From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

Not on the Menu

What do we live for if not to make the world less difficult for each other.

George Eliot

I travel a lot in my work, and one of the things I dislike about this part of my job is eating alone. It always makes me feel lonely to see others laughing and talking, and sometimes I have the uncomfortable feeling that I look like I am waiting to be “picked up” by someone. So, I usually order room service for several nights to avoid that discomfort. However, sooner or later, I feel a need to get out of my room. My strategy is to go down to the hotel restaurant the moment it opens, as it is not very crowded then and I don’t feel as uncomfortable.

After having room service three nights in a row at a Wyndham Hotel in Houston, I needed to get out. Although the restaurant opened at 6:30, I arrived at 6:25. The maître d’ met me at the front and made a comment about my “really being there early.” I explained my dislike of eating alone in restaurants. He then took me back and seated me at a lovely table. “You know,” he said, “I am all caught up with my work, and people don’t usually start coming to our restaurant until after seven o’clock. I wondered if you’d mind if I sat down with you for a while.”

Excerpted from her book, Care Packages for the Work place: Dozens of Little Things You Can Do to Regenerate Spirit at Work. McGraw Hill, ©1996.

I was delighted! He sat and talked with me about his career goals, his hobbies, the challenges of balancing a restaurant career with a family, and the difficulty of being at work on nights, weekends and holidays. He showed me pictures of his children and his wife—even his dog! After about 15 minutes, he spotted some customers at the front desk and excused himself. I noticed out of the corner of my eye that before he went to the front, he stopped in the kitchen for a moment.

As my new friend proceeded to seat the arriving party, one of the waiters came out of the kitchen and over to my table. “My station is way in the back tonight, and I’m sure no one will be seated there for a while,” he said. “I’m not really busy. Do you mind if I sit down with you for a while?” We had a wonderful chat, until someone was seated in his station and he needed to excuse himself.

Soon after, out came one of the young busboys. He, too, asked if he could sit down with me for a few minutes. He hardly spoke any English, but I had taught English as a second language, so we had great fun talking about his experiences in coming to America. He shared with me all the expressions they had taught him in the kitchen when he first arrived in this country (you can imagine!). As the restaurant got busier, he finally excused himself to attend to his work. But before I left that night, even the chef had come out of the kitchen and sat with me!

When I asked for my check (about one and a half hours later), there was an almost audible pause in the restaurant. All the people who had sat down with me came over in a big group to my table. They presented me with a long-stemmed red rose and said, “This was the nicest night we’ve ever had in our restaurant.” And I cried! What had begun as a lonely night ended as a beautiful experience— for both employees and customer.

Barbara Glanz

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