By Mark Gauert
Editor, City & Shore Magazine
I can’t tell you the name of the restaurant. You’ll understand why in a moment.
Let’s just say if I told you the name of the restaurant, you’d probably recognize it. You might even start to feel hungry thinking about the last time you ate there.
You’d also know it’s a tough restaurant to get into – and I was trying to get in on one of the toughest nights of all.
But I was having house guests from France in over the holidays, and I knew they liked this particular restaurant. So, long before Christmas Eve – long before the kids even started back to school – I made a reservation.
“Mr. Gauert,” the man at the restaurant confirmed. “Party of six. Eight o’clock. Dec. 24.’’
“We’re in?” I said.
“You’re in,’’ he said.
“You’re sure we’re in?” I said.
“Mr. Gauert,’’ he repeated. “Party of six. Eight o’clock. Dec. 24.’’
Christmas Eve. Eight o’clock. On the dot.
“Mr. Gauert?’’ the maître d’ said, scanning the reservation list. “Oh, yes – party of six.”
“Yes!” I said, gesturing to my guests from France.
Quelle host, I imagined them thinking. Landing a table at their favorite restaurant on Christmas Eve!
“Bienvenue!’’ the maître d’ said. “We’re just waiting for the party at your table to finish up.”
I looked across the festive dining room at the party seated at our table. They were eating dessert. Just behind them was a table for eight – with no one seated around it.
“Say, any chance we could have that open table,’’ I said, “since the party at our table hasn’t finished yet?”
“I’m sorry, but that table was reserved for 8 o’clock,’’ the maître d’ said. “Please, enjoy the bar while the party at your table finishes up.”
So we tried to enjoy the bar – but it was SRO and so festive the bartender was having trouble hearing the drink orders.
I looked back at the party seated at our table. They were ordering coffee now. Still no one at the table behind them.
“Excuse me,” I said to the maître d’. “But I couldn’t help noticing the party at our table still hasn’t finished. Do you think we might be able sit at that open table now?”
“I’m sorry, he said. “Please continue to enjoy the bar.”
Quelle host, I imagined my guests thinking.
I looked back at the party seated at our table. They were ordering cordials now. Still no one at the table for eight.
Christmas Eve. Forty minutes after 8 o’clock. On the dot.
I’m about to approach the maître d’ again when one of my guests, from France, beats me to it.
“Why are you making us wait 40 minutes when there’s another open table?’’ he said.
“What was your party’s name?” the maître d’ asked.
“You don’t know by now?” my guest said. “I want to speak with the manager.”
“Oh, yes,” the maître d’ said. “Mr. Gauert.’’
Wait, I thought. I’m Mr. Gauert. He’s Mr. Blanc. (Not his real name. You’ll understand why in a moment.)
“Tell the manager that I own five restaurants in Paris, and I would never treat my guests like this!” he said.
Wait, I thought. I knew Mr. Blanc knows many restaurants in Paris. But, to my knowledge, he doesn’t own any of them.
No matter, it’s working. The maître d’ is talking with the manager now. The manager looks shocked, shocked, that Mr. Gauert – owner of five restaurants in Paris! – has had to wait so long.
Christmas Eve. Fifty minutes after 8 o’clock.
The Gauert party of six is escorted to the empty table for eight. We are assigned our very own waiter. We are assigned a sommelier.
Heads turn. There’s a hush. We are the center of attention.
“I heard Mr. Gauert owns five restaurants in Paris,” somebody whispers.
And, that night, we’ve never eaten better.
So I ask, as you read this Food & Dining Issue, how far would you season the truth to get a good seat or upgrade your service the next time you go out to eat?
I know now how far my party would go. And, at this particular restaurant, how well it worked.
But I can’t tell you the name of the restaurant. Because Mr. Gauert can never go back.