The daily menu meeting at Old Ebbitt Grill is held in the back bar, where naked nymphs dance on clouds painted on the ceiling above the wooden stools and leather booths. The wait staff and bartenders are gathered here, dressed in their signature red bow ties and suspenders. It looks like an accountants’ convention.
Chef Robert McGowan and GM Kyle McGaffney lead the meeting, which is in part devoted to explaining that the kitchen is now making its own barbecue sauce. The wait staff needs to let diners know that the new stuff is sweeter and smokier than the previous sauce.
The staff seems more concerned about the arrival of the University of Florida athletes, who are eating lunch here before moving on to the White House, where President Obama will honor Gator teams for capturing at least a pair of national championships. (Nobody seems to know which ones, except for the football title.) Despite the large group of students, servers will not have to punch in individual orders for each diner. Every athlete, coach, and whoever is simply getting a plate with two entrees: one chicken with bacon and cheese and one burger, medium-well.
The servers will mostly have to focus on beverage service, Gaffney says.
So what about vegetarians, chef? “We don’t know if there are any yet,” McGowan says. If so, he has pasta and veggie dishes available.
The menu meeting takes a turn for the comic when Gaffney explains that McGowan, who sports the requisite chef’s paunch, competed in a 10-K race over the weekend, apparently his first. Gaffney says there’s a photo on the Web site, showing McGowan running downhill toward a family. The family, Gaffney adds, “looks like they’re running for their lives.”
McGowan tells an anecdote about the race. “The best part is that someone else was giving me advice —- to run my own race,” he says. “I smoked him by 10 minutes.” McGowan covered the course in 1 hour, 32 seconds.
The meeting ends on a small, stressful note when the staff learns that Old Ebbitt owner John Laytham will be dining at the restaurant today with Sally Davidson, widow of founder Stuart Davidson. They’re apparently celebrating Laytham’s birthday.
As if feeding 225 athletes weren’t stressful enough.