This is my favorite story from the 17 days that I spent hostessing in NYC before getting a different job. Warning: This story doesn’t end well.
So there I was: It was late afternoon on Fifth Avenue and I was working that hostess stand like a rockstar (or so I told myself… more than once). I was doing exactly what I got paid to do: Smile. Oh and greet people, get their information, and show them to their tables. You know: all that jazz.
Hostessing in NYC is a thankless job. You spend 12 hours a day standing in heels, and sadly, that’s really one of the only expectations people have of you: that you can stand. Doesn’t matter if you can spell. No one is ever looking over your shoulder. You just have to stand there and smile.
So on this particular day, it was slow. Really, really slow. And sometimes, the slower it is, the more likely you are to make a mistake (Oh! Foreshadowing!!!) So, in walks this guy, deep in conversation with a blonde lady. He glances at the stand and signals: two. I asked if they had a reservation (part of the script). He said no and started to walk toward the (half-empty) dining room. However, I throw him off his game by remaining at the computer and asking for his name. (Also part of the script.) We do this at our establishment in order to improve the guest experience by customizing it to their preferences. Oh and also so that we can keep track of their spending, tipping, and ordering patterns and so we can Google them later to find out if they are “Someone”.
Most people are still on the other side of the large and somewhat intimidating host stand at this point, but this guy is not, he is standing right next to me, watching me position my fingers on the key board waiting for his answer.
He is standing close enough that he has a clear view of my computer screen. I’ve seen the head maître d’ tilt the screen away from guests before, but I have never been in the position that I’ve had to do so, and it feels rude, so I don’t. He looks back and forth between me and the screen as if he hasn’t heard my question. Now he’s thrown me off my game, but I keep my smile steady. “Can I get a name for the table?” I repeat.
His eye contact is making me a little uncomfortable. It’s as if he knows I am going to Google him when he walks away. “You can put the table under Beau,” he says. “Can I get a last name?” I chirped, as if my purpose and passion in life is seating people at swanky lounges. “Swayze,” he says. My first instinct was to say, “Spelled like Patrick?” but in this particular city, and during this particular interaction, I decided maybe that wasn’t a great opening line. I just peered at him out of the corner of my eye, trying to see if he had particularly good hair, and typed something into the program.
For the record, I know how to spell the name “Beau.” I went to high school with a guy named Beau. But like I said, he threw me off my game, and was peering so intently at my screen that I got nervous. So I stopped thinking and just typed BO. Yes. B-O.
“No,” he corrected me, not unkindly. “B-E-A-U.” Feeling exactly like the idiot I looked like, I just smiled again and said, “Oh, Beau.” And he looked at me as if it almost made him sad how stupid I was. “No, just Beau,” he said. I was mortified, and when I am mortified, I talk too much. “No, I didn’t mean, ‘Oboe’ like the instrument, I meant like ‘Oh… Beau’ you know, like I hadn’t heard you well before, or… you know?” The blonde lady tried not to laugh as she rolled her eyes and looked her phone. He just smiled and nodded. Yeah. He got it. I retyped his name correctly, feeling (accurately) like this was not the best time to ask if I could add a phone number to the reservation.
I grabbed two menus and a wine list and quickly walked them down the stairs, into the dining room, wishing, the whole time that I was invisible. I quickly retreated back across the restaurant praying, “Please do not let that guy be related to Patrick Swayze. Please do not let that interaction be my only connection to my favorite Dirty Dancer.” As soon as I reached the safety of the hostess stand I googled him.
Results were underwhelming. Some sites said he had a son named Beau. Some said there was a love child somewhere. Some said it was a nephew. Whatever. I was still an idiot who can’t spell.
I wish there was a happy ending to this story and I could tell you about how I redeemed myself with a clever joke and we laughed together over my great wit. I wish I could tell you that we later became friends, maybe even went out dancing. But there just isn’t any coming back from that, so rather than try, I just pretended I had something very important to find and ducked into the coat closet as they left.
Later that week I sat Larry King. And I spelled L-A-R-R-Y like a champ. He wasn’t looking, so it wouldn’t have mattered had I misspelled it… But, for the record, I got it right: on my first try.
In 2013, I quit my job and bought a one-way ticket to Thailand. After four months of backpacking I returned to the States and fell in love with a guy whose job sent us straight back to Asia. Nothing has gone according to plan... and it's been absolutely magical.