In my long bartending career, I could never have foreseen such a situation. Yet, foreseen, or not, there I was, standing on the back patio of a restaurant that many people don’t even realize has a back patio, wearing a facemask, surgical gloves, and a casual short sleeved shirt, all while waiting on a table.
This was not just any table. The seated woman was wearing a see-through blue lace dress that left almost nothing to the imagination. There’s an old query, do the carpets match the drapes? I didn’t know, but the sheets sure matched the covers, if you know what I mean. Blue lace as far as the eye could see, up to and including the perfectly coordinated facemask. Think Venetian Carnival mask, except covering her nose, cheeks, and mouth, not her eyes.
“How you doin?” she said to me as I stood there, feeling painfully naked without any sort of wood between us.
When I first started bartending, there were places where bartenders wouldn’t even consider waiting on a table. I remember sitting at the bar in an old school restaraunt, where when I ordered an appetizer, the codgy old bartender called a food server over. “I don’t do food orders,” he said.
How times have changed. And those of us in the business willing to change have changed with them. It’s the same with drinks. Shaking martinis is all the rage until it isn’t. Copper cups are crucial, until they are not. If your bartending career stretches into the decades you know this, those whose careers don’t, don’t. They are the ones who say things like “I never shake Manhattans,” or “Sours always have egg white,” or “I’m not waiting on tables.” The fact of the matter is that the restaurant business is about change. It’s as much about dining at the bar as it is about ToGo cocktails, just when you know what to expect, it changes. It always has.
“When is bar seating going to start?” Ms. Blue asked, touching my wrist as I set down silverware rollups, breaking the social distancing rules, involving no contact.
“Not for a while,” I said.
“Because I can’t wait to dance on your bar top,” she said with a wink.
Ironically, it was me who suddenly felt very exposed. And I wasn’t wearing any lace. Behind a bar one can feel like an animal pacing in a cage, back and forth, back and forth. But behind a bar you can always just walk away, even if it’s just to another part of that cage. At a table there is no such luxury, you really are a captive audience. And captive audiences usually don’t fare so well.
Simple drinks were ordered, and simple drinks were made. Making me wonder if fancy drinks are going to come back when this is all done, or whether they will again become, relics of the past. I don’t know. I guess we’ll just have to see together.
It was Ms. Blue’s birthday, which somewhat explained things. Covid or no Covid, life’s milestones keep on coming. People get engaged, they have anniversaries, there are birthdays, holidays, the cycle of life continues. And the restaurant business is still there for all of them, always, even in times of quarantine.
If you haven’t waited tables in decades (like me) it’s a comfort to know that the support staff is still there to help, exemplified by the extra diligence paid to Ms. Blue’s table. Even the table sanitation team stopped by, just to make sure everything was all right. To say her waterglass runneth over would not have been an exaggeration.
Even during a pandemic, good service is still good service, even if it is delivered by someone who hasn’t done it in a quarter of a century. When Ms. Blue left, she insisted I accompany her to the door.
As we passed by another of my tables six feet away, the lady there raised her completely empty water glass, just as one of those support staff walked by in the opposite direction.
“Can I get some more water?” she asked him.
He pointed at me.
Leaving me with these thoughts:
-Teaching an old dog new tricks, requires first finding an old dog.
-Dancing on the bar top is against the rules, but funny how some rules, sometimes, manage to get overlooked
-I didn’t know the lady in the blue dress, but she has a mole on her left cheek. One that I think I just might remember.