What is a restaurant?
A building. A kitchen. A menu. Tables and chairs and bottles of wine.
The sounds of clinking glasses and forks scraping plates. The way that voices carry through space, mouths that hold stories and ideas and bites of food. The quick calls of “corner” and “behind” that are only heard by those who have been trained to listen.
The way the air takes on the flavor of a kitchen, and of all the people inside of it. The baking butter and fragrant spices that make everyone say, “it smells so good in here!” as if they are the first person to think of it. The aromas that cling to clothes and hair and bodies long after a meal has ended.
A restaurant is a living, breathing thing. The sum of all its parts and people. The feet in clogs and Crocs who make it all possible, sheltered behind closed doors. The endless flow of visitors wearing high-heels and loafers who will never see through the illusion. The theater of it all.
The experience. The ambiance. The escape.
Serving, and being served. Feeding off of conversations. Reconnecting, introducing, or dining alone. Tasting the fruits of someone else’s labor.
The young skinny guy who dunks potatoes and chicken into a vat of hot oil, making everyone around him chuckle with witty jokes and friendly banter.
The pretty girl who started waiting tables to pay for college and has grown to appreciate walking home with $400 in her pocket every night. She has learned to shrug off comments like “give us a smile, honey.” The price of performance.
The bartender who wants to be an actor, using strangers to learn the script and practice lines. Concoctions of liquor and ice and charm.
The undocumented prep cook, and the formerly incarcerated person working the grill station. The parent of three, working two jobs to make ends meet. The people who this world was not built for, who have been left to fend for themselves. Earn their spot. Prove their value.
The hospitality professionals and board-certified sommeliers. The people who will never be respected as intellectuals, despite knowing all of the science behind terroir and emulsification and how to regulate human emotions. The managers who are asked to be spoken with, the chefs who have mastered the art of satisfying complex dietary restrictions.
The “essential workers” and the “unskilled laborers.” Applauded for bravery but shamed for life choices. Life in the balance. Treated as disposable.
The “restaurant people.” Labeled by others who do not understand definitions. Talked about as if we are not in the room, breathing the same air and hearing the same sounds. Discussed as pawns in a game of chess, easy to move and even easier to forget.
The “restaurant people” who I call friends and family. The “restaurant people” who understand one another without explanation, sharing the universal language of tickets and turn times and prep pars. The “restaurant people” who sweat behind the grill and scream in walk in refrigerators and enjoy every moment of it.
It is not always easy, being a “restaurant person.” Exhausting, and dehumanizing. Frustrating, and unrelenting.
But rewarding. Oh, so incredibly rewarding.
Prizes in the form of acceptance and nourishment. Community, and resilience. Strength in numbers. Love in the form of appreciation.
The joy of shared meals, and new flavors. Pleasure found in thinking on your toes, improvising and following intuition. Salt to taste.
Satisfaction in creating something delicious.
This will be the final weekly edition of At The Table. Get on the list & stay tuned next week for a very exciting update!