The willingness to engage is the thing

The two of them had obviously never met before. But nothing eases the awkwardness of first meetings like tinkling dinner jazz and soft lighting.

Some bars overshoot their mark and add red velvet, or chrome, or black marble, all of which say different things to different people. The chrome and the marble not so much, but red velvet certainly says something.

There are some universal truths in the hospitality industry. The first of which is being hospitable. Which seems like a given but often isn’t. Bars can be particularly bad at this. All the fancy cocktails, glassware, garnish gardens, and Instragrammable backgrounds won’t do one bit of good if the person hosting the proceeding is unconcerned, either deliberately, or unconsciously.

“How are you?” asked the man before she had completely seated herself. In today’s day and age pulling out or pushing in someone else’s seat could be seen as passive aggressive, or sexist or even just plain rude.

“Great,” she said sincerely.

Trust a guy who has stood behind the plank for three decades, great, can descend into good, or even into terrible in the course of just one sentence.

“Would you like something to drink?” asked the man.

A brief discussion followed. Exchanged were some shared experiences, a mention of Italy, fashion, trends, etc. Sometimes on first introduction, people can babble, but I have learned over the years that the babble has value. Because often the things discussed at first blush are never discussed again. Not in six months, not in two years or even twenty.

“Did you grow up around here?” he asked.

Out came some of those pertinent life markers that again, get mentioned once, only to never get mentioned again.

Mark Twain once said, “If you tell people the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” And someone should put up that sign in every bar, because the truth told in the beginning is the sort of truth that often one wants to believe about themselves, not necessarily, the actual, literal truth.

“Yes,” she said. Which may or may not have been true. Only time would tell.

“Me too,” he said, which also may or may not have been true. But when you aren’t really sure if you are ever going to see someone again, it might not even really matter.

There was some conversational reluctance at first, maybe a grunt, or even a quick look around. But genuine curiosity can be enticing, whatever direction it comes from. Creepy curiosity, on the other hand…

But there was none of that. Instead, it was an authenticity that came from a general appreciation for a fellow human being.

“Namaste,” the Hindu’s say, which loosely translated means I acknowledge the divine in you. Which is a wonderful way to look at other people, especially the first time.

Sure, there are the “Kens” and Karen’s” of the world, but in reality, they are few and far between. And while one could postulate, like Hobbes did in “Leviathan,” or Nietzsche did in “Beyond Good and Evil,” that humans are slaves to their most horrible and basic urges. The fact is that most people just want to go along with their lives unmolested. The few that don’t are why we have courts, jails, and insurance.

The jazz tinkled on in the soft lit bar. The man paid no attention to the sporting event on the TV, but rather seemed more in tuned with the woman’s unmet needs.

“More wine?” and “Are you hungry” came and went. The topic of family came up, as it often does, first the good, and then a touch of the bad. Hobbes and Nietzsche certainly have their adherents, both consciously and unconsciously.

It was in the middle of a college reminisce, that another man appeared, a little out of breath, and clearly a little late.

“I’m so sorry,” said the new arrival, looking first at the woman who was presumably his date, and then at the bartender who had been attending to her.

“I’ll be back in a second,” replied the bartender, taking a step back, knowing both when to be around, and when to not.

“How are you?” that same bartender could be heard asking another newly arriving man, sitting a few seats down.

“Would you like something to drink,” he added, setting in motion a conversation that may or may not last, with a person who may or may not care.

But it’s not the length of the conversation that is important, it’s the willingness to engage in one in the first place. And it is that willingness to engage that is the very essence of the hospitality industry. For better, or for worse.