Mother’s Day Brunch, to be more specific. It is probably the most reviled shift in an entire year of restaurant services, more dreaded than New Years’ Eve, Valentine’s Day, St. Paddy’s/ Cinco de Mayo/ Independence Day.
Mother’s Day brunch is an anthropological oddity. There should be studies done. Most of your guests arrive in large multi-generational parties of 8 to 10 guests. Dressed in their Sunday best, they look like a photo from a Macy’s catalog. They are a family tree all mixed up with in-laws, moms, grandmothers, babies, and the matching patriarchs.
they look sweet
Right off the bat, someone in the group will mention “I didn’t know it was a fixed menu, did they say when you made the reservation, Henry?” Then, as you walk toward their table…. Grandma A (we’ll call her Gladys) stage whispers how she hopes you are not going to that table, her daughter (why not Alice?) says “Mom, any table will be fine” to which mother-in-law (Virginia) adds “does anyone feel a draft in here? it’s drafty!”
wedge salad w/ everything on the side
Then the order, Virginia can’t believe her son (Henry) is drinking “so early! In the morning!” as she orders her chicken salad with everything on the side, no cheese, and with no dressing, just a little lemon, dear. Our young Mother, Alice, makes a show of being fine with everything—“I’ll have the salmon… however the chef recommends it is fine.”
but wait for it…..
Then the toddler, unaccustomed to not being the center of attention starts to get fussy and climb out of his chair. Alice is pretending not to notice because, as she mentioned in the car on the way over here, “Jesus, God Henry its Mother’s Day for crying out loud you can take care of the kids for one godforsaken day, you’re their father for chrissake.” Henry will either:
a.let the tyke tire himself out by running around the dining room
b.try to hold the squirming interloper at the table amid howls of protest
c.trot the kid around the front of the restaurant himself till he feels like falling asleep in the booth
No matter which one he chooses, however, Henry will lose. And he knows it.
a. “You’re just going to let Jeffrey run around like that? What if he runs out the door, gets snatched up by a guy in a van and we never see him again? You want to make your mother think we are negligent?”
b.“He’s just a kid, Henry! Let him go, he’ll tire himself out and at least we can eat our breakfast in peace!”
c. “I can’t believe you left me alone at that table with our mothers. A little support would have been nice.”
Then Gladys’ salad isn’t amazing, but “it’s fine.” And her husband, having had about enough, says “Gladys, if you don’t like it get something else! The waiter told you he’d get you something else.” The coffee is too cold for Henry, but too hot for Gladys, and Virginia is sure this isn’t decaf like she requested.
After an hour and half of this, the check arrives. And Granddad A won’t hear of Grandad B paying for this, because he is a man and he can buy his own brunch, and Granddad B feels exactly the same way. But they can both agree that Henry isn’t paying, he’s a sweet kid, but really. And he just bought his wife that ridiculous diamond thing for Mother’s Day, like a complete novice. (“It’s more of an Anniversary gift, really,” Gladys will say when she and her husband are finally driving home). And Alice can’t believe that Henry is going to let her father foot the bill again.
No matter who signs off on that tip line, it’s never good.
Unlike Thanksgiving, Passover, or Christmas when families get together to break bread and get on one another’s nerves, on this particular family holiday most families do it in public. The worst part is that there is no way to prepare for it. The restaurant staff is in the same position, many times, as poor Henry….. the position where it feels like nothing you do will be right.
For a quick case study– Round tables are dining room gold, everyone wants one if they can get it. Last year I walked a table to the best round 8-top in the room, and one of the fathers just raised hell until I moved them to rectangular table in the middle of the dining room. Turned out this guy hated his mother in law so much that couldn’t stand to look at her face for even an hour over brunch. “That woman makes me sick,” he told me as he sidled up to the bar for two fingers of whiskey away from the table.
Is every table like this? No. But they all have the potential to be like this. It can be pretty entertaining if you know what you are getting into.
You soldier through it with a smile, put every sauce on the side, and comfort yourself with the knowledge that all of the politickings at table number 20 have nothing whatsoever to do with you while you wait for everyone to be finished so you can dig into the leftover french toast in the kitchen.
For more on the pains that go into making a memorable brunch, check out the ‘Kitchen Confidential’ take on it….