My first job in high school was working in a laundromat next to the school a few afternoons and evenings a week. After that I started a career in the food service industry that lasted till I graduated from college. I even took a few years off after my first year of college and waitressed, cocktail waitressed and bartended full time. My last job waitressing ended in 1987 when I headed off to graduate school. But in later years when money got tight, and my financial situation would look precarious, I always knew that I had the safety net of being able to get a job waiting tables and I could support myself. Last night I got to test the strength of that net and the result was nothing short of exhilarating.
Last night, after a mediocre, unfulfilling day in the studio for me (I didn't get done what I planned/needed to get done, it was hot, I was tired and crabby), a frustrating, tedious day at work for my spouse, and an unsatisfying day at Circus Camp for the J, the family decided to head off to our favorite little local restaurant for a comfort dinner and a bottle of wine for Dave and me. We got there just before 7:00 and there was a table of 16 partying women on the patio, a couple of tables with two people each on the deck, and another couple at a table inside. We sat down and within ten minutes there were three more tables of two, three or four people who had arrived.
The owner and one waitress were the only front room staff on as they have been really slow for the summer and weren't expecting anything different last night. They were already getting a bit frazzled with no hostess or bartender as back-up when the waitress had an emergency and had to leave at 7:30. By then there were nine tables--one the increasingly raucous large group of women. It was a beautiful, cool night and the thirsty and hungry neighbors were coming out in droves. When the waitress brought us our dinner and said she had to go, I asked the owner if there was anything I could do to help. At first she demurred, but when pressed, she said I could take out an order for three to the deck when it came up.
I took that order out, seated and set up more tables, got water, took drink orders, opened wine, and got drinks, took orders and served food. I was just going to help for a little while, but they were really slammed. Dave took Jessie home when they were done eating and got her to bed, and I stayed on. When things finally settled down and I took stock, it was 11:00! By the end I had learned the entire computer system and entered orders, processed credit cards, and closed out tables. It truly was exhilarating. I really, really enjoyed myself. I had a great time talking to people, bringing them good food and drink so they could have a good evening and a good dining experience in a great atmosphere.
Sure, it was a little chaotic and maybe a bit less smooth for them than it would have been with a professional waitress. But I know the menu, I am familiar with a lot of the wine on the list, and I could confidently recommend items. And the memory for orders and the ability to carry lots of plates and glasses came right back. It was far easier to slip back into waitressing after a 20-year hiatus than it would be to downhill ski again (same approximate hiatus). I reveled in the economy of movement necessary to do it well (combine as many things as you can into every trip from the kitchen/bar to the floor in both directions, and never have empty hands).
At the end of it all I hope that my friend and her restaurant benefited from my help, and that the customers who were there had a positive dining experience, because I sure had a wonderful time. It was *just* what I needed to perk me out of the doldrums, and I wouldn't mind helping out again. Last night I worked for a bottle of wine, maybe next time I'll work for tips!
(Photos courtesy of Dave and his Blackberry)