For the first time since, let’s say Thanksgiving, I am at home alone, with time and space to jot down a few thoughts. Over the holidays, there was a flurry of travel, merry making, and of course the Christmas Dinner. This year, we hosted my husband’s family at our home for a traditional holiday feast with all of the trimmings. As I set the table, with my mother-in-law, and sister-in-law, I was reminded of a piece that I wrote last Spring that I had yet to share on the blog.
I give you…A Servant’s Heart: An Homage to the Restaurant Life
I love restaurants. They feel like a second home of sorts, and whenever I entertain, I feel like I am somehow maintaining a legacy of life in the service industry. My parents owned & operated a hotel and restaurant for ten years. I sat my first table at age 2. I was the hostess with the mostess, to be sure.
And, when my father remarried, he and my step-mother, opened a cafe that has been in business, for 23 years. I worked there, starting at age 14, when I visited on the weekends, and then became a permanent fixture at the cafe all the way through college.
I have worked in at least 8 restaurants & often entertain in my home. I did so, even when my home was a 300 square ft. 1BR apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
As I was setting my table, and arranging the flowers & fare, I reflected back on the many tables I have set before & the many people whom I have served.
There are countless reasons why people eat in restaurants…some come to celebrate a happy occasion, some come to enjoy a night off from the usual grind, some dine out daily because they just don’t cook, some come for the company & familiarity of their “restaurant family”, some seek solace at a table following the loss of a loved one when the idea of cooking seems like a climb up a mountain, some come to write, some hide in the anonymity of a restaurant to tryst with a secret lover, some dine alone, some bring the whole family out for a bite, some come for the food, others for the ambiance, and the reasons go on and on…
Growing up in service, you learn to gauge each table as a new experience. You learn that people bring their entire selves with them when they come to your table–their upbringing, their manners (or lack thereof), their last conversation, their day up until the point in which they sit down in your chair.
Yes, the order of business is standard: the greeting, the beverage orders, the specials, the order, the presentation, the check-in, the dessert and coffee or tea. It all happens within the same mold. But, the server must take the temperature of each guest, in order to bring the proper experience to each diner. You learn to tune into body language of those at your table. You learn to tune out, the ones who like to treat you like second class citizens to “impress” their hot dates. You learn, who likes to chat & who likes to be left alone–who likes to hear your take on the food and who’d rather take the reins on the menu. And, you always remember the one that tells you that you look just like Princess Grace, when you smile. And, through all of this back & forth, throughout an evening, table after table, party after party, you learn people.
When the money in your pocket comes from the “gratitude” of others and their likelihood to come sit at your table again, it behooves you to learn to tune in quickly to the varying needs of each guest you serve.
Due in huge part, to my life in service, I have the knack for reading the true nature of a person, quite quickly & most of the time, quite accurately, in the very first moments of meeting. It’s a gift that I received from my customers over the years. These lessons and gifts of knowledge continue to surface my current career as a professional actor & voice over artist, as they did in my former career as a yoga teacher, and in daily life in general. I look for cues from the people around me, to adjust the way in which I interact with them, to better suit their needs–sometimes, giving more or less of myself, depending on the temperature or mood of the room.
Learning how to put people at ease, and to help guide them through a dining experience has been a great teacher and a great service to my life. And although my waitressing days are far behind me, I feel the legacy of service in my veins. After all, aren’t we all here, to be in service to each other, as we navigate this life? Let me know if there is anything else I can do for you…have a lovely day.