Our relationship didn’t start exactly auspiciously. If memory serves, it went a little like this:
“May I get some bread?” I asked the young kid standing behind the counter.
“I’m sorry. But we don’t serve bread,” he said.
“I’ll be happy to pay for it,” I said knowing that in some restaurants the policies toward giving out free stuff differ. It you haven’t actually paid for something than it is not a right, it’s a courtesy.
“We don’t serve bread at all,” he said, getting an odd look in his eyes.
“What do you mean you don’t serve bread?”
“You know,” he said hesitating, “because of the carbs,”
I looked down at my brimming plate of pasta soaked in a delectable red sauce. My plate was loaded with carbohydrates. Just guessing, but I bet there were at least 48 grams of velvety carbohydrate goodness piled up there, or enough carbs for about a third of a loaf of French bread. I wasn’t avoiding carbohydrates, I was reveling in them, Dr. Atkins be damned. But when you work in an industry where you walk the equivalent of six miles every day (I have worn a pedometer) carbohydrates are the last thing you worry about. Running out of energy in the middle of a shift, now that worries me.
“This is an Italian restaurant, isn’t it?”
He looked at me briefly and then shrugged his shoulders.
I, too, have been put in a similar position over the many years I have worked in restaurants. I call it explaining the unexplainable. Since the real answer is not going to be received well, the staff comes up with alternative explanations. Sometimes voicing these untruths with conviction will be enough. Sometimes it won’t.
“We only carry domestic wines,” will be followed by, “Then why do you have port?”
“Why do you call it a Moscow Mule when Stolichnaya is bottled in Latvia?”
I once worked in a nightclub where we were not allowed to give out water. If someone wanted water he or she had to buy bottled water. Sure we had water for Scotch and waters and the like, but we could not give anyone a glass of tap water on its own. Our owner was not really interested in customer satisfaction. Obviously this particular policy did not go over well, and led to many, many arguments. Oddly enough it didn’t seem to affect business in the least. That club stayed busy for a long time and only closed because of circumstances unrelated to customer service. The policy did, however, affect tips. People assumed that we, the people with no decision-making power, were to be taken to task for management’s decisions. They paid for the water, they just didn’t tip.
I wasn’t about to do the same.
The kid behind the counter, of course, didn’t know that. And I’m pretty sure that is what contributed to his original odd look. I surmised that he must have that conversation at least a dozen times a day, probably with the results adversely affecting to his income.
He did feel the need to explain, however. Consciousness of guilt? Perhaps.
“We understand that people are more health conscious these days,” he began.
“It’s all right,” I said. “If that’s what you do, that’s what you do.”
I have never understood people who browbeat their food handlers. I know one thing for certain; I don’t want the person handling my food to be angry at me for any reason. Let’s call it prudent self-preservation.
The young man seemed to relax after that.
Over the next year or so we developed a rapport of sorts. He came to know my name and I came to know his. We shared many conversations about many things, but never again about bread. I came to look forward to my weekly meal at his counter — a meal that not only prepared me for my work night physically, but psychologically as well.
One day he appeared next to me with some bread in his hand.
“Two things,” he said. “We now serve bread. And next week is my last week.”
Funny, I have not been back since.
Leaving me with these thoughts:
• It was never really about the bread.
• Those of you who say it’s just a restaurant job are really missing the bigger picture.
• Bread might be the staff of life, but conversation makes that life worth living.
• Boy, I really miss that kid.