My mother wasn’t known for her cooking skills. She made a pretty good casserole or two and had a baked bean recipe that I remember fondly, but at home I lived off of cheese toast and pop tarts starting at an early age.
That was quite fine with me because it meant we ate out a lot. I do love the dining out experience. There is nothing much finer than dinner and a movie or dinner and theater or just dinner. I consider a fine dining experience or to be truthful any dining experience to be one of the great pleasures in life. By my standard, a town should be judged on its eating opportunities and Starkville has been doing that really well as of late.
I say that to set the stage for what I consider to be my history with the art of being a restaurant wait staff person. Let me hasten to add that I have never professionally waited tables. Just because I haven’t done it, doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion on how it should be done. Until recently it just wasn’t a well informed or well rounded opinion, but it did have some foundational basis.
For me there are two kinds of really memorable dining experiences: ones that are the exemplary occasions of excellence in service and food and the ones that make you meet the manager, never go back again and talk really badly and loudly about the restaurant to anyone who will listen. I have experienced both and remember vividly the pros and cons of each.
I spent one evening this past week being part of a celebrity waiter fundraising event for the Oktibbeha County Humane Society. Setting aside the questionable case of holding me out for celebrity status, it was a great experience.
Through it I gained a much deeper respect for the nuances and logistics of being part of a wait staff in a busy restaurant.
Harvey’s has always been a reliable source of good food and good service. It is a restaurant that has been a positive community partner and has served as the location for many business meals and family outings. They continued their community involvement by letting the Humane society hold the event in their Starkville location.
I had never done this before and I think we were expected to wander around the room and make nice and encourage people to give generously to the cause. But I wanted the full experience.
I am guessing John Bean was counting on us not getting too intimate with his dishes. I should probably have left the actual service to the professionals, but I figured the opportunity might not come my way again so I dove in.
Maggie was the real wait person who patiently struggled through letting me play at her job. She took the orders and turned them into the kitchen and I got to get the drinks and tried to remember if it was serve from the right and take away from the left or vice versa. Too late did I do my research only to find out that it is serve from the right AND take away from the right. Who knew?
My theory is that once you get timely service on that first drink order you can hopefully expect proper attention from your server. It is either the first sign of a good experience or the precursor to a bad one. I know I at least got them started off right.
One of my pet peeves has always been getting refills on iced tea and not getting more ice. I nailed that little detail cold. It also always bugged me when the dishes weren’t cleared promptly when the plate was obviously empty. Poof, they were whisked away. All in all since I didn’t break any dishes or step on any feet or screw up an order I consider my night a success. It was a fairly low bar to meet.
It was a special night for a worthy cause and I am very grateful to have been asked to participate. I am even more grateful that I could develop an educated appreciation for an industry that has been part of my life since I can remember.
Serendipity was having my fun learning experience translate into the highest grossing tip earner. Take that all you real celebrities out there.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.