When I was a teenager waiting tables in a series of Italian eateries of wavering quality, I would have leapt at the chance to replace myself with an iPad, as Applebee’s has recently rolled out. The meals I served back then were generally not “cooked” so much as they were “poured from a slit in a bag and reheated,” and the only thing that made me sadder than people ordering the food was people liking it. That flashing electronic device at each table may sound disheartening, but it’s less depressing than an actual human pretending she likes working at Applebee’s.
But there is much to be learned in the service industry, and at 23, I finally got a job at a restaurant I adored and admired, a Madison, Wis., farm-to-table place named L’Etoile that was trumpeting its local sourcing about 30 years before everyone else except Alice Waters. Surely the guests at such a restaurant would be gracious, even blissful. Surely we would bond over the love of fine food that had brought us together. And with many guests, this was indeed the case. But the grander truth I take away from my decade in the restaurant business is this: We would all be better people if restaurant work were compulsory. We might at first be more ragey, baffled-by-our-peers people, yes, but I submit that as time went on and a wave of restaurant-educated people burst forth, we’d benefit.
Chopping away in the back of the house does not count for these purposes, by the way, difficult and demanding though that work is. In the kitchen, the worst you might do is grievously injure yourself. In the dining room, you face humanity.
And this is humanity at its most oblivious, tetchy and petulant. We’ve all heard about the snooty, demanding restaurant guests, but snootiness was not generally a big problem in Madison. When the arena is a friendly college town in the Midwest, you’re not really achieving much by getting your way — it’s Wisconsin! We were probably going to do that for you, anyway. The occasional celebrity strolled through, visiting a kid at UW or playing a concert, but they were invariably low-key and unobtrusive. No, it was the regular folks who drained me of my will to stay in the restaurant business, and at times my will to breathe. (“Everyone should waittables,” Michelle Wildgen, Salon.com)
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Face to face, is a privilege. Therapists do face to face. It's intimacy, where affect is potentially so strong you can find yourself changed, regardless of stoic retreat.
The problem is that we're still a primitive society, which for purposes of effecting a superstructure against Chaos we still acclaim people allowed to be most remote from us — they've got to be at the top of a formidable tower. If you're a waiter, or retail, what you actually are is at the frontlines of affecting people.
Each time, you're so close you could touch, and rattle. And even if you're in a society primitive enough to think this is the lowest thing, limited to mere minutes each time, regardless you can still potentially change lives.
That is why everyone should seek to be a waiter. It's one of the highest things.
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If I was someone working in a face to face job like waitering, retail, or hotel work, and felt like I was adding to others' lives, I don't know how readily I would agree to people subjugating me as someone doing "honest" work, like I'm within some kind of work purgatory — 2 years service to humble and ground me for the rest of my life.
Don't any of you go to restaurants or shops or hotels where people, new additions and experiences into your life, relax you, calm you, acknowledge you — maybe even on occasion add genuine magic to your lives? I swear that to me they're all in the therapy industry — not the showy stuff, the grand human being who within an hour twice a week overtly prompts you into discovery. But the ostensibly innocuous regular human contact that without drawing attention to itself, is just as much required for inner shifts we might make.
Wes Anderson has something of this perspective, it appears. Grand Budapest is about someone with the greatest job in the world — a bellhop.