Dinner Will Be Served
It’s 4:30 on a Thursday afternoon, and the staff for the two restaurants have convened upstairs in Catherine Lombardi to have the daily staff dinner, “the family meal,” according to Schott. All the tables in the large dining room have been set. It is quiet, except for the sound of buckets of ice cascading into the bar sink nearby and the faint hum of a vacuum running downstairs. With only a half hour to go before service commences, members of the staff look up attentively in the direction of Pascal and Schott, who are standing amid the tables. Schott calls this part of the evening “getting ready for takeoff,” and no two evenings are ever the same. There are already a lot of reservations on the books, and it’s going to be a busy night. The team is short a few servers, so compensatory logistics are outlined. There are a few other things to keep in mind, too. A party of 10—state legislators up from Trenton—will be dining upstairs tonight. The wine library in Stage Left, a cozy room lined with bookshelves and racks of wine, needs another table set for the private party coming in at 7:30. We’re going to need to pay attention, the men remind them. After answering a few questions, they make one last sweep of the restaurants, bars, and kitchens before adjourning to their shared basement office. At some point, usually around 6:30, they will split up, with each going to one of the restaurants to begin the evening of greeting guests at their tables, making introductions to the food and wine, and ensuring that everything goes well. “We have never had so many moving parts,” says Schott. “There is a lot to keep track of.”
Because of its unforgiving pace and the myriad demands of serving food to the public (not to mention fine cuisine), restaurant life is notorious for burning out its players, from owners right on down the line. For Pascal and Schott, stress or fatigue has never been an issue. “I love this business,” says Pascal. “It’s not a source of angst. It’s a pleasure.” Even when the restaurants are very busy, which is frequently, and an urgent call for help rings their office phones, they react to the urgency with aplomb, pulling on their suit jackets as they head off to douse “the hot spots” in the dining rooms. These are small considerations in the scheme of things, given how much satisfaction and inspiration the two derive from pleasing people.
And that’s the first point that Pascal, who is primarily responsible for hiring staff, makes to job seekers. Many of them are current or former students at Rutgers who will go through a rigorous training program before they are allowed to so much as look at a table of guests. “I tell them, ‘One, you have to be very personable and enjoy making people happy,’” he says. “‘Two, you have to be reasonably intelligent. Three, you have to be hardworking because it is a hard, physical job. And, four, you have to have the desire to be the best at this. If your only reward is money, it won’t be good enough—and you won’t be good enough. You have to take intrinsic satisfaction from making people happy and being really good at your job.’”