Please Come Back, All is Forgiven

Posted on Friday 22 July 2011

In a world in which SoFla hospitality ads demand that applicants be “sober” as well as have some “recent” experience–i.e., not 20 years ago when you were working part time while attending college and likely not sober–the professional server is a gem hidden among so much worthless rocks and sand particles.

This server oozes gentility and manners as well as finely honed skills to genuinely and appropriately serve you. This server is never overbearing in his efforts to make sure you are well taken care of. Rather than annoy you every five minutes by asking you how everything is, he knows exactly how the meal is going and adjusts accordingly. He offers a comped appetizer when the kitchen is slow, but before you realize how long it’s been since you ordered; he refills your water glass without having to be asked or brings another round at just the right moment; he senses when conversation with you is better left unspoken, but always manages to hack through his weeds to chat about where you are from and how adorable your toddler is when the time is right for you.

You may not remember your mediocre meal, but you likely will never forget “that server” who pampered you without ever crossing the lines of uncomfortable familiarity and forced cheerfulness, who deftly presented your entrees and cleared your appetizers with a smoothness that cannot be trained, who made you forget that you were in a dining room full of other guests because this server gave you 100 percent of his attention even as other guests demanded 100 percent of him for themselves.

You will go back to a place with semi-forgettable food if the service is impeccable. And, if you are fortunate enough to experience this kind of excellence, you will wonder how it is that such understated professional service has become a mostly obsolete commodity. You will, for the brief two hours you are breaking bread with friends or co-workers or loved ones, appreciate that this is what the dining out experience should always be and rarely is.

When you are lucky enough to be trained by one from the old school, you hope a little of what he is all about will become a part of your work persona, even though you know you will have to work hard to hone what is intuitive to him. He patiently answers your questions, even those asked for the third time in so many hours. He backs you up with all the behind-the-scenes details that make you appear to be a better server than you really are.

He applauds your successes on his slow days. He gives away a table to you when he knows the host seems to have forgotten to seat your section, pretending he is too overwhelmed to take it himself. He senses your frustrations with lazy co-workers, thoughtless managers and unforgiving needy guests by quietly saying, “Go grab a cigarette out back; I’ll watch your tables.”

He always smiles like he means it. He listens to you rail against the lousy tips and brutal schedule and tells you he hopes you hang in there because you are a pleasure to work with and you’ve even taught him a few things.

You won’t ever forget the in-season shift when everyone but you and he called out, and you and he successfully handled the unending stream of the hungry with a silent communication and understanding that you thought was only possible between twin siblings.

You couldn’t be less like his unflappable self. You vow every work day you will try to be. You cannot thank him enough every single day.

As I puzzle over and worry about his two-week, no-call/no-show absence, I wonder if the standard of perfection to which he holds himself and of which we, his co-workers, take for granted, took some sort of great and horrible toll on him. I don’t think I will ever know. He hasn’t taken any of my dozens of phone calls or responded to my worried texts. His voicemail box is full. Clearly, I am not the only worried one. Nor am I the only selfish one who is so very anxious for him to come back to work to make my work world bearable is this unbearably slow and mismanaged off season.

I always viewed my blog category titled “Beloved Co-workers” as a sidelong sarcastic wink. Until he left without warning, without a word. Damn.

6 Comments for 'Please Come Back, All is Forgiven'

  1.  
    July 22, 2011 | 8:35 pm
     

    The shifts always go faster when working with someone like that, don’t they, RG? Here’s hoping your compatriot returns and brings smooth shifts back to you.

  2.  
    Restaurant Gal
    July 22, 2011 | 8:51 pm
     

    Ex-Restaurant Manager–It’s hard to work and play with the others when the others seem almost glad this great co-worker is gone. I guess they think their inattention to guests, extreme tardiness, texting in the side station, and vanishing acts throughout the shift will be less noticed now that a standard of excellence is gone.

  3.  
    July 25, 2011 | 11:42 am
     

    Does this mean that you are the new standard?

  4.  
    L.
    July 26, 2011 | 2:07 am
     

    If you ever find out what happened to him, please update us. I wonder if the silence is just the male way of handling his personal crisis …not trying to keep his distance from a friend like you. You did a fine job on this piece.

  5.  
    Julie
    July 26, 2011 | 10:40 am
     

    RG — Does this man live alone? Has anyone gone to his home to check on him?

  6.  
    Restaurant Gal
    July 26, 2011 | 2:28 pm
     

    joeinVegas–Not really. Trying times they are a happening since my work pal left.

    L.–I will let you know if and when I know.

    Julie–No. Yes. No clue where he is. I am still very concerned.

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