I worked as a server at a wedding yesterday (more to come on that for a Dark Room piece). I was helping out a friend of mine who does catering, a chance to earn some extra money, which I desperately need, and I was thankful for the opportunity.
To say I was the oldest person working the wedding would be an understatement, though after a night of serving, probably everyone feels as old as I do every day. 🙂 I was also the only one not currently working in the business. I have not, to put a fine point on it, waited tables for almost 10 years now. And that stint was a relatively brief one, thank God, born of desperation after being laid off from my old job and unable to find a new one for several months. Even back then, I was the oldest person waiting tables. It’s a job for the young, to be sure. But I was looking forward to it.
My God, serving is such hard work. I must have walked 5 miles over the course of the evening. And how many times did I bend into the ever-dwindling amount of ice in the ice machine to fill the bucket with ice so we could keep the ice water flowing? A dozen? A hundred? And moving hot chafing dishes and folding napkins and picking stuff up off the floor. Whatever you tip your server when you go out, you should give a little more if you can. Seriously back-breaking work.
It was a very hard night, but also a lot of fun. What was amazing to me was how quickly the “flow” came back – calling “behind” as you whisk by someone’s back in the kitchen, figuring out what goes where on the tables and everyone pitching in to set up, the ability to carry eleventy billion things at once to try to minimize trips back and forth. The robot-like fast scanning you do as you walk, to see what’s in front of people, so that you’re making sure nobody is sitting in front of dirty plates or food trash like empty popcorn bags (the couple had popcorn on the table as a table favor), that the water carafes aren’t empty, that nobody has set anything on fire with the tealight candles (ok, there was one napkin fire, but I wasn’t on the floor when it happened). Those brief breaks where you and the other servers are in the back cramming leftovers into your face with whatever is handy and not needed for service – a plastic lid, food eaten with a knife, whatever it takes, exchanging tired, sympathetic smiles or eyerolls, depending on what’s happening on the floor. The discussion about difficult guests and their demands. The dance of everyone moving in a kitchen but nobody running into each other. The “we’re all in this together” feeling that nobody out front can understand. I miss it.
It was like putting on an old, favorite suit that’s just a little too small and uncomfortable. You want to fit into it, but you don’t, and you can only wear it for a little while before hanging it back up, hoping that one day, somehow, you’ll fit into it again. Back into the closet with you, old friend.