This post has been inspired by David Kanigan, whose Blog Lead.Learn. Live you really should be subscribed to. He is a senior leader in a New York financial organisation, and yet he finds time to produce uplifting and inspirational articles several times per day, the first one normally by 4 a.m.
A couple of days ago David wrote a Blog intriguingly entitled “Running. And chafing.” It is one of the most shockingly honest things I have read all year, and I am about to share it with you. I warn you that it should not be read with a cup of coffee to hand, as if you are swallowing as you read, you run the risk of the Indian Nose Trick (coffee in via mouth, out via left nostril). Its frankness caused me a sharp intake of breath. This is “controlled disclosure” as Rob Goffee describes it in his superb book on Leadership ‘Why should anyone be led by you?”, on a new level. Go and read David’s article and then come back to me.
David has inspired me to in some way reciprocate, hence today’s subject. I promised him I’d share my most embarassing moment as a Head Waiter, and possibly of my whole life. Aren’t you just the lucky one: first David’s ”chafing disclosure”, now my most embarassing moment, all within one post! Christmas has come early this year. Here goes.
I was Head Waiter at a country restaurant called The Bell at Ramsbury, in the late 70’s. It was how I spent my gap year before going up to Oxford. It was a gourmet restaurant, seating about 50, with two permanent waiting staff. I was in charge (Woo hoo. Only because the Head Waiter left 2 weeks after I joined).
One day we took on a new waiter called Derek (still a good friend: we went through a lot together!). He, like me, knew nothing when he joined, and I had to show him the ropes. On his first Saturday evening (I remember it so well, I am feeling my heart rate go up as I type this), we had a young couple in to celebrate their engagement. He was in a white suit (important detail), she in low cut number which I had to work hard to not notice (I failed). They ordered champagne. Not just any champagne, but sparkling red Burgundy (not my choice or recommendation, but there you are, it’s their special night, far be it from me to judge).
So, might as well show Derek how to do it. “Derek, watch me this time and you can do it next time.” Derek discreetly retires to the back of the restaurant to watch the master sommelier at work.
I do the usual routine: show him the label, carefully remove foil and wire, place bottle on hip and point it at customer’s left eye, and slowly twist bottle whilst holding cork in other hand.
It did not go to plan. Instead of the usual quiet sigh of a discreet escape of natural gas, we had a bit of an explosion. A geyser of highly expensive red liquid erupts forth. What does one do? Obvious: try and stop it escaping using your thumb. Which simply pressurises it and makes it go long distance. Instead of this being a local incident, I am now involving other tables. It is on the ceiling and walls, and more importantly all over his face, his white suit, her dress and her cleavage.
Eventually it blew itself out, with about 1/3rd of the bottle to go. £50 worth up the Swanee at current prices.
Why is this the most embarassing moment of my life as Head Waiter, and possibly ever? Because of what I did next. I took a napkin and wiped his face for him so he could see again. Glad to say I didn’t offer to dry his fiancee off. But it’s the words that then came out that are so cringemaking. Where on earth did this come from?
“Little bit lively, that one, sir”, smiling as I said it. They smiled back, forlornly. And then, without any offer of any recompense whatsoever, I walked away, backwards. Shuffled, verging on crept more like, I suspect.
I remember Derek’s face that night. God bless him, he didn’t say a word. Not one. Maybe because HE was the cause – shook it up on the way from the cellar. I’ve always had my suspicions, but never voiced them. Until now.
David, I know this woeful tale doesn’t match your disclosure, but it’s the best I can muster.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could turn this into “Self Disclosure week”, and have every reader post their own most embarassing moment? Christmas comes but once a year: this could be our gift to each other!