Can You Believe It’s His First Night?

by Tony Albano

I don’t have too many talents, but one thing I don’t doubt are my abilities in the hospitality business. Other than performing, that’s where I feel most comfortable. I have worked as a waiter in two of the most popular restaurants in Carmel. When I had two legs, I was really admired by customers and restaurant management for my skills at taking excellent care to make everyone’s dining experience memorable.

One of my little secrets was never to treat guests the same way. I would study the diners sitting at the table before I approached them, and I had a knack for remembering their eating and drinking preferences. Some people thought I had super powers because I never used a pen and pad to take orders. I had a technique of association for remembering, not only what they were eating, but what I had learned about their lives. In my mind, I would give them a nickname and mentally file everything I needed to know about them.

What my coworkers didn’t know was that the reason I never wrote anything down was because I couldn’t read my own handwriting. I would write the letter T and then when I looked, I wouldn’t know if it meant turkey or tuna. With my system, I could remember everything I knew about my guests besides what they ate—their kids’ names, where they went to school, their marital status, etc. It would all unfold.

One fabulous night in my restaurant career, a party of eight came in, and the man at the head of the table was watching me take the order. When I got halfway around, he said, “Aren’t you going to write any of this down?”

I said, “No, I’m okay.” He questioned how this could be done, and I jokingly told him it was my first night. He laughed. I don’t know if he believed me or not, but the whole table laughed. I’d taken the drink and entrée orders for eight people without writing anything down. When I brought the eight drinks and placed them all in front of the right person, he still questioned how this could be done. This time, to make him feel comfortable and knowing it was his party and he wanted it to go well, I told him that I really had been doing this for a long time.

In front of his guests, he said, “Why don’t we make a deal? If you get one item wrong, you get no tip, and if you get everything right, I tip you double.”

Being a gambling man, I loved the thrill of the challenge. I said, “You’re on,” and, as I walked away, I knew I had this in the bag.

Next, I brought out their appetizers, all correctly. His guests had started to tease him, saying it looked like he’d be laying out some money tonight. This time as I walked away, I heard him tell his wife, “Do you believe this guy?” It gave me great joy knowing that the whole table was having fun in their dining experience.

Next, I was set to bring the eight entrees, all of which I remembered without writing them down. I had nicknamed the head of the table Salmon since that was what he was having. Of course, when I approached the table, they were all saying, “Get ready, now. This is the moment of truth.” And I made sure I put each dish down saying what the dish was and bringing it to the proper person purposely leaving the host for last. I drew out the drama by placing all the dishes down slowly. When I got to the seventh person, his friends said, “John, it looks like you’ve met your match.”

And I said, “And for you, John, salmon.”

He said, “Tony, I don’t believe it, but you are going to get tipped fabulously tonight. I still don’t know how the hell you do this. He said, “Can I talk to your manager?”

By this time, my manager, Phil, knew a lot of my lines and techniques, so when the head of the table called Phil over to tell him how amazed and stunned he was by what I’d done, Phil said, “And can you believe it, this is only his first night?,” and the whole table broke into laughter. They had a great time that night and I was tipped more than double.

John would come back when he had guests in town, and he would always request me.

From: A Leg to Stand On, a collection of stories to be published in June

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