By CHARLES FERRUZZA
A friend of mine, married to a well-known local restaurateur, called me a couple of weeks ago to share some restaurant gossip. Two friends of hers, wealthy and well-connected, had been “kicked out” of Bluestem one night by the owner, Colby Garrelts.
This couple, it seems, had been sitting at the bar and ordered an appetizer and a bottle of wine and were going to share a dinner. The dinner came out of the kitchen before the appetizer. The couple sent the dinner back to the kitchen and sipped wine until the appetizer was served. After finishing the starter, the bartender brought out a new entrée, but the diners weren’t ready for it yet. They wanted to enjoy their wine, so they sent the dinner back a second time.
That’s when the normally even-tempered Garrelts lost his cool.
“We were swamped in the kitchen that night,” Garrelts tells me. “And yes, the appetizer order came in just as the kitchen got slammed. We were knee-deep in orders. So the starter came out much later than it should have. That part was definitely our fault and we admitted that."
“But these customers were extremely difficult," he continues. "My staff bent over backward to make them happy. We offered to pay for everything. But there was a lot of complaining and they demanded I come out of the kitchen to speak to them. And I did. I asked them to leave. It was obvious that we couldn’t make them happy, so they needed to go. My wife was mortified and I had at least one sleepless night over it. But I refused to be yelled at in my own restaurant. It’s like someone yelling at you in your home.”
The story brings back memories of my days as a waiter.
At one restaurant on a busy Saturday night, I insisted that the manager request a particularly abusive, intoxicated couple to leave. I had endured as much of their bile as I could possibly take. The spineless manager ignored me until the husband of this drunken duo provoked a fight with a customer at another table and swept his dinner plate onto the floor.
Suddenly, the manager snapped to attention. And did exactly what I knew he would do. He insisted that I ask the couple to leave, even insinuating that their behavior was somehow my fault.
I slapped their check down on the table and said, “My manager says you have to leave or he’s calling the police.”
Sputtering with anger, the freak husband threw down two Alexander Hamiltons (even though the bill was over $40) and yelled all the way out the front door while the manager hid, trembling, back in the kitchen.
Michael Smith, chef and owner of the restaurant of the same name at 1900 Main Street, had an equally awful couple.
“They were in town for a convention and were supposedly wine experts,” Smith says. “They sat at our bar and started talking, loudly, about our wine list. They called it garbage. They were rude to their server – one of our best, by the way – and were very hostile. I came out and tried to calm them down and one of them said, ‘Please leave our table.’ I reminded them that it was my table and I was inviting them to leave. Now.”
Smith shakes his head at the memory: “We couldn’t understand what had happened … we were flabbergasted!”