Friday, June 20

Salute to Servers

I always thought that I'd be really good as a waitress. After all, I like food. I like people. And I have a good enough memory to be able to bring people unsweet tea when that is what they are drinking (a pet peeve of mine...taking a big swig of my refreshing beverage to get hit by the cloying sweetness of southern sweet tea). What could be hard about serving?


I tried it when I returned from my last season at Kings Dominion. I lasted for two, yes...TWO lunches. I didn't even make it to dinner service. I admit, it may have been a mistake to start at a local fine dining establishment. The place was Emil's (where Isabella's is now) and the kitchen was ruled by the iron fist of Urs Gabathuler. A German chef that made Gordon Ramsey look tame. Highly talented, but extremely particular. The server who was "training" me put the fear of God in me. This was not the fun interactive experience that I had expected. Then I was stunned to realize that most diners do not even acknowledge their server is human. Perhaps it was the location. Perhaps it was that particular clientele. But my conversations with servers makes me suspect that it wasn't just me. All of these customers gave their order to the tablecloth and handed the menu AT me (not TO me) over their shoulder. When I showed up at dinner service on my second day with a spot on my white shirt (tiny grease spot...probably from lunch) and was sent home to change...I just stayed there.

My respect for these hard working folks has never wavered.

My goal now is to be their best table of the day. I want them to smile and know that they are appreciated. Maybe I can't do anything radical like Rachel Ray's new show "The Big Tip" - where they give $1000 tips to two worthy servers and one $10,000 tip to the most special one they feature. Find it, watch it, bring tissues.

I have mentioned in this blog before that service with a smile can turn my day around...I'd like to tell you about a couple of the people I regularly interact with in local restaurants that have done that lately. Now you know, I love several local restaurateurs: Rob Pearson at Charley's (not the one with the O') and Uday from the Hot and Cold Cafe'. But they aren't really servers, so they don't qualify.

On the top of my list is my new girl Whitney at Injera on Main Street. Ethiopian food. Whitney greets everyone (but especially me) with a big smile and a welcoming attitude. She is working for a restaurant that features a cuisine that is new to Lynchburg. She recognizes that and takes the time to offer each table more information about the menu. She admits that she is a carnivore, but doesn't stop me if I decide to order one of the vegetarian dishes. She keeps my Coke filled and my attitude light. It all looks effortless - but I know that it isn't. She is pretty to look at, but it is her warm spirit that makes me walk in the door hoping she'll be there to brighten my day. And when she said that one way to remember her name was Whitney Houston, she laughed at my "crack is whack" joke and smiled when I sang a little bit of "and Iiiiiiiii will always loooooovvveee youuuuuuuu..." I should probably leave a bigger tip next time I visit.

Just down the street at Robin Alexander, I can always count on Joanie (as in "loves Chachi") for excellent service. She remembers that I like the chicken noodle soup - so even if I don't ask what the soup of the day is, she'll tell me when they have my favorite. She knows my sister will always order the sweet potato fries with raspberry melba sauce to dip them in. She knows that I think that is grossly sweet. Our drinks never run empty. She doesn't hover. My only complaint is that she is so quiet, I've been startled by her sudden appearance a couple of times. Or maybe that is just my lack of observation... Or maybe my sister (and frequent dining companion) is really loud?

One of my favorite servers is at the Cavalier. Yes, I think that Wells Duffy is also an owner...but he carries a lot of food around there - so I'm counting him in. Not everyone sees Wells as a warm and inviting presence. But they are missing the fluffy bunny within that gruff exterior. He always greets me and asks about my parents. He never fails to get every aspect of my table's order perfect (and some of my people are particular). Drinks rarely find themselves empty. And my favorite line is always delivered with his unique charm - as the basket of seasoned potato wedges land in the middle of the table: "be careful, the fries are hot." He knows that we know they are hot. We've been here hundreds of times. But I still feel cared for when he warns me the fries are hot. I still bite into one while it is the temperature of the sun...but that is not his fault.

And one more mention (though I could literally write this post all night long...there are so many extraordinary servers that I have encountered) - Nicole at Depot Grille. I wrote about a month ago about the train derailment that I was on the front lines for. I mentioned in the post that the derailment happened just after my table handed off our credit cards to pay our respective checks. What I didn't mention was that in the midst of the chaos of people streaming out of the area - Nicole found me (crouching behind a car) to let me know that she had our cards and would keep them safe. While there were train cars on FIRE less than 100 yards away, she wanted me to know that she was watching out for us. Yes, Nicole always smiles - like Whitney. Nicole is pretty familiar with my ordering habits and will point out specials that she knows I like - like Joanie. And just like Wells, she would probably warn me not to put blistering hot fries on my poor tongue. But I have to give a special nod to anyone who would stop running away from a very dangerous situation to reassure me that she would take good care of my credit card. I'm very glad that both of us survived that experience. She is pretty darn special.

To everyone who puts up with customers - thank you. A lot of us are so wrapped up in our stuff, we forget to acknowledge your service.

To anyone who does it in the food service industry - you amaze me. You do something I have found that I just can't do. I appreciate you very much.

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