Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Kabul: Later, Waiters

A week after my first drama-filled reception, we had another one.  This one included 95 of my office's best contacts, and it would be the premier event to welcome our newly-arrived officers.

We decided to hold this event in the Embassy's courtyard instead of at the Ambassador's residence, giving us much more flexibility.  We were no longer bound by the Ambassador's rigid event checklist.

Working on a tighter budget this time -- and having just had expensive French catering -- we decided to go with an Afghan caterer.  Other than samosas, the lone Afghan item, the rest of our menu was a hodgepodge.  We had egg rolls, sliders, chicken fingers, and black forest cake.  Such things can happen when you select your menu by committee.  In any case, the food is only of secondary importance to many guests, for whom the bar holds more interest.

We had booked the caterer through the Embassy's concierge desk, and when we realized the caterer couldn't provide waitstaff, we turned to the concierge for this as well.  I was familiar with the concierge team, and I was a bit skeptical.

Perhaps sensing my hesitation, the manager with whom I spoke tried to reassure me.

"Don't worry, sir," he told me, "my guys have just been through a waiter training course."  "They know exactly what to do."

Facing a dearth of alternatives, I signed on the dotted line for five of the concierge's finest professionally-trained waiters.

When the big day arrived, the set-up crew arranged our space, and my boss added a personal touch by decorating the cocktail tables with festive scarves and candles.  Then about an hour before showtime, the waiters arrived with the food.

Two things immediately came to mind: First, the sliders we had ordered weren't sliders at all.  They were big-ass burgers.  These substantial, sloppy sandwiches weren't going to be easy to delicately eat in suits and fancy dresses.

The second observation I had was more worrisome:  There was no way the amount of food we had received was going to feed a hundred people.

In ordering the food, we had been asked to provide the number of guests and the food items we wanted.  It was up to the caterer to decide the correct portions.

The concierge was on hand, and he agreed with my assessment in his own way.

"If everyone only takes a little," he offered, "we should be okay."

I was unwilling to ration the food, however, so the concierge placed an order for more samosas from a shop not far from the Embassy compound.

Of the five waiters I had hired, one was designated to work the bar and the others were assigned to work the floor.

As the waiters finished setting up, I went to the main entrance to start escorting the guests.

When the flow of guests began to wane about half an hour later, I relieved myself of escort duty and joined the party.

Of the four servers who were supposed to be working the floor, two were crouched behind the buffet tables devouring heaping plates of food.  The other two seemed to be doing their jobs, but then I noticed they were picking up all sorts of garbage and then handling food -- without ever changing their gloves.

I pulled the team aside and politely explained that break time would be at the end of the party and that the point of the gloves was not solely to protect the wearer.  The gloves were also meant to keep the food uncontaminated.

"Yes, sir!" the guys responded, and they dispersed among the crowd.

Meanwhile, the bartender seemed to be doing a respectable job, but there was something amiss at his station too.

"Sorry, sir," he told me, "but we ran out of white wine."

How we had gone through a case of white in thirty minutes was beyond me, but it looked like there was plenty of red wine and beer remaining.  It was time for the official program to begin, in any case, so I turned my attention to the speeches.

I got a shout-out from my boss for organizing the event, and then the Ambassador gave some meatier remarks.

Once mingling resumed, my waiters were missing in action again.  They were sitting on a bench unsure of what they should be doing.

I directed two to walk around with the chicken fingers and egg rolls and the other two to collect used plates and glasses.

This kept them occupied for the remainder of the event.

At around 7:30, I ushered the last of the guests to the gate, and when I returned to the courtyard to help clean up, the bartender had a bunch of bottles lined up on the table.

"We ended up with 22 beers, 4 bottles of red, and 10 bottles of white," he proudly announced.

Naturally, I recalled the white wine shortage from the beginning of the night, but I didn't mention it.  I suspected his explanation would likely be more annoying than comical at this point.

Despite everything, the event had been a success.  Still, I couldn't help but wonder: The guys might have gone to waiter school, but did any of them actually graduate?!?


Eleanor White said...

Chris, hysterical as usual, and I can so SEE this scene! Maybe the white wine shortage was supposed to result in a tip of bottles of wine to the waiters at the end?? (Hope it didn't!) Love, Eleanor White

Roger Call said...

Hi Chris,

Same all over the world.....it's hard to find good help!
At least they probably didn't have loads of tattoos or
nose/lip/ear rings!!



Anonymous said...

That is hilarious about how the servers were stuffing down the food. Sounds like something would happen in a lot of the palces i have been. Every man for himself........CB in Harare

Juan said...

Reading this was such a great break to an otherwise manic and annoying day. Thanks, Chris!