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Boating: Waterfront Dining with Strange Staff

May 9, 2012
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer
Nothing is more stimulating to the appetite than arriving by boat at an attractive waterfront restaurant. I believe that if Geraldo Rivera would throw a microphone in front of any group stepping off a boat, he would be on the receiving end of the warmest, gushiest, overwhelmingly positive comments since the first space shuttle. There should be canned applause for the skipper and crew, who braved the elements to entertain the other people sitting at the tables. No more talking politics, economy or condo-commando junk – just the weather and the boat and the happy people coming ashore. Some might question the people about the boat or where they are from, but all are happier to see the arrival. Everyone except the busy staff, especially the new ones. What is it about these establishments that feel a need to change staff so often? Sure people move on to better things, but in some of these places, there are never farewell parties – or even a goodbye card to sign. It’s almost like a science-fiction film, where an alien force vaporizes unsuspecting humans. All during my long waterfront dining experience, Fort Myers Beach circa 1985, I have strived to train restaurant staff in the art of serving the old ‘boatguy.’ I’m so old that I remember when there were only a handful of places accessible by boat in the back bay. Who else remembers Mikes’ Waterfront Restaurant? It evolved into the great Matanzas Inn and Restaurant that we know today. In the old days, you knew the dishwasher’s name, Rita was a cool lady. She sat at the bar when the dishes were done and accepted drinks from the patrons. We knew where she was from, basic background information (a lot of it was fiction, I’m sure, because the beach is a place for re-invention) and ‘how things were going’ with her. She made the best brownies! I remember attending numerous “farewell” parties for employees for many years. They were going back to school, getting married in Idaho or moving onto a better job somewhere else. There was a wide variety of types: the super-efficient, loveable screw-ups and good employees in the middle. Case in point: I ordered my favorite hors d’oeuvre the same way for years in my ‘then-favorite waterfront bar, but was only able to get them the way I preferred when one particular bartender was working. If you know me, you’ll know I’m weird. My all-time favorite beer is Pabst Blue Ribbon, enough said. I puzzled over this puzzle for quite a while until I realized that my naked, au dente’ chicken wings were a special kitchen order and that the “loveable screw-up” bartender was the only one who took the time to go back and threaten the cook! (He wasn’t a screw-up but loved baseball). I am sure I left a better tip than any Wisconsinite ever did. But my tale of woe began with the employment of a new assistant manager who didn’t see the benefit of having “loveable baseball” bartender on staff. No matter that, when he worked, the place was crowded with regulars. He was on the chopping block from day one, mostly because he watched too much baseball while working. She never polled the customers, “Would you prefer a super-efficient bartender or him?” She didn’t ask how much of a burden it was to wait a few extra seconds for a drink while the 3-2 pitch was delivered. So, she fired him for a “good cause” and then she found her answer in a storm of protest. Another funny thing: Restaurant owners don’t like their customers telling them what to do? Have you noticed the missing comment cards or the overstuffed suggestion box with the rusty padlock? Anyway, the manager stayed and the baseball bartender was gone. I boycotted the place for a few months but returned after the manager was fired. I started a “BRING TLSU BACK” with posters and individual buttons with his name on it for all the patrons. One Friday night, all the regulars and some convivial tourists wore the badges. The owner wasn’t happy. He finally offered “loveable baseball” bartender his job back ,and, to his credit, he declined, because he had moved onto better, non-restaurant things. Now that is a happy ending for him, but not for all the regulars who missed him. Fast-forward to the present day. Now we have double the number of waterfront restaurants, and this is a good thing, but the employee turnover is atrocious in some places. In a bit of deja vu, I was startled to learn that my naked, au dente’ chicken wings were a special kitchen order at my favorite happy hour spot. The new bartender didn’t know me, didn’t know that the old bartenders put them in especially for me that way and I’d just ordered the hottest wings. I was incensed when they arrived lightly coated and was at a loss to explain the mix-up. The manager claimed that was the way they always served them, but I had been eating them my way for years? I was eventually convinced and that was when I truly appreciated the old bartenders. How hard was it to train the new ones? Not hard at all, but I don’t want to know their name because I’ve had enough heartbreak in my life already! Boatguy Ed is the past Commodore of the “Dead End Canal Yacht Club.” A retired marine manufacturer and an avid boater. Send comments to Visit him on the DECYC Facebook page or


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