I Was a Waitress for One Night

For one night I lived out a small fantasy. I got to be a waitress.

You might be thinking (especially if you’ve worked in restaurants) that my fantasy is a bit absurd naive. Difficult customers, low pay, other unappealing aspects too numerous to mention–where’s the fantasy in that?

It’s probably because sometime when I was small and in the I-can-be-tricked-into-doing-chores phase of development, my mom convinced me it was cool to set the table.

How I managed to make it through my teen years, college, and grad school and never work in a restaurant, I don’t know. I guess I assumed I didn’t have enough experience. Being a waitress has been a fantasy of mine simply because it was something I’d never done.

The details of how I found myself being a waitress are not super important. The easiest way to explain it is to say that I had to do it for a job, and also that I worked at a nonprofit (fundraising, donor appreciation, you get the idea).

The restaurant, a small establishment downtown, reminded me of something you might see in a city much bigger than ours. Painted brick, hardwood floors, high ceilings, a stylized logo across one of the view windows. Inside, empty, except for the musician warming up and a man behind the bar drying glasses, I was immediately put to work preparing for the patrons to arrive. And as I worked I was struck by the artistry already creeping into the experience. White tablecloths covered unused tables to make lines of symmetrical squares. Silverware was wrapped in napkins folded like origami then placed on plates, each at exactly the same angle. Even the font on the menu was beautiful, clean, precise.

The man behind the bar and two other gentleman (henceforth referred to by their roles: The Sommelier, The Apprentice, and The Chef) worked the restaurant that night and brought their individual artistries to the experience. I learned that in addition to his extensive wine knowledge, The Sommelier was a painter, whose work was hanging on the restaurant’s walls. I watched The Apprentice nimbly dice something green and fragrant into pieces so fine they stuck under my fingernails when I was allowed to garnish the entrees.The Chef magicked a gelee that tasted and felt like soup-Jello in my mouth, and made me feel nostalgia for some comforting down-home experience from my past I knew I’d had but couldn’t remember.

As The Waitress, I floated between tables and removed dishes in a tempered, tai-chi fashion–a rhythm that rarely characterizes my movements in a normal day. Confidence came from somewhere, and I found myself joking with the patrons, caring about their needs. I was serving them.

Being allowed into this world for one night, I developed an appreciation for food and its production in the way I can appreciate a cellist who attacks her instrument during an allegro, or a poet who selects a word for the way it feels coming out of her mouth. And in the feeling of serving others, I felt the immediate satisfaction of delivering something to someone, in this case, a six course meal, six works of art, and was witness to the experience of that art.

Spending the evening with The Sommelier, The Apprentice, and The Chef, I was in concert with artists, each of us connected by our own appreciation of that which we find beautiful, clean, precise.

The Chef joked that the restaurant was hiring. Did I need a job? He knew a guy. And for a moment I seriously considered the offer, then wondered if being in this world night after night would make it lose some of its splendor. For the sake of holding onto the feeling, for engaging in art for art’s sake, for being reminded of that truism, I don’t think I’ll ever take him, or anyone, up on the offer to work in a restaurant.

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