Best Mistake I Ever Made

As a fresh recruit for a recently opened Italian restaurant chain in my area, I was as eager, nervous, and excited as the rest of the first batch of servers and hosts anticipating the restaurant’s grand opening. We had all been training hard for about three weeks; everything from learning about Italian food and wine pairing, a complete menu tasting, history of the company, and meeting all sorts of new people. The energy levels were abuzz as the countdown to opening day began; the first round of new hires worked hard to make sure they could pass each exam and test as the corporate office required.

The Italian restaurant’s building itself was nearing completion; as an entirely new concept for the Madison area, it was going to be the newest popular destination for lunch and dinner for many of the city’s restaurant enthusiasts. The buzz had been generated, the action plan instilled, and all the staff were ready for action in the upcoming weeks. However, we could only guess what the grand opening days would look like; the first week was to be a series of ‘mock dinners,’ offering local celebrities, business owners, investors, and other important community members a chance to experience the restaurant at its finest. In order for the staff to make this successful, the mock dinner week involved an enormous amount of pressure, self-confidence, and of course the ultimate server’s weapon: exceptional multi-tasking.

As a server, I was still getting familiar with the large cocktail, wine, and martini menu. Martinis were a ‘new sell’ for me, as previous restaurants I had worked in weren’t quite so high-end and polished. This Italian chain reportedly made signature martinis in a variety of appealing concoctions, and the guests new it. It was our responsibility to serve, and showcase, these after-dinner, or pre-dinner, cocktails at their finest. No problem; I would learn each one in just the same way as the 300+ lunch and dinner ingredient menu!

Opening day arrived, and I was working the 2nd day of the Mock Dinner shift. The restaurant was buzzing with activity, with our guests arriving in large groups in anticipation of their (free) dinner and drinks for the night. Servers, bartenders, and food runners were working hard to coordinate everything to perfection; the kitchen worked overtime to ensure every food item coming out of the swinging black door was fit for the Ritz Carlton. The night was a success; guests were happy, the hosts were seating on time, and there was plenty of food, drinks, and desserts to be enjoyed.

My table section was found in a booth area, filled to capacity with groups of four and five. My most important customer was indicated to me by management; he was an investor of another chain’s location, so of course he was going to gauge my service. I was confident I could make the experience a success, as I had mastered the menu and wine knowledge requirements to the very last detail. The Martini menu was a whole new arena.

The table finished their gourmet pastas, seafood entrees, and opted for a round of dessert. The martini menu was consulted to try one of the restaurant’s masterpieces. I made note of the ‘Dry Martini, with a twist’order, and rushed off to place it into the computer system.

Minutes later, I got a call to stop in the kitchen. This happened all the time, usually requested by the kitchen manager to verify an order. I found my way back to the buzzing stainless steel haven, and learned that the Corporate Trainer had asked to speak with me. He was our trainer for the past three weeks, and was now in town to monitor our success during the mock dinner. All eyes were on me, as he walked me out to the server area and explained that there was a problem with my martini order. Puzzled, and flashing a look to the bartender, I wondered what was going on, but waited for the explanation. He announced (and quite confidently in front of the bartender) that the martini ‘dryer’ was broken. Panic flashed through my mind. How could the martini dryer be broken?? How was I going to explain this one to the investor waiting for his Dry Martini with a twist?? Dessert was on its way, and I surely didn’t want to disappoint the group! Sweating slightly, I looked pleadingly towards the bartender. I think I conveyed the ‘say it isn’t true!’ message convincingly, but he shrugged his shoulders and informed me there was nothing he could do about it. The trainer advised that I ‘just let them know that the martini dryer is broken, and management is working on fixing it right away.’

As you can guess by now, I had no idea what made a dry martini, a ‘dry’ martini. Never mind that vermouth is the ingredient added to (or taken away from) a martini to make it ‘dry.’ Never mind that I actually thought that finding a handful of paper towels to ‘wipe down the glass completely’ might make my ‘Dry Martini with a twist’ a reality. Oh, the naivetÃ?© of fresh talent. I walked back to the table, and explained ‘the situation.’ The table looked up at me with disappointment; they completely bought my explanation, and nodded their heads in understanding.

That wasn’t so bad, I thought. They were understanding, and completely open to changing their drink order. Clearly my humiliating moment had not yet occurred. Desserts arrived, delivered by the Corporate Trainer himself. He approached the table just as I was setting down the spoons for the CrÃ?¨me Brulee, and added some fuel to (what I thought was stoked out) the fire. “I’m sorry about the mix-up folks,” he began. He then turned and pulled up a tray of fresh martinis. “Here’s the dry Martini you ordered, sir” he smiled as he placed the drink in front of the investor. The investor looked at me; I looked at the trainer, puzzled beyond belief. “We fixed the martini dryer thanks to your server here; she found us some fresh batteries!” The investor laughed, and gave me a booming ‘well done!’ response. The table clapped. I stood there, baffled, and completely confused.

The night came to a close, and the investor’s table left the check book (of course at no cost), with my tip. $100 with a note that said, “We hope you know we were all in on it; we loved the Dry Martini. Fantastic job.”

The corporate trainer and I enjoy this fiasco to this day; it truly was the best mistake I ever made.

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