A tough week in the service industry

It was getting late, not so late that the restaurant was closed, but we were definitely in the final stretch. And it was a weekday, which meant that the crowd was different, both smaller and more intimate — when actual human connections are made. And while it might be the big sparks we think of, it’s the slow-simmering fire that lasts.

“A Fernet and a beer,” said the man in all black sitting at the bar.

Now, personally I have never gone for the “Goth” look, but all black is also the look of rock stars, poets, villains and ironically, restaurant workers. He wasn’t a villain, or a rock star, but poet and/or restaurant employee were still on the table.

“How’s your week going?” I asked, noting that I was also wearing all black.

“You know,” he said. “Very busy week last week.”

I did know. The Easter buildup is either the end of the season for “winter” restaurants, or the kickoff of the season for “summer” restaurants. Either way, it is a transition period, and a busy transition period at that. I suspect spring has always been that way. Maybe that is why we know the names of the gods Osiris, Persephone, Freya and, of course, Eostre so well.

I was pulled away to make both a Last Word cocktail (gin, maraschino, lime juice and Green Chartreuse) and a Nutty Irishman (Irish whiskey, Frangelico and coffee).

The man laughed watching me make both of those. He seemed to find particular humor in the Frangelico bottle, shaped as it is like a Franciscan friar.

“The monks and their booze,” he said.

“You know, Frangelico isn’t actually made by monks,” I said.

“I didn’t,” he said. “I just assumed.”

“It’s owned by Campari now,” I said. “But it was marketed on the legend of Fra Angelico, a Dominican friar and painter from the early Renaissance.”

“Dominican?” he asked.

“Yep, and ironically his first job as a painter was a commission for a Carthusian altarpiece.”

“The Carthusians? The same monks who make Chartreuse?” he asked.


“I thought there was a shortage of that,” he said.

Definitely an off-duty restaurant employee, I thought.

We continued on in that vein, discussing Yellow Chartreuse (a lighter, more mixable version of the green) and Benedictine (a classic sweet liqueur used in the Vieux Carré).

“Benedictine also not made by monks,” I said. “It was based on a fabricated story by a Frenchman after the French Revolution.”

He waved his hands in the air in front of him.

“Enough shop talk,” he said.

“A little burned out?” I asked, sympathizing.

“Yeah, the post-pandemic boom,” he said.

I certainly could relate. The last four years have been a roller coaster ride. And half a decade in the restaurant business is often an entire career. High-end restaurant careers are different as are dive bar careers. I don’t quite get the lifer overlap there, but there it is.

“Do you get a lot of people for the holiday?” I asked.

He looked at me oddly.

“It’s our busiest day of the year.”

“And the people,” I said.

“And the people,” he answered.

He took a drink of his Fernet, and a draught of his beer. If I could have, I would have, too.

“Everyone wants to come in on Easter,” he said. “And it can be too much. In their need they often forget about the needs of others.”

“You’re telling me,” I said. “I could probably write a book.”

He looked at me quizzically again.

“I think there is already a book,” he said.

“Or two,” I added.

He looked at me quizzically again.

“Well, what is it they say,” I said, noting the look. “The best thing is the people …”

“And the worst thing is the people,” he finished.

I clinked an empty glass against his nearly empty one.

“To people!”

It’s really true. The best thing about the service business is most definitely the people — most of the people. The hardest thing about the service business is also the people: although a much smaller percentage. But it is truly amazing how much bandwidth a single person can consume. It can take an entire village of people to build something, but it only takes one idiot to burn it down.

“I’ve got to go,” he said, standing. “Back at it this week, although it should be slower.”

“Where do you work?” I asked.

“At the church down the street,” he said.

This time I looked at him quizzically.

“I’m the pastor,” he said.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

• Sometimes two people are talking, but they are having two different conversations.

• Fra Angelico was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1982.

• Ministering to the spirit sometimes includes the administering of spirits.

• Benedictine liqueur bottles contain the abbreviation D.O.M., which stands for “deo optimo maximo.” That’s both a motto for the Benedictine Order and a pagan Roman invocation to their god Jupiter.

• People are people no matter where they gather.