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Four Years at the Mount

Senior Year

Hospitaliano

Katelyn Phelan

(Oct, 2010) When I studying in Italy under the Mountís Study Abroad Program, I tried to pick up as much of the language as I could. Little did I know that my REAL Italian lesson would be at home. This summer I worked as a hostess in a popular Italian restaurant chain. I was excited about the opportunity, mostly because I had a hard time finding any job at all.

When I arrived for my training I was greeted with a slow, southern, drawling benvenuto, Italian for "welcome." But in that accent it didnít mean anything at all, because the man was clearly not speaking Italian. He turned out to be my manager. During the actual training session my drawling manager abandoned the attempt at full Italian and whipped out a hybrid: hospitaliano. This word, we were taught, is not a word at all (which I enthusiastically yet silently agreed with), but a feeling, according to the companyís definition. At the end of the session I was handed a name badge. Hospitaliano was written across it in large scrawling letters and my name was nestled underneath, significantly smaller and barely readable. My job as a host, apparently, was to convey this hospitaliano to guests.

At first dealing with the public was ok. I had patience, but week after week the same kinds of people rolled through the restaurant, making the same annoying requests, and my patience was ground down. Iíve gathered below some categories, descriptions, and examples of the incredibly annoying and bizarre things people said and did on a regular basis, all of which come from just two months of work.

First are the people who still have not yet mastered the skill of counting, amazingly enough. Numerous groups would approach the host stand and leave their baby or young child out of their party. Even when I reminded them that a baby counts as a human being some insisted that the child did not need space at the table, saying "No, really, heís not eating!" One woman I spoke to insisted that she had two people in her party when I could see that she and her husband had two children with them. She refused to amend the number even though I asked, "Those two children are with you also, right?" Children need a place to sit, too and the whole idea of telling the hostess a party count is so they can have a place. I often needed to anticipate party numbers.

Next are those who expect me to read minds. These are people who have some special request, but neglect to tell me about it until they realize I donít know what they want; commonly itís a secret preference for a table or a booth. Most people like booths better, and some of them tell us that. Others patiently wait to be taken to a table, reject it, and then shop around for a new one. One of my first days working I took a small party to a booth. One woman looked at me and said, "I have two knee replacements. How do you expect me to get in there?" And how was I to know that she had two knee replacements? She wasnít in a wheelchair and she was walking well from what I could see. Nonetheless, Iím meant to know that sheís had knee surgery at some point in her life and seat her at the appropriate table.

Then there are people who expect me to act as a prophetess and predict the future. The restaurant I worked for did not take reservations, but had a call-ahead system. The idea is, if a party wants to come in and avoid some of their long wait, they can call ahead and have their name put on the waiting list while they are on their way. If thereís not a wait, then thereís no list to put them on. If people call and thereís no wait I explain how the system works. Then comes the question: "Well, is there going to be a wait when I come in?" I want to respond, "Oh, will you excuse me just a minute? I need to run out to my car to get my crystal ball so I can look inside and see how many people are coming in tonight." Unfortunately, working as a hostess did not give me these special skills, nor have I picked them up in my spare time.

Another group of people seems to believe that they are the only ones who exist, or at least that they are the only important ones. These are people who call on a Saturday night when the wait is an hour and a half and request a "quiet" table. If youíd like a quiet table you should probably just stay home because there are over 400 people in here at the moment eating, waiting to eat, or cooking and serving food. At the moment, a "quiet" table is impossible.

Some people I encountered defy all categorization. A woman came in and said that her husband called ahead for a party of nine. I looked at the list and didnít see her name, let alone a party of nine. I told her that he must not have called in because we didnít have anything. She insisted. We looked again. Nothing. After several minutes of heated debate, the man suddenly realized that he had in fact called Red Lobster and was on the waiting list there.

Working with the public was not quite what I expected. But Iím still employed at this restaurant and will be working there over Christmas, when Iím sure everyone will be even more reasonable. Iíll be armed with my hospitaliano badge which will remind me that in our restaurant, everyone is family. Considering how pleasant everyone is normally, this should not be simple. One last thing to keep in mind, all these people can have children and vote.

Read other articles by Katelyn Phelan