This week I started my new job and while it has definitely been mentally and physically taxing, more notably it has given me some much needed perspective. Your girl here got way too comfortable, and that’s always when life has a way of bringing you down a few notches. In the words of Kendrick Lamar, the universe said “Sit down b****, be humble.”
Since being removed from service and hospitality for the last 5 years, I seem to have forgotten many of the nuances that come along with that industry. Specifically after spending the last 2 years being afforded the luxury of eating at top fine dining establishments weekly, I really became numbed to just how intricate and involved being on the other side of the table is. Not to mention that my last tour of duty as a server/bartender was slinging Cheerwine shots and cheese fries to drunk college kids until 3am at Tipton Street, and while that was definitely hard work in its own right, it’s a far cry from the expectations set forth in a high-end, reservations only steakhouse.
When I left my job in distribution a few weeks ago, I was offered an opportunity to serve at a former account, which is one of the top rated restaurants in Franklin, if not the greater Nashville metro area. The only walk-ins are for bar seating, there are less than 17 tables in the entire restaurant and they’re open only 4-5 hours per night. Being so accustomed to dining in this establishment and others of the same caliber thanks to my last job, the seamless transaction from seating to payment as a guest really clouded my comprehension of what occurs behind the scenes to execute that experience. Which is exactly what makes it an excellent restaurant; the guest should have to worry about absolutely nothing besides putting their fork in their mouth and enjoying their very expensive meal. That means on the flip side of that as the server, you are responsible for every single aspect of that experience, from knowing the extensive chef-curated menu inside out to timing their food perfectly based on how busy the kitchen is. Even the tiniest of details which the average diner will never notice are scrutinized and perfectly choreographed- always serving ladies first, turning the wine bottle to face the guest as you’re opening, never picking the glass up from the table to refill, knowing exactly which plate goes to which guest at the table before it gets there, etc. Keeping track of all this while also assisting with running food and bussing tables is quite overwhelming, and something I was not prepared for.
I started in the service industry as a hostess when I was 16, and over the course of the last 20 years I worked my way through the ranks as a server, bartender, manager and eventually switched over to alcohol distribution. I stupidly assumed with all that experience I deserved to jump right in behind the bar, no questions asked, at any job I wanted. Well friends, it turns out, I don’t know jack and nobody owes me anything. I am nothing right now but a nuisance and dead weight on the staff; someone who has to have their hand held through the smallest details and can assist with basically running a loaf of bread or resetting a table…and I even screwed that up the first time. It’s been the most humbling and much needed experience of my life.
At this job, we are required to wear a leather butcher’s apron as part of our uniform, and I’m ashamed to admit that putting it on over my linen dress pants and crisp button down shirt was a big struggle for me. Going back into a position of servitude to wealthy customers combined with my lack of knowledge of the job has triggered a lot of deep rooted insecurity. I’ve never thought I was better than anyone, but having grown up poor in a trailer and working as hard as I could to get out, being able to sit alongside these well-to-do customers as a guest was like a badge of honor. So slipping an apron over my head and now thanking them for giving me the pleasure of serving their every whim was an emotional rollercoaster I was not prepared for in the least.
Even in my attempts at searching for a second job doing high volume bartending on Broadway has been a lesson in humility. Everyone is hiring…but they won’t hire me. I’ve never worked on Broadway, and even though I’ve done high volume, fast-paced service at Tipton Street, none of these hiring managers have been there. I am a stranger off the street; why should they trust or believe me based on my word? The best I’ve been offered is working 20 hour shifts cocktailing to start and I was offended.
Life has a way of snapping you back to reality. The moment you get too comfortable is when the rug gets pulled out from under you and you bust your ass in front of a room full of people. I also think it’s a way for the universe to get you back on your path when you’re straying. For all the hardship and difficulties I’m facing starting from the bottom in this industry, I’m actually having several new doors opened for my future. With the wine knowledge I’ve gained over the last 5 years, I can now apply that to the fine dining experience I’m getting and use that to work my way up as a sommelier. There is a great deal of growth potential in the high-end culinary world, and it’s VERY advantageous to be gaining knowledge from every angle. I now know quite literally every step it took to get a bottle of wine from a vine in France to a glass in Franklin Tennessee. How cool is that?!
You are never too good for something. No matter how many things you’ve accomplished, how much money you have, or who your friends are, you’re not owed anything in this world. Speaking to myself, stop expecting people who don’t know you to blindly trust you; you don’t extend the same courtesy to them. Respect is earned and hard work is quickly recognized by the right people. Don’t give up when things get frustrating and seem impossible. In my experience that’s when a breakthrough is right around the corner.
Wish me luck as I fumble my way through this process. And at least I have a couple of months to really lean into that whole “I’m the new guy” excuse.