I dropped out of Junior College in California to move to Hawaii. I packed all my shit in one large box (scuba tank & 3 ft. glass bong included) and hopped on a standby flight to Maui to follow a boy. I lived in a single bedroom along with my sister in my cousin’s state-funded apartment.
I was more free than ever before, I was about to turn 21, and I desperately needed a job.
Enter: The Restaurant Industry.
I’d hoped to become a server; my cousin was making great money as such, and I used her name to get me an interview. I had zero experience. I told the GM I’d be willing to work my way up. He chuckled, and started me as a silverware polisher back in the dish pit with Ray, the Filipino dishwasher, and his Ja-waiian (Jamaican-Hawaiian, read: local reggae) radio station.
A few weeks later, I moved up to busser (this was pre- ‘back-waiter’ nomenclature), and rocked the living hell out of that pay grade until I graduated to expeditor. A year later I moved back to the mainland to follow another boy.
Such was the beginning of my love affair with the restaurant industry; it was one of the best training grounds I could have hoped for as an eager young beach punk who was willing to work hard. Looking back, I recall bussing a table one evening when they asked, ‘Do you have a wine Sommelier?’ I proudly turned to my head waiter, saying, ‘Table 32 would like a bottle of the wine “Sommelier”. Do we have that on the list?’ He gently laughed; it was a shining example of how much I had to learn. Yet all youthful ignorance aside, I knew it was in my blood to work with people, food and wine. I was fired up every single night to get out on the floor and do it again! Fifteen years later, my passion for all things restaurant and service related still drives everything I do.
I love watching a back-waiter crush their section, oftentimes lapping their front waiter with their relentless work ethic. I love the relationships that can be built between the front and back of house, ideally resulting in an intuitive flow of service that leaves the guest under a spell, filled with gratitude. As a guest, I get giddy when I fall under the spell myself, relishing the silent salute given to the entire staff upon leaving, letting them know their work was wholly appreciated.
And if this invisible communication of industry folk seems a bit romantic to you, allow me to illustrate a more hard-wired lesson learned while working the floor. One of the richest things you can learn is the ability to be ‘in the weeds’ and more importantly, to get yourself out. (Being in the weeds essentially means that you are in the shits in the middle of service; it can feel like the ship is sinking around you, and it’s somehow up to you to get everyone back to shore.) And while being in the weeds can potentially be a nightly occurrence if you’re working at a busy restaurant, it’s a great opportunity to learn how to multi-task, remaining buddha-calm while attempting to make your bartender, manager, tables and chef happy. It is a wonderfully sadistic form of mediation.
Honestly, I still have dreams that the water gun at the bar won’t work and my entire section needs to be watered, or that I can’t get the Micros screen to work, yet I have an entire dupe pad of orders to put through. And while these little anxieties may sound trivial to true heroes who devote their lives to the medical profession or to the rigors of science, I can assure you that working in the industry also gives us an intense love of making people happy. We love offering service; we aim to create a space where, for a few hours, you can laugh with your friends, enjoying life, eventually heading home feeling warmly nurtured on every level. For me, both offering and receiving these little luxuries can make life sparkle in technicolor. Enjoying food and drink may appear to rank among the simplest human pleasures, yet when the service of each is given love and respect, it can be elevated to one of the most sublime experiences on the planet, whether it be a 4-star joint or the best fish tacos of your life after a great surf session.
I am proud to call myself an industry girl for life. I truly believe that what we aim to offer people on a nightly basis can be as deeply moving as any other art form, and that the camaraderie found while basking in the glow of a great meal along with people you love can be as healing as anything the medical profession has laid claim to. We can definitely be a rough and tumble group, but we are also a tightly knit community that loves the hell out of what we do, and we are grateful to every single one of you that joins us each night for yet another go.