Happy to welcome 1,200 on Thanksgiving

While most of us are sitting around our family tables Thursday, savoring a day of free time and loads of leftovers, Karin Balas will be doing just the opposite. As the full-time lead hostess at Ray’s Killer Creek, Balas will be hard at work, making sure that as many as 1,200 diners at the Alpharetta restaurant have a wonderful holiday meal. And it won’t be the first time: Managing the flow of Thanksgiving guests has been Balas’ bailiwick for six years.

“When I took this job, I knew I’d have to work holidays,” said Balas. “I was a newlywed when I started, but my husband didn’t have an issue with it; we’re flexible people.”

Now, Balas is a two-time mom whose family has their own celebration a few days after most people have carved up the last bit of breast. “It’s usually the day after, but this year, it will be Sunday because my husband has to work,” said Balas. “My kids don’t know anything different, other than mom works that day.”

And work she will. Ray’s opens Thursday at 11 a.m. and the crew keeps going until the last slice of pie is served, about 9:30 p.m.

“It’s actually a lot of fun helping everyone fulfill their particular needs that day,” said Balas. “Being in Alpharetta, we get a lot of families, large groups of eight or 20, and older couples who don’t want to cook. We even have some regulars who come here every Thanksgiving and know exactly where they want to sit.”

The kitchen will turn out traditional dishes of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce, but there also will be Ray’s usual menu of steaks and seafood for those who aren’t fond of the big bird. Balas and the wait staff will be combing the dining room to make sure everyone gets what makes them happy.

“A lot of times, guests who book for holidays think they might get people who are grumpy and don’t want to have to work on the holiday,” said Balas. “Here, we’re all professionals. Many of the staff have been here 12 years; there are a lot of restaurant veterans.”

The restaurant’s management feeds the staff’s energy levels by setting up a pizza and soda section where the crew can grab a few minutes respite from the dining room.

“For the employees, that’s part of the fun,” said Balas. “We go off in shifts, and you never know who’s going to be there eating. You can be next to the dishwasher or one of the chefs. You just squeeze in, get a couple pieces of pizza and have a little relief before it’s time to go back.”

Perhaps because Ray’s staff is in high holiday spirits, Balas says they rarely encounter grumpy guests.

“Actually, at Thanksgiving, they tend to be very nice,” she said. “We hear a lot of thanks for being open. That’s the best part of the day.”

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