The Hot Soup Card

Bank Holidays should be water off a ducks back to a seasoned pro like meself.
I know what to expect:
By midday there's  at least a dozen lurkers all lined up outside champing at the bit for the door to open and the subsequent trolley dash for the best seats.
But this latest one started off a bit weirdly to say the least.
By half past twelve there was still no sign of a single punter.
A Bank Holiday without punters is indeed a worrying thought, especially in light of the extra staff you've drafted in,all swanning about on double time,not to mention the copious amount of prep stacked up in readiment in fridges bursting at the seams.
Ever the optimist,and with the years hurtling by,and with us already having passed the seven year well publicised lifespan of a restaurant and with us clearly now living on borrowed time,I retreated to the kitchen to inform Chef that this was it..this was actually the year we were going down.

Big time.

'Don't be ridiculous' said Chef 'they'll all be lined up at the bottom of the hill under starters orders perfectly placed so they can all arrive conveniently at exactly the same time'
Bizarrely this comment prompted a protracted discussion and much reminiscing about the Wacky Races and a failed attempt to name all the competitors and much hilarity that I hadn't at the time realised the irony of the name Professor Pat Pending,and how childrens programmes aren't what they used to be.This in turn led on to Captain Pugwash and we all know what went on there..
I digress, this filled in a bit of time..

Much as it irks me to say it,Chef is usually right..

Come 12.45 a bulging stampede,a solid mass of custom was squeezing its way through the very small doorway,making its way to the very small bar where the not very small barman was doing his best to control the rabble and direct them to tables so that WE could be in control of them and not the other way around..

After the initial rush and feeling moderately self impressed with ourselves that we'd managed to retain control of the situation,our attention was momentarily taken by a bloodcurdling scream followed by a loud clattering not comparative to the size of the two sets of tiny feet making their way to the only remaining unoccupied table.
Mummy and Dada followed shortly behind,Dada grabbing at the copy of the Times left out for the convenience of the customers,most of whom would secretly prefer the Mail.
The two sets of tiny feet somehow dodged the seating at the table,Hector making a beeline for the service point nearby,heading for my new and beloved on line booking platform,left invitingly open,but no..chubby hands were already pulling at the little wooden drawer that contained all those little helpful items needed to get you through service.He already had his hands on the packet of Strepsils I'd placed there earlier, but not quick enough to stop me grabbing the attractive little purple discs of delight out of his grubby little paws.
Meanwhile, Xanthe was heading off down the service steps toward the kitchen,the ones which I'd noticed earlier that morning had a nose coming loose on the stair end and which in this event, to prevent a member of staff's(mine) toes becoming entrapped and subsequently going flying through the kitchen door,had helpfully placed a rather large rock sourced from the garden, at the far end of the step which in effect might cause serious untold injury in itself.
Locally sourced Little rock of Horrors.

Managing to grab her just before she reached the summit of the rock face I pointed her deftly back in the direction of the table.
At this point,ever practical,Farm Girl had taken it upon herself to comandeer the last two remaining high chairs and was hastily attaching them to the remaining two seats at the table.
By now, Dada had retreated into the safety of the Times,head and upper body completely obscured to the pandemonium around.
Mummy had also taken refuge in a large glass of the liquid variety.
Meanwhile,The Artful Dodger was now air rowing across the very crowded bar floor, a compact purpose built multiple trip hazard,arms flailing and legs akimbo,a clatter of silverware displaced by unchecked limbs scattered in his wake.
And I won't lie,the thought of the Bank Holiday cutlery shortage and the inevitable repolishing before further usage did not fill me with joy.
On the plus side I'd been thinking the floor could do with a buff up for ages.
Farm Girl passed for the umpteenth time giving a hardly perceptible to the untrained eye knowing nod and a raised eyebrow....I nodded back.

Message recieved and understood.

It was time to play the Hot Soup Card.
The Hot Soup Card is the penultimate and usually most effective piece of artillery in the Front Of House battalion of weaponry.A useful tool deployed only as a last resort,akin to a yellow card bookable offence,the one before relations break down completely and you red card the punters, ask them to leave and wave goodbye to the spend.
A small alerting cough signalled commencement of operations and I was poised for action.
'AHEM..,this soup is VERY HOT indeed'
The Hot Soup Card is evermore effective if accompanied by the elevation of the two soup plates high above the head for added drama.
'I would hate for you to get burnt'
Beam.
It worked.
Mummy made a running rugby tackle for the Artful Dodger and attempted strapping into the highchair.
Several sets of sympathetic eyes half smiled at me in empathy and in validation of the successful outcome of the Hot Soup Card.
If there's anything that gets the punters on your side,even if they've been waiting a bit for their grub,its a badly behaved child and a parent with no control.
In a weird way it creates a feeling of camaraderie, a keep the home fires burning kind of feel.
At the table Mummy called for some bread.
If all else fails stuff 'em full of bread,that'll shut them up,then when they leave the actual meals that have been ordered for them, all hell breaks loose.
Dada continued,oblivious, face buried in the paper..Mummy had the time worn look of someone to whom this was not an out of the ordinary scenario.
Another crutch of Chardonnay would help.
The escalating situation was momentarily put on the back burner as a gent from a nearby table called me over.
'Excuse me-can you tell me how long my food will be??'
Reader,I'll be honest,I'd been so distracted with the goings on in and around table Four and with the mental list of jobs that I was ticking off in my head having now a serious backlog, I may actually have not realised what the wait time on food was and therefore had no concept if this bloke had waited overly long or not.
'I'll just check for you..'
He raised his hand calmly to silence me,indicating the fill level at around one third of a pint of his  glass of lovely hand pulled local ale.
'As you can see my glass is now one third full.Now, normally when I eat here my food arrives as my glass is around this level of fullness'(indicating with precision the half pint level).
Its not often I'm stumped for words.
Thoughts of the many variables which could be called into play in response to  this statement were racing around in my head,what if you had a quick sandwich or what if it was a steak or something which takes longer to cook?What if you went to the loo and there was a queue or godammit what if it was a HOT DAY and you were bloody thirsty and DRANK QUICKER??
FFS.
Then I had a lightbulb moment.
Top EXHIBIT A up to half pint level.
My God.
Will that make it ok?
Of course I could spend the whole afternoon topping the glass up to half point level with no timeous arrival of any food.. had I finally and inadvertantly stumbled on a solution to the ever common problem of the punter waiting too long?
I bought him a free drink.
On delivery of the gratis pint and managing to extricate myself finally  from the drink speed/food arrival analysis,I was gestured over by Mummy.
By this time she was looking on the far end of the frazzled spectrum.
'DO YOU NOT HAVE A PROPER HIGHCHAIR?? HE NEEDS TO BE CONTAINED.."
Finally.
Never was a truer word spoken..
But herein lies another anomaly.
Granted, the seat was a clip on one, not a freestanding independant type arrangement,but it still had a harness,a seat and a tray.Which left one pondering what properties a 'proper high chair' would possess  over this one.
'What she's looking for is a straight jacket' said Farm Girl, ever practical,through near perfect ventriloquists grin.
Snigger.
'No I'm sorry this is all we have..'
On my next circuit of the table a loud clapping song which involved bursts of manic laughter and alternate deafening banging on the table had commenced.

The elderly couple on the adjacent table gestured for the bill.

Hopefully:'No coffees or puddings?'
Sympathetically:'Not today dear..just the bill..'

If allegiance was measured by value of tip, then the very generous one indicated these two were definitely Allied forces,which was of some consolation.

The kitchen bell had been ringing frantically now for several minutes,meals stacked up on the pass.
"where've you been?' said Chef without looking up,shovelling ever more chips on to the lovely vegetable dahl which was meant to be served with basmati rice,but which the punters were asking for with chips.
We'd both forgotten about the fateful Bank Holiday a few years ago when we'd served up Fish & chips with 'chip shop style curry sauce' which incidentally we'd spent ages perfecting,and in effect spent most of the Bank Holiday serving up chips and curry sauce without the fish for an excruciatingly low spend per head.
We never learn.
'I thought you must have been unblocking the bog' said Chef
'No not yet,Ive got the stick and the bin bag ready though' I replied,matter of factly.
Preparation is the key to running a successful business..
By now,the activity on Table Four had receded,but I could see Mummy impatiently gesturing me over.
There was rather an unpleasant smell.
In all the excitement it looked like The Artful Dodger had shat himself.

'Do you have baby change ?'
The fact that this question has to be asked is surely indicative of the acceptance that not all pubs have these facilities otherwise the question would be 'where is' not 'do you have?'
In effect,we dont have.
The impartment of this bit of information was not received with warmth.
At all.
WHAT?
I repeated.
'I'm sorry,we don't have baby change'
Mummy was now on her feet and threateningly a lot taller and angrier than I expected.


'Well....WHAT DO YOU SUGGEST I DO?? CHANGE HIM ON YOUR FLOOR?'

This is a situation that with the benefit of experience one needs to handle very carefully.
There is no point in making a suggestion,a half way house between a dedicated babychange facility and something thats going to blow back up in your face via the Health and Safety Gestapo, you know that's just going to end up all over a popular review site.
So with damage limitation to the forefront I replied calmly and with an encouraging smile :
'That's your decision'
 Dada peered over the top of the newspaper and spoke for the first time:
"I think we'd better have the bill please'
At last some progress.


Much later when Chef and I were in possession of a couple of well earned crutches of our own,and I was in mid flow with my usual post battle debrief over the highs and lows of the Bank Holiday trade,giving special attention to the babychange issue and how the family in question had proved far more troublesome to us and the other diners than the we had to them with the lack of a fold down plastic mat,and how people have such a sense of entitlement these days and how they need to take responsibility for themselves and how if the absence of a plastic mat was a deal breaker then they should have researched the aforementioned before they came.The rant had by now moved on to the setting of a global stage,I was now in full flow on the soapbox 'there are so many wonderful places to visit in the world ,many without even basic toileting facililties or running water,never mind a plastic mat and a packet of wet wipes and fancy closing yourself off to all these new experiences.'

Then the final thrust before I finally came up for breath:

'AS A SOCIETY IS THIS WHAT WE'VE BECOME?'

'I don't know what you're worried about' said Chef 'it's not like we've built a massive play park out front and engaged a childrens entertainer,where you went wrong was not red carding them when you had the chance'


Roll on May 29th.

Comments

Rosie said…
Urgh, the dreaded badly behaved kids and uninterested parents in pubs/restaurants debacle...utter nightmare for all involved. At least it's unlikely they'll return, at least until their brats are potty-trained. Always so pleased to see a new post on your blog. I worked in a pub when I was a nipper and even though I was only there for a couple of years, it really did bring out my inner Basil Fawlty.

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