Staring into those bleary, drunken eyes so full of contempt, I searched for the answer to the man-boy's question: "This is a roast beef restaurant. How can you be out of roast beef?" There were a number of rational answers, but none that would adequately meet this beast's needs. He needed to be fed, and in lieu of America's Roast Beef, I was offering him a Hamchy. It seemed like a better alternative than the cold turkey club.
What I really wanted to explain to him was that he had stumbled into the last fifteen minutes of a very long day in the fast food business. One that had been planned and calculated down to the last potato cake and large drink cup. The previous year's transactions for that day had been reviewed and special circumstances like weather and Simon and Garfunkel concerts were taken into account as each hour was forecast as a measure of dollars to beef. And buns. And the aforementioned large drink cups. There was no vast supply pipeline that emptied into our back room on demand. We were going to have to make the meat last as long as we could while maintaining the strict portion control demanded by the home office. Oh, and did I mention that it takes six hours for each one of those "roasts" to cook to delicious perfection? That means that if I wanted to have that one more sandwich just before two in the morning, I would have to have made sure that it was in the oven at eight o'clock, around the time that the back room was being hosed down and cleaned in anticipation of the following morning's opening prep work. There was no waste, or at least we tried not to make much. If there was extra beef left over at the end of the night, we chopped it up and put it into a vat with Chef Larry's Barbecue Sauce, carefully covered with foil that could not touch Larry's sauce for fear that it would eat through that protective barrier overnight. The misfired buns were counted up and counted against our total, and every other portion of every other item edible or inedible was inventoried to prepare for the next day and to generate a record that could be used to plan for the next Saturday night when a hungry drunk boy stumbled into the lobby looking for that last meal of the day, the one he was probably going to spew somewhere between the counter and the parking lot. The meal that I was going to have to clean up before I finished the bookwork that was going to tell us all just how much roast beef we were going to need to feed the surly frat boys who just missed being locked out of their chance to berate a fast food employee instead of banging on the door with their keys, insisting that we let him in for just one more roast beef sandwich.
Sorry. We're all out of roast beef.