"When I’m taking their picture I sing ‘When I see you smile…’"Photo: Melissa Hom
Fifty-four-year-old Ronny Webb worked at El Morocco and the Rainbow Room, eventually making $40,000 per year as a hotel-restaurant manager, before he decided to “take a step down” and pursue what he says is a less stressful existence. For the past five years, he’s been making cash money as a butler for billionaire Ron Perelman (something he’s not allowed to talk about) and as a captain at the city’s most profitable restaurant, Tavern on the Green. (Apparently, attempting to track-down 2 percent milk and off-the-menu spaghetti for Robert De Niro’s wife and kid is considered low stress.) We asked him more about this lark of a job.
What are the signatures of your service?
Other employees always call me to sing “Happy Birthday” with them because I’m very brave. I always sing in a tone that people like. When I’m taking their picture I sing [breaking into song] “When I see you smile…”
How much do you rake in in tips at New York City’s most profitable restaurant?
On a Sunday, you could make anywhere from $150 to $250. In the night shift, anywhere from $170 to $300 and change. When you get into the latter part of October or December, you can have $500-a-day dinners.
How many tables do you oversee? What tricks do you employ to avoid slipping up?
During Sunday brunch I personally have 32 covers. One waiter shakes so he can’t keep his hand steady and serve drinks. When he gets the order ready in one tray, I give him two more orders and grab the tray he just prepared and go and serve the table. I make it look flawless so you don’t notice he is incompetent in that way.
What are wedding receptions like there?
Some of them go too long — they should only be able to drink three hours. After seven hours of drinking, a lot of people are stumbling or vomiting at the end of the night.
Do people get fussy about which room they’re seated in?
This gentleman and lady hadn’t been here in 27 years — they were married in the Crystal room. They sat them in the Chestnut — after a bottle wine, they started fighting, they got upset with me because they said, “We really wanted to sit in the Crystal.” They left unhappy.
Do people flip out when the bill comes to more than they had imagined?
A lot of people look at the menu and then they’re there for ten minutes and all of sudden everyone gets up and walks out. That happens often. They’ll make any stupid excuse.
How many plates can you carry at a given time? Does the job take a physical toll?
Serving, I can carry up to six plates, but it’s not very professional. Clearing, I can clear up to ten plates. I did four doubles one day. You’re really tired the next day — you’re brain-dead and can’t walk. But you drink a lot of coffee. I recently worked 21 days straight. At my age, that’s pushing it — but you got to pay the mortgage.