and his sure to be spandex clad wife, Buffy.
The last reservation was penciled in at 3 p.m. The Waterman party of twelve, needing three high chairs added to their request for a table that had to be somewhere between the window and the TV, accommodating window-watching-women and their football fanatical friends and spouses, would be at least a half-hour late. In between these two regular customers’ reservations, another two hundred-something people, minus no shows, would show. On top of that, a handful of walk-ins who didn´t have reservations but wanted to be seated, would either lie and claim they did call ahead or would actually begin begging for a table, broadcasting they were "locals", therefore deserving to be served.
Yes, my day was going to be hell. And so was Kranston´s. A fine way to begin the New Year, but not a good way to step into the next century.