Service Please by Anna Van Dyk

Service Please is a monthly column by Anna Van Dyk. Anna found herself all of the sudden in a restaurant job and here she shares her stories - the up’s and down’s - high’s and low’s and all the wine and food eaten inbetween.

The Beginning

It was a bright, crisp morning in London.

I had walked in to The Restaurant for an interview after my brother had sent me the job advert via Facebook. I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be at Bloomsbury Publishing, or Condé Nast, but I had no other choice. I was young, broke, lonely, and desperate. I had been rejected from every job application I had made, and I was demotivated and devastated. This wasn’t how my story was supposed to go. I wasn’t supposed to be in this restaurant on an icy December’s morning.

But the lady in front of me was kind and warm. Her blue eyes sent a sense of calm through me: motherly, soft, welcoming. She spoke of The Restaurant as though it was her dear friend, a thing to be loved and known. She had no idea just how in need of kinship I was.

She offered me the opportunity of receptionist right there and then. Come in for a trial, she said. We hope you will like us.

And so I did. I remember that first shift like an aged film reel. Dark, candlelit, frenetic, overwhelming. An eccentric headwaiter was hurling orders at me, dancing around the room with such ease that it took my breath away. I couldn’t remember the table numbers, or how to work the till, or who to ask for help from. But my mentor was patient, and reminded me of the most important lesson I was to learn from my time spent at The Restaurant: this is just food, Anna. You forget someone’s order? Give it to them on the house. You spill wine on a white shirt? We’ll pay for the dry cleaning. There is nothing that we cannot fix through kindness and apologies.

And he was right. It was just a restaurant. We were dealing in the currency of food and wine. And that isn’t open-heart surgery, or of any grave political importance.

It is, in any ways, something far more important.

When a restaurant and its people do their job right, the offering is of far greater gravity than an auditing or surgical job well done.

It’s an act of love.

It is a chance to make someone’s life warmer, to transform a Tuesday evening in to a cherished memory. We are dealing in the currency of emotion.

I felt it that night of my trial. Though my heart was beating wildly, and I couldn’t remember what a spiedini was, I knew that what the team was doing was important work, performed with the ease of a menial task. It crawled under my skin and found a home in the softer corners of myself. I was hooked on service.

I accepted the job at the end of the shift. My dreams of being a writer or a publisher slipped from beneath me, and in its place I embraced a new path: a server, a purveyor of good times and warmth. A noble thing. It had begun.

Natalia Ribbe