By Fire, by Anna van Dyk

It was a Friday night in May. Hot, humid, raging. We were fully booked: 130 people on the books, a relentless onslaught ravaging us. Waiters were spinning, the kitchen was roaring, the floor was heaving with guests, the door had a queue of people demanding, begging, bribing me for a table.

Chaos in its purest form. A drug like no other.

These moments were not infrequent. I had to learn how to survive these scenes through a baptism of fire. If you survive the first burn, you’re unlikely to flee during the second blaze.

My first contact with the heat had been unbearable, though. I had been a month on the job, slowly trained until I could handle the door alone. But on my first solo evening, I was terrified. I knew that what lay ahead of me was a beating. The evening rose to disaster, gradually, painfully, with one slip after another amounting to a mess of a service. I watched helplessly as the entire team began to go under.

I felt totally trapped by this job. So much lay out of my control, but when a night went wrong I felt as though the weight of it all was on my shoulders.

And yet, this feeling of failure is what encouraged me to stick around for another shift, to try again tomorrow. The hope that the next service would be a triumph is what made the chaos addictive.

I would emerge from those fiery shifts, burnt and bruised and parched for a negroni, and I would feel a new flame rear up inside me: again.

Throw the chaos at me again. Do your worst! We will conquer it again! We will be victorious next time! Each service made me a bit more hardy, and hungry for the chance to do it all over again; we would be better the next night, and the night after that, even better.

I came in to the service industry because I needed a job, but I stayed because I became addicted to the fire. We were all perfectionists, and we never realised that the perfect service did not exist. We fearlessly threw ourselves in to these brilliant, exhausting, exhilarating services that we somehow survived, each time, with rave reviews and no real casualties, but always the feeling that tomorrow, we would do it even better.

Toward the end, I lived for those evenings of chaos. The quiet evenings where nothing went wrong were boring. They felt like a waste of our potential. We could do so much more in the midst of bedlam. I remember feeling the most powerful and strong and fierce I have ever felt on those overwhelming nights. When unreasonable, impatient, unkind guests demanded more of me at the door, I smiled back at them coolly, in that infuriating way that only receptionists can do, and would ask him gently to bear with me.

A highly satisfying victory. 

Natalia Ribbe