Far from being a source of frustration, challenging customers are what makes Tony Lo Terzo's job sing. ''The more challenging the customer the more I thrive to be honest,'' he says. ''It makes it more interesting.''
These are the customers who arrive angry, or couples who have had an argument, or customers who get angry at something that goes wrong during the evening, or ones who are sceptical about some aspect of the restaurant, like the all Italian wine list at Italian and Sons in Braddon where Lo Terzo works the floor. His job is to ensure that no matter what mood might have affected their arrival or what might have happened to upset them during dinner, they leave happy.
''First and foremost I want to please them,'' he says. ''To me, a dining room's a stage. There's a lot of theatrics that go on, the principals are actually the customers, that's the way I look at it, and you try to give them a good night. It's not just the food, it's the way you respond to them.''
Some just want to get on with dinner, or a quick business lunch, or a private conversation, and it's important to be able to read the mood of the table. Others look to the wait staff for their entertainment. ''You get older couples who have been together for a long time don't have much to say to one another so they want to talk to the waiter, which is fine, you've got to be able to spend some time with them, but there's an art to be able move away from the table because you've got other customers to look after as well.'' Some want to discuss the menu, the wine, or even the current political situation, and that's part of the deal. Regular customers share family stories - about their daughter who missed an exam, or personal problems, and you listen, Lo Terzo says, but you don't get involved. ''Because I'm older, because I've got grey hair, a lot of people feel more comfortable.''
Lo Terzo has been in Canberra for just over two years, moving here from Melbourne with his then partner. From Sicily, he moved to Melbourne at 12, and has been in food as a ''glorified kitchen hand'' and head cook, and front of house, since starting work 45 years ago. He has worked for restaurants including Grossi Florentino and Esposito in Melbourne, and in Sydney he managed Eliza's at Double Bay and was a partner with Greg Doyle in Rogues.