My first night at the restaurant went well. I got some praise for kinda knowing the rhythm of the place and being swift and conversational with customers. So that was flattering. But there was also a personal kinda delight that I’d forgotten about. Something that might be unique to working in a restaurant.
About halfway through my shift we saw a surge of customers–which is apparently not too common for a Tuesday night–and at one point there were about ten tables needing service. Nothing too urgent, but it was busy. And my trainer had given me a sense of where things went and what needed doing at this point and, finding herself consumed by the workload, left me to do my thing, trusted me to do it at my own pace, and within a few minutes I found myself falling into the same kind of blissful, mindlessly cordial, casually urgent and almost Zen-like headspace that I sometimes achieved while working at Cheesecake Factory, on one of the rare nights when everything was going as it was supposed to.
And so it was nice to learn, on my first day, that I’ve still got that distinct service-worker muscle memory, that wordless synchronicity of body and brain, whereby the brain, as you’re doing one task, is planning two or three tasks ahead, and the tasks never stop, and so you’re moving and moving, you’re lifting and crouching and waving, you’re polishing a dish or a fork or you’re garnishing a meatball, ahdunno, bantering with a guest, conferring with a manager—until suddenly you look at your watch and forty minutes have evaporated, and then an hour, and then the doors are closed and locked and we’re wiping things down as the last few guests share dessert.
My shift started at 5 p.m. and I left at around midnight and in that last hour, when we were re-setting tables and polishing the glassware and cutlery, I sorta bent over the service station cuz my back was hurting. Started tending these final chores at a kind of forward lean, yawning and letting out a small grunt here and there. I was feeling exhausted and everything kinda hurt but I was thinking, Well, it’s been a while since I’ve done this. The aches are natural.
But then my colleague, the server I was shadowing all night, nodded in a mournful way at one of my noises and said, “Yeah, tonight was insane.”
She gestured around the room and made a remark about how many parties there’d been, how frantically and swiftly everybody had been moving, and I thought, Yeah, she’s right, it was hectic and everybody was moving quickly and working hard–but I realized, too, that the night’s peak intensity was analogous to a the intensity of, say, a moderately busy Tuesday at the Cheesecake Factory.
Granted, this was a Tuesday night; my point is just that the ceaseless motion, the sweating, the breathlessness that came naturally with a busy Saturday night or Sunday afternoon at Cheesecake Factory is probably almost literally unattainable at this place. And those were usually the worst.
So I’m feeling good about this so far. Still studying the menu, which is a challenge, but as concerns the actual physical work: I think I’ve got it.