It is now mid-June, 2021. And as I am prepping for a new podcast episode on Gastro-diplomacy, I sat back and thought about some of my favorite meals. The bread and meats from my Amish neighbors, Avgolemono soup and potato latkes from my Greek grandparents, and of course pork chops and pan-fried-hominy from my parents. Oh and I cannot forget about the deep-fried pickles from my recent Front-of-House gig. I recently moved to a small, quiet town in the middle of farmland, USA. When I moved here, I realized although I was only 35 minutes from the city, I wanted to work somewhere close to my new home. So I put in an application to a local bar and grille that was just off a beautiful, glistening lake.
I became the new front-of-house face. It was my first time working as a hostess and server. Before this, I was used to drive-thru windows and the exhausted faces of highway travel center visitors. This one evening, we were prepping for a wedding party. The party wasn’t supposed to come until about 7 pm. I had a FULL house. Which meant the wedding party may have to wait at the door.
I was frantic from my misplanning of time, doing my best to hurry people without coming across as rude. Just as I turned around from cleaning off a table, I see a beautiful woman dressed in white, surrounded by her (also) glamorous posse. I greet them at the door, and not to my surprise, some concerned tones from the wedding party as they see no available seating. My nerves are now through the roof. As I gather my co-workers and explain the situation, we all team up, clean off (now) empty tables, move the tables into a line formation, and fill glasses with water. A few minutes go by, but they seem like forever. Appetizers started to be delivered to the tables. Sodas went out, too. The party is finally fully seated.
I rush back to the door and let my co-workers take the reigns on the wedding party for a while. I seat tables again until there’s a full house, a full bar, and kitchen tickets down to the floor. It was about 9 pm when I had the chance to catch my own breath and relax. I sat at a high-top bar seat near the front door and looked around. The noise was unlike anything I have heard before. So much chatter in such a small space! But the best part? The smiles on people’s faces. The chomping and chewing of homestyle comfort foods. Some of those people who were now sitting down waited almost an HOUR outside to come and dine with their loved ones. Some waited 30 minutes for spots at the bar. Some waited 45 minutes because they were first timers and they heard the food was incredible. But everyone was in this space… together.
Most if not all were vaccinated. These were moments in my community at the beginning of post Covid-19. Some were celebrating this. Some were long-time friends catching up… and some were toasting to life on a Friday night.
Food and drinks are really powerful tools. They bring people together. They make people happy. And it’s one of those things that you don’t have to negotiate verbally. The happiness and connection come so easily.
That night, every single person in the room was sharing this loud, wonderful moment without realizing it, and that brought a joyful tear to my eye
Working in a restaurant is not always like this. It can be overwhelming, scary, tiresome, and grueling. But when the lights are low, the food is hot, and the music is pumping… you really appreciate the good nights with your staff. I suggest that if you have never worked service before, try it at least once.
Michela is the producer of the Ethnographic Eater podcast and a Community Partner of Peace At The Table.
Thank you so much for this great story, Michela. It speaks so much about where we are right now and to the peace that’s there to be found over food.
These stories need to be told. The world needs to hear news and stories about healing and building peace — now as much as ever.