Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments. For this installment, we spoke to a waiter who spent the summer working in a restaurant known as much for its organized crime clientele as for its food.
I would always come in early. One day, I was the only person in the whole place except for the manager in the office and he nonchalantly asked to go outside and wait for someone to give me something and to bring it back to him.
So I'm standing outside of the restaurant, pretty certain of what's going on, and I'm asking myself, "Am I seriously going to be handed a package?" I felt like I was in Goodfellas. And then sure enough, a full-sized manila envelope—about four inches thick—gets handed to me outside of a luxury car from a guy who doesn't even acknowledge me. I remember thinking that I could probably be in Mexico by the end of the day. Making that joke with some of my colleagues, they said, "You'd probably be dead by the end of the night, buddy!"
I worked there for five or six months, which covered a summer. I literally had to learn a new language, which was a mix of English and Italian. It was never explicitly told to me in the job interview, it was just understood. There was always an undertone. At first I thought it was maybe a joke but then all of these guys on the staff who had so much bravado and would suddenly become so docile with certain clients purely out of loyalty. It was pretty weird.
When those guys came in they could do whatever the fuck they wanted. They could smoke inside, it was really whatever they wanted. The feeling was that they owned the restaurant. Like, if they wanted they could shut this place down.
And meanwhile, downstairs, we would be serving movie stars and politicians and the regular clientele. But upstairs there were things going on that would blow their minds.
I remember a huge private party and there were a lot of fucking prostitutes, they had like a car-load come in. I might have even seen a guy with a revolver. It was a private, ten-course meal with the prostitutes coming in for dessert and no shame, and no regard for money. It was literally a stable of whores.
And meanwhile, downstairs, we would be serving movie stars and politicians and the regular clientele. But upstairs there were things going on that would blow their minds. And then in the back of the restaurant you have a bunch of waiters saying, "Hey, our pay cheques aren't ready!"
Sometimes our cheques would be late and it's just like, "Sorry, cheques aren't ready." Whereas in a different restaurant "cheques aren't ready" is a big fucking deal, it's a problem. But in this restaurant no one would ever ask, "Where's my money?" There was definitely a hierarchy. And so many of us were working at the same time, and you really had no idea of your own bookkeeping. They're potting the tips together way before other restaurants were, so it was this huge pile of cash that got divvied up between everyone.
"Bro, bring this coffee to Table 12 or I'll stab you in the heart!"
I've worked in every different type of joint from fancy restaurants to hotels to family places, but I had never seen these kinds of guys, it's just not the type of clientele that you're used to. Some of them it was just, "Don't speak unless spoken to," and they wouldn't even look at you and then some of them would be perfectly sociable. But far more would be like, "Don't talk to me, don't look at me."
And a lot of the staff idolized these guys and it was hard to take seriously. They would literally say things like, "Yo, did you hear this guy got killed?" and it felt like a joke. I wanted to say, "You guys can't be serious!"
And the more that I think about it, the more I realize that it really wasn't regular daily workflow of a restaurant in that place. It was run by these characters. The owners and managers were sociopaths but they were almost comical. They would talk in the third person and in constant threats of violence. It was more a manner of speaking than it was a threat. Just like, "Bro, bring this coffee to Table 12 or I'll stab you in the heart!" I really found myself asking, "Where the hell am I working?"
I would have to be a forensic accountant to figure out what the hell was going on there. I don't know if they just hung out there or if the mob owned it. That would just be guessing.
Everybody knew that something was going on. Everyone who worked there knew.
I'm not too sure what the financial connection was between the restaurant and these guys, but it was a definitely a different invoice structure for them than it would be for me and you if we wanted a private meal for 20 people and a DJ. And who knows? Maybe it's free for some of them.
But everybody knew that something was going on. Everyone who worked there knew. But when you're the only one who didn't grow up in that environment it seemed odd. They all knew it was a mob restaurant. It was like, "Hey, bro, did you see who's at Table 3? Don't drop a glass over there!"
Eventually I left to get a more normal job, in a restaurant that was smaller. I've never excelled in giant scenes of people and you're just like a soldier, which is kind of a cheesy word. But the scene was so big there and we were a lot of waiters on the floor. It was a big restaurant and they made a lot of money.
This post previously appeared on MUNCHIES in January, 2017.