May I Take Your Order…Madonna?

“Each time they take the photograph
I lose a part I can’t get back
I want to hide
This is the part where I detach”

Joan of Arc by Madonna

Madonna came into 66 on my day off.  MY DAY OFF!  Bitch, I’m d………!  I’m not her biggest fan but I am intrigued.  Who isn’t?  Come on dudes, admit it?  That was back in 2005, she was on her way to a gay club to promote “Confessions on the Dance Floor.”  My friend, her server that evening, said she was all glittered out in her disco leotard and ready to disco.  I love to disco!

Flash-forward to present day.  I drive a lot, A LOT,  for work, and needed some motivation.  I was surprised to see Madonna had a new album.  Like I said, I’m not one of her biggest fans.  But her music has motivated me through a tough time back in the past so I thought, what the heck.  The first song, “Living for Love” is sweet!  My favorite for sure.  Others are good and a few are growing on me musically but more than anything some lyrics brought back memories that inspired this post.

My first time seeing Madonna was walking down Central Park West.  I saw a women dressed in yoga/workout gear wearing dark sunglasses.  She felt familiar as I walked by her, and I paused for a minute before looking back.  She also looked back and lowered her dark sunglasses and winked.  How adorable is that???!!

After a few years gone by, I found myself working back in New Jersey for a crazy woman.  When I heard the news we were catering her sister’s brunch on Thanksgiving Day on Central Park West, anticipatory anxiety set in.  I worked for Macy’s at some point and when they asked for volunteers for the Thanksgiving Day Parade I was not on that list.  The crowds!  Enough said?  If I wanted to keep my job this time I didn’t have a choice.  So, I went…

And guess who her sister’s neighbor was???  Nope, guess again?  Yup, MADONNA!!

As I listened to the above lyrics it reminded me of that Thanksgiving Day.  Thoughts of Madonna in rollers and a robe.  Lourdes, so young, watching the parade down below, but most of all, memories of guests of our client, Madonna’s neighbor,  taking photographs of them.  And then the words, from that so familiar voice, “Please don’t take my picture.”  And then again, “Please don’t take my picture.”

Empathy.  A skill I often attribute to my success.  Many celebrities followed this experience in my career.  Madonna introduced it to me.  That only now comes to me through these lyrics that inspired me to write.  The power of people you don’t ever really know of their influence.  Thank you Madonna and all the other influences who make me who I am today.

 

MAY I TAKE YOUR ORDER…Mariah Carey?

Let me take you back to the beginning of what is now a 15 year career in Hospitality.  I needed a job, stat.  I was hired at Outback Steakhouse in NYC, yes, Outback Steakhouse.  At the same time my dear friend was hired at one of the most anticipated openings in NYC, Jean-Georges 66.  When I spoke of my distaste for my training my friend mentioned they were still hiring at 66 and said I should apply.  The concept was “Chinese”, and I wasn’t sure a tall blond would fit in.  But I did, and the rest is history.

Jean-George has a big celebrity following.  They appreciate his fabulous food and ability to create atmospheres where they can be comfortable.  I will never forget my very first celebrity table, Carol Burnett and Joel Grey.  She immediately put her hand out and introduced herself as Carol.  What a great start, thank you Carol!  And then there was my very first celebrity regular, Ms. Mariah Carey.

My manager came over and told me to get ready, “she”, was on her way over to my section.  That was after the gentlemen prescreened the table and found it to his satisfaction.  The gentlemen, who some would call bodyguards, were just that.  They were kind, appreciative, and fun.

I feel a little guilty saying this now but I remember thinking I might be in for it.  She had a reputation as you know.  But guess what, I never saw it.  Mariah Carey was sweet, funny, down-to-earth, and extremely generous.  This was someone I could be friends with.  And maybe she felt the same way as she came in often requesting the same table and me, or she just craved the Lobster as she always ordered it.  And it was 2 blocks from her infamous pad, you know the one seen on MTV Cribs.  One evening, she ran home in the rain with one of her friends.

I don’t have much else to say about my sweet new friend.  Haha.  I did have this one busboy who was working with me, well, at least until she got there this one particular evening.  He was shaking and crying, so I immediately had him switched out for another who was not as fancentric as he was.  I did ask Mariah if I could introduce him to her and she was lovely and accommodating and he just cried more.

It’s been quite some time, but I can still vividly remember her beautiful butterfly ring and the sweet sounds of her voice a humming.  It was music to my ears.  Until we meet again, Ms. Carey.     

…Robin Williams

I always knew that I was different.  Whatever that is??!  And twice in my life Robin Williams touched my soul.

As a child in the late seventies and early eighties, I watched Mork & Mindy and even though I was very young I could relate to his attempts to try and understand human behaviour, and even more so, American culture.  Sometimes I was awkwardly uncomfortable watching Mork and his portrayal of him because he was so weird and different.  We weren’t suppose to act that way and the idea of enjoying it made me feel like I might get in trouble or be found out.  Looking back, I knew deep down it was something very special and pure genius.

Years later, he would join Sandra Bullock, Lance Armstrong and others for dinner.  I can still picture him sitting there at the center of the table; of attention.  He was so nice and sooo sweet to everyone around him.  I could still see Mork inside their.  Many times he made me laugh, and other times I was uncomfortable.  I felt something again, deep down.  I was in the presence of a genius, someone different and I embraced that.  My intuition and empathy have contributed to my success in this industry and at moments looking into his eyes, there was something there I related too.  Maybe it was the exhaustion of being “on” even when it goes against your personality.  I fall on the introvert side of the scale and in many cases this has contributed to my success, even though society would have you think differently, but I certainly know how exhausting it can be to be “on”.

Rest in Peace RW.

MAY I TAKE YOUR ORDER…MR. JAMES?

I have decided, after wonderful suggestions from friends and family, that shorter in this day and age is better.  I split my first post in two to achieve just that.  The greatest thing about this is, THERE ARE NO RULES!!!  And “adventures” are just that.

One of my staple training lessons as a hospitality leader is about empathy.  I always ask my team to put themselves into the shoes of our guests.   Yes, most of the time, we don’t know what’s going on in those shoes.  So I ask my team to think of the worst possible scenario.  Maybe that guest just lost somebody very near and dear to their heart.  And they’re on their way home after seeing them.  Everyone has to eat.  How would you react if you were in those shoes?  You probably would not be yourself.  I know I was not.

Unfortunately, this lesson of mine was put to a real life test.  In December 2010, my mother, suffered a major heart attack.  She had to have triple bypass surgery.  This was truly the first time something life threatening  had happened to someone so close to me.  I flew to be with my mom when she received her diagnosis and I stayed through the surgery and through the first part of her recovery.  It was a success!  Thank you Doctors and Nursesl!!!  I drove from her house to the hospital every morning and back home every night.  On this one particular evening, I recall stopping at a local restaurant.  I was sitting there in a booth all by myself feeling like a zombie.  I wasn’t eating well, I had not been doing yoga or exercising, sleep was limited, and well, emotionally I wasn’t sure I could handle it.  I remember thinking to myself this is that moment that I use as an example for empathy.  I wondered if my waitress empathised with me.  I wanted her to so badly.  I wanted to tell her what happened to my mom.  I wanted her to know that I was not myself that day.  But I didn’t.  I didn’t even look her in the eyes.  I did not want to be judged.  I was too exhausted in my thoughts and even more so to speak.

I’ve had to use empathy numerous times throughout my career.  And believe it or not, more so with non-celebrities than celebs.  But they too can have bad days or periods of life just like me and you.

 

MAY I TAKE YOUR ORDER…Trouble?

You may recall a couple years back when Trouble, the fluffy white lap companion of the hotel and real estate tycoon Leona Helmsley — and a dog that is the world’s richest and most hated bitch, passed away.  Or you may recall back further, when Ms. Helmsley passed away, Trouble was heir to 12 million dollars.

This wasn’t the only time Trouble, made an impact.  Now this impact wasn’t nearly as lucrative.  But it could have impacted the restaurant she was dining in.  New york city health code prohibits animals in restaurants and can close you down if busted.

I had the honor of meeting trouble one evening.  Now it wouldn’t have been much of a story except for the loudmouth Texan, and yes, I know they were from Texas, so I can say that.  I would guess Dallas now that I have lived in Austin.  This GCB was fit to be tied that a dog was in the restaurant.  She didn’t give a rats ass who Ms. Helmsley was or her little dog.  She and her big hair stood up tall and threatened to call 911.  After numerous threats, her cowboy calmed her down.

How this table ended up in the VIP section I’ll never know?  I’m sure someone lost their job.  Or close to it.

I don’t believe Ms. Helmsley knew what was going on. At least if she did no one knew it. She was kind of up there in age by now.  I’d love to say that we didn’t care who she or Trouble were either, but, no one, and I mean no one, was about to approach her and tell her Trouble could not be inside.  And her request for a bowl of water and side plate for some yum yum was granted as well.  And after seeing what the woman did for her after she left this planet, it was probably a good idea we all looked the other way.

She was no tyrant.  Trouble was no trouble at all.  She was just a wealthy woman who loved her wealthy dog.  Rest in peace my fellow dog-lover and your little dog too.

MAY I TAKE YOUR ORDER…Tom Cruise?

New York City, my current restaurant gig at the time in the Meat Packing District.  If we thought the one in Tribeca was high pressure, girl did we have a thing coming.  Of course, we want to take care of all of our guests, BUT, when you have a leader whose life is defined by her VIP list you better be damn sure you are ready to have that star-effer up your ass.  Night after night after night, hour after hour after hour, minute after minute after, you get the point.  It was always the same few servers that were given the honor to serve them.  And got the same amount of tips as everyone else I might add.  These selected few were not necessarily the most skilled or knowledgable at their job but were exploited for their looks or nationality.  After all, we served SE Asian cuisine and this was NEW YORK CITY baby.

This particular evening the place was loaded and the pressure was on.  You see, it was Tom Cruises first time in any of our restaurants and boy was she in heat.  First his guests arrived, Mr. and Mrs. Will and Jada Smith.  Then, after about 30 minutes comes a handsome, smiling Tom Cruise strolling towards the table, followed by three linebackers.  He spoke like a bro and was extremely charming and upbeat.  I didn’t want to like him, but I did.  He’s a good-looking fellow of average height and was a regular kinda guy; with three linebackers, who kept getting in our way.   The space was crowded enough.  And it didn’t seem like his server was getting enough air this evening or something.  Yes, she was up her ass but she should have been use to that by now.  Or was this the breaking point??!!

YES IT WAS!  Did you ever have a server who just stared at you, blank in the eyes?  And walked away without saying anything leaving you to wonder if she got your order correctly.  She did just that, to Tom Cruise.  And that was just the beginning.  Tom asked another serverme, to check that the order was taken correctly.  When I checked on it, the server started slurring, “I don’t give a shit if it’s Tom Cruise or Will Smith.  “F” them.”  And repeated it louder.  To a response, “Is everything ok Ma’am?”, from one of the linebackers who happened to position himself right in front of our side station.  She looked at him and said, “Do not call me Ma’am.”  Oh boy, this is when I really knew we had to do something.  Like get her off the floor and away from her to save her job.  We did.  But not without any repercussions.  She pleaded prescription meds and I don’t believe the Movie-stars had any clue what was happening, even though, we never did see them again.

Well, I did actually.  Fast-forward six years.  I am now in Los Angeles, trying to bribe a homeless man to get out of our garbage in the back alley.  Tom Cruise was expected any moment and with so much paparazzi always at the front, he would be entering through the back.  As I held a bottle of soda, it was all I could grab under the pressure, and begged him kindly to move on he said, “Oh my god, you’re Tom Cruise!  Hello sir.”  And sure enough as I turned around there he was, smiley and handsome Tom Cruise strolling towards the back door  “Hello gentleman”, he said, and entered.

MAY I TAKE YOUR ORDER…Lady Gaga?

“We’ll always have Gaga”.

That’s what I thought as I left my last job.  Well, my second to last job.  No, the job before the second to last job.  You get the point.  God, I hated that job.  But as Lady Gaga wrote, it did have delicious barbecue and tequila.

I must say right out of the gate, Lady Gaga is single handedly the most genuine and sweet “famous” person that I have been given the honor of meeting and getting a teeny tiny glimpse into their life.  Teeny, teeny, teeny, teeny, teeny,  well, you get the point.

I was conducting our weekly manager meeting on the back patio of the restaurant when the owner got a text and nonchalantly said, “Lady Gaga may be coming in.  Let her order whatever she wants.”  You see, we were closed in the dining room at that time of day and only offering the bar menu at the bar.  But for sure, if she comes in, Lady Gaga damn well can order whatever she wants.  And not just because she is rich and famous, but because she stands for so much to so many, including myself, and to be able to give her something teeny tiny back is a no brainer.  But was Lady Gaga really going to come in???!!

YES SHE IS!  There she was, in what looked like 6 inch black Louboutins, dressed in all black, working a Marilyn Monroe hairstyle with long eyelashes and longggg finger nails on her paws.  She was with a tall man also dressed in black with long rocker hair.  They went right to the bar where there was only one older couple eating at the time.  The older couple was in town for there son’s wedding the following day.  They must have been the hit of the wedding.  Sorry, bride-to-be.

“I think we’re a bar couple,” were the first words I heard out of her childlike, adorable mouth.

Well, she is adorable.  I know you don’t see her described that way often but I found her to be just that.  First off, many celebrities aren’t as engaging.  Take another blond bombshell for example.  Not only was she not engaging, she had her husband do all of her talking, ordering, and commenting.  She wouldn’t even look you in the eye to say hello.  Now, this is not a typical celebrity gossip blog and I normally would not bring this up if it happened one time.  But she was a regular at one of my restaurants and came in almost weekly, and always acted in this way.  I know everyone has bad days and just like you and I, they too can have a bad day or life for that matter.  I don’t always act perfectly in restaurants.  That’s for sure.

Back to Gaga!  “Rah-rah-ah-ah-ah-ah!  Rama-ramama-ah, Gaga-ohh-la-la!”

I had a very special moment with Lady Gaga that I will cherish forever.  I thanked her for everything that she did, not just for her inspiring music but for the great she does for humanity and for equal rights.  She looked me dead in the eye and said, “I want to do this.  This is what I want to do,” and gave me a big hug.  And of course, I hugged her back.  She was so generous and kind.  I know the bartender was nervous at first but completely put at ease by her humbleness.  She ordered two chopped beef sandwiches and potato salad.  And after taking her first bite wanted more but her companion advised that she wait till she was done with the first two.  She drank tequila neat. She asked me where I was from and when she heard New Jersey she told me that was where her dad was from.  And sure enough it was just up Route 22.  We talked about our New York, the lower East side and she called me one of them.  Gosh, she made everyone feel so comfortable.

And a little note about her humbleness.  She told me she had come from Guadalajara.  She couldn’t believe people, her Monsters, paid an average of $75 per ticket to see her and it was sold out!  “The medium income is $6000 a year,” she said.  She mentioned how it poured rain and was thundering and lightning and no one left.  She couldn’t believe it.  She was genuinely surprised and grateful.  She was shocked that her Monsters already knew the lyrics of her latest single that had come out just the day before.  I remember thinking as I looked at those sweet lips talking to me, “Does she know she’s Lady Gaga?”

I took care of her meal. I figured it was the least I could do, we could do, to give back.  For all her great deeds and being so kind and generous to my team and I.  She was very thankful.  She offered to sign something and when I hesitated and wasn’t sure what, she sweetly suggested a menu.  I’m still not sure where the purple sharpie came from??!  She tipped the bartender, the dishwasher, and the cooks generously, and felt bad she didn’t have more on her to give.  She took pictures with a couple of her monsters on staff and left graciously and appreciatively.  She was off to play Skee-Ball!

I could not get her out of my head for days.  There is truly something special about certain people. I don’t know what it is.  She is one creative soul and if I wasn’t a big fan before I certainly was now.  Thank you again Gaga for making this world a little bit better.  See you in Dubai!