“Taylor, is fir jou” The Dominican hostess, Yanara, said to me while pestering my right shoulder.
“But I thought you said I had section 2” I began in protest.
Only two sips into my first cup of diluted EDR (employee dining room) coffee, still waking up from a 4am alarm an hour earlier, and suddenly summoned to the stage.
“Fine, which table.” I asked after two seconds of silence.
From the warm kitchen, I walked slowly, through the steel swinging doors and into the drafty dining room. Where, sat amongst a sea of vacant tables, a not quite old man, with long grey hair tied back in a pony tail and hidden under a black hat with gold letters displaying “Vietnam Vet”, sat with a matching black leather jacket and denim jeans, across from a woman, undoubtedly his wife.
In the hollow air, my steps reverberated across the wooden room as I approached. Armed with a metal kettle, with a red handle, for regular, I drew ready.
“Good morning! Would you folks like some coffee?” I broke into routine with my favorite weapon.
“You know Tyler, I’d love some coffee.” “Thanks.” The mid sixties man said in a tone so familiar that I’d swore we’d met before. And then, we got to talking.
For the next fifteen minutes, Jim, his wife, Nancy, and I, filled the silent room with pleasant conversation, all before I even took their order.
And, after one brief interruption for me to grab their food, I returned to the table, and we talked some more.
About his winters spent at ski resorts across the country, from Steamboat, to Stowe. About their homemade maple syrup. About their construction business. About their travels. And about their children. Between bites of eggs, over easy, the lovely couple from Vermont shared with me their lives. And I shared with them mine.
At the end of our lengthy conversation, I collected Jim’s cash payment, and generous tip, then said “goodbye”.
The next morning, they returned. And while the restaurant was a bit busier, I still enjoyed another wonderful conversation.
Since my encounter with Jim and Nancy, who’s actual names I never did get, I’ve enjoyed many more conversations, and I’ve been paid for them too.
As a self-entitled hospitality management student, I always hated the idea of serving. The thought of handling dirty dishes, and even worse, dealing with people, seemed like such a degrading task.
“Serving is for high school students, or the uneducated” I used to think. “I’ll never work in a restaurant” I’d say.
For years, I thought of serving as a sort of paid indenturement. Like a modern version of medieval peasant’s work. But, after a month of chatting with tables, I’ve found that the conversations I share while pouring coffee are often far more stimulating than sipping it.
You can tolerate it as a chore, or you can grasp it as an opportunity. Serve yourself too.