I entered the hotel restaurant leaving the noise of the lobby behind the slow swoosh of a large glass door. Inside the restaurant it was dark, like all upper crust restaurants seem to be. Standing at a small podium were two young people, probably in their early twenties.
“Table for one, sir?”
“Yes please.” I said.
The hostess removed herself from behind the podium, grabbed a sheet of thick paper that I took to be a menu, and marched off through the sea of mostly-empty tables. I followed.
Soon enough she stopped and pointed towards an unremarkable table, “Will this be acceptable?” she asked?
“Yes, thank you.” I replied.
She handed me the menu. “Justin will be with you shortly.”
“Thank you.” I replied.
I scanned the menu looking over the short list of available items. That’s another thing about fancy restaurants, small menus. I immediately discounted the fish options, not my cup of tea. Some of the other dishes looked good but had at least one ingredient that ruined it, there always is in fancy restaurants. In addition to chicken and potatoes, they feel the need to add pine nuts and water chestnuts. Or instead of beef and potatoes they decide that it would be better with edamame and fish sauce. At least small menus make the decision easier. I picked the braised short ribs. They sounded like they hadn’t been too bastardized. There were Brussels sprouts, but I felt I could eat around those if I had to. I placed the menu on the table in front of me ti indicate to the staff that I was ready to order.
Another young person walked towards me. It was a male, and looking right at me while he quickly closed the distance. This must be Justin.
“Hello, my name is Justin. Can I start you with a drink?”
I had prepared the response in my head even before he asked the question. Before he had arrived actually.
“Yes, and I’m ready to order as well.”
“Ok, great! What can I get started for you?” I find his enthusiasm slightly off-putting.
I broke eye contact and stared at the far wall instead of the eager eyes of the waiter in front of me. “I’ll have a Tanqueray and tonic, and for dinner the braised short ribs.”
“Ok, excellent choice sir! I’ll bring some bread out for you too.”
That would be great, thank you.” I said.
As Justin left another nameless waitstaff appeared. He filled my water glass and removed the wine glass that I would not need. As quietly as he arrived he left. Never said a word. I was fine with this.
While waiting for my meal a couple arrived. An older woman and a younger lady. I watched as the same hostess who had led me through the dining room now led these two. To my surprise she sat them directly across from me. Odd choice I thought. I was sitting facing the windows and street, their table was turned ninety degrees from mine and about ten feet in front of me. They faced each other, and I faced them. With nothing else to look at I decided I would watch them.
The younger of the pair was also the fatter of the two. Modern society I figured, too many french fries and too much ice cream. She was easily less than half the other woman’s age. Mother and daughter I assumed. They both had that southern look, it’s hard to put your finger on it but you know it when you see it. Lips that stay pursed except when speaking and a little squint in the eyes, this latter an artifact of too much sun I supposed. Jewelry on view, big rings and large necklaces. All of this on display over draping clothes that could also double as curtains.
I watched as the younger of the two began to cry. How unexpected! My gin and tonic arrived just in time for the show. I squeezed the lime into the clear drink and took a sip. I placed the drink down in a couple places on the table, trying to decide where it should go. The fat girl was still crying, but was also buttering a second slice of bread in between sobs. I wished that I could hear better.
The older lady buttered bread too, but with much less emotion. No emotion in fact. Those pursed southern lady lips only parted to allow the bread to enter. The bawling girl two feet in front of her was having no effect. I decided that the fat girl probably cries a lot and the old lady is tired of it.
My meal arrived and I barely noticed. It was a good thing that the meat was “fork tender”, I had mentally checked into the conversation in front of me, a knife would have been beyond my ability.
Once the fat girl turned her head towards me and me made eye contact. Yes, I thought to myself, very awkward. I allowed my lips to form a smile, not a I just won ten dollarssmile, just enough to say yes, I am aware of your presence in front of me and I can do little else but watch you such is our proximity and the angle of our seating arrangement, I’m sure you can understand.
As I finished my meal Justin returned. We went through the paces of him asking if I want desert, me declining desert but ordering another drink, and him saying very well sir, I’ll bring your check but please stay as long as you would like.
I watched the couple a while longer, the fat one stopped crying eventually and I never did get a clue what it was that set her off in the first place. As I was getting ready to leave an old Japanese man arrived who walked hunched over due to some old person’s debilitation, like his skeleton was folding in on itself. He sat on the same side as me, facing out the windows towards the street. I thought to myself that this must be where they put the single guys. Me and Japan Man sitting facing Fat Girl and Old Lady.
The Man entered the restaurant leaving the noise of the hotel lobby behind the swoosh of a large glass door. He crossed the dimly-lit entranceway to where two young twenty-somethings await his arrival. Both were fine arts majors at the local community college, they had chosen this restaurant to work at due to its proximity to the museum. Tonight however they were waitstaff at this upscale hotel restaurant. It was Jenny’s turn, so as the man approached she said the same thing she would say a hundred times tonight, with minor variations, “Table for one, sir?”
The Man seemed distracted and responded with something that Jenny couldn’t quite understand. She didn’t think he responded in the negative, so Jenny grabbed one of the thick paper menus stored at the hostess station and began walking towards the line of tables. The man followed her, they always did Jenny thought. She looked good tonight and she knew it. The hotel required that restaurant staff wear black, but they didn’t say what that had to be. Jenny had long, straight, black hair and she was wearing black everything else tonight: eyeliner, form-fitting dress that ended at her thighs, black tights, and black platform heels.
She stopped at a random table and gestured towards it, “Will this be acceptable?” she asked knowing full well what he would say in return.
“Yes, thank you.” the man replied.
She handed him the menu. He was dressed differently from most of the men who came into this restaurant. He didn’t look like the normal business men who came down from their company-paid hotel rooms to get whiskey drunk with their friends and make lewd comments towards her. Those men were easy to spot with their business-casual sport coats, tan khaki pants, and slicked-back hair. He also wasn’t a family man, too casual were his gestures, too empty was his finger, and too reserved his mannerisms. It didn’t matter, she supposed, she was a hostess tonight and her job was to put him at a table, she had done that.
“Justin will be with you shortly.”
“Thank you.” he replied.
Jenny walked back to the hostess kiosk wondering if the man was watching her go. She hoped so. Not because she found him especially attractive, but just because she liked the feeling of being watched. When she reached the kiosk she turned quickly, flicking her hair in an arc away from her face as she did. That usually did it. To her dismay the man was not watching her at all, instead he appeared to be lost in thought gazing out the window. Oh well. His loss. Jenny grabbed the stack of menus and straightened them like a deck of cards. They made a satisfying thump on the table as she did so.
Jenny watched as the waiter Justin made his way slowly over to the man’s table. Justin had asked her out on multiple occasions and every time she had giggled and said she was sorry but she was busy. She didn’t mind Justin, but he was too geeky for her. He was an engineering student, there was no way he could understand the things she did about fine art, it just wouldn’t work. Better to let him down easy by leaving the door open instead of a flat out refusal. She was of course aware of the effect she had on men of all ages, but she couldn’t bear to completely shut them down. Besides, you never knew.
Jenny was interrupted in her thoughts by two women who had arrived at her podium and were waiting for her to say something. The older of the two was clearly in charge, so Jenny directed her question to her. “Table for two?” Jenny asked.
With the negotiations complete Jenny went through her ritual of picking a table. How about another table for Justin’s section? She led the couple over to a small table by the window. She asked if it was ok and it was. She told them Justin would be with them shortly and made her way back to the hostess station. She giggled at the thought that perhaps one of the women was watching her leave like the men usually did.
After arriving back at the hostess station she turned and gazed out over the sea of tables. From here she could see nearly every table in the restaurant. It was still early, and most of the tables were empty so she resigned herself to watching the two tables she had just sat. The man had a drink now, something clear. Vodka tonic perhaps? Or maybe a gin and tonic? She couldn’t tell if there was a lemon or a lime in the drink, that would certainly help to narrow down the options of what else might be in the glass. What was it one of her professors had said about art? Form, space, color, line, and texture. She unfocused her eyes and attempted to see the whole room at once. How many colors were here? Brown wood paneling, amber lights, blue from the glass candle covers, and black shadows. Outside the sky was on its way through the blues, about to descend into the ultra-dark blue of night.
Motion brought her back to her senses. It was one of the waitstaff bringing the man his meal. From here she could tell it was the short ribs, the white bone sticking up in the middle of the plate was a giveaway. Jenny watched as the man picked up a fork, the wrong one, and began to eat. She noticed as he was eating he seemed to be watching the two women in front of him. Perhaps it was a bad idea to set them so close together like that. The women might complain, and then she would have to find them another table. If the manager found out then she would get a talking to about personal space, and how the customer is always right. Which is bullshit, of course.
Jenny watched the man watching the women. Most people who ate alone in the restaurant looked at their phones the entire time. Sometimes this happened with tables full of people too. Maybe he knows one of them? Or, maybe he knows both of them! That was much more exciting to think about. Jenny began concocting an elaborate story in her head of a love triangle that was sure to erupt into a finale in front of her. The man with two lovers who sees them both in a restaurant eating together. If the movies she had seen all her life were true, there would be a perfectly reasonable explanation for the whole thing but the shouting matches would start before anyone had a chance to explain. To Jenny’s dismay this didn’t happen. Instead normal life continued on in its dogged pace. The man kept eating, the women sat at their table, and an older gentleman was now standing in front of her at the hostess station.
“Table for one?”
Ahh Justin, what are you doing? Your’e supposed to be studying for your fluid dynamics exam but instead you agreed to work a double shift tonight. You had to look at the crew roster didn’t you? And you had to notice that she was working. Her. Jenny. You think she’s wearing that short dress again tonight?
You exit the kitchen to enter the dining room and have your question answered. Just as you exited the swinging double doors, the kind with two round windows in it, she was there walking some dude to a table. And yes, of course she was wearing that short black dress. She probably did it on purpose. Of course she does you idiot. She seats the man at one of your tables. Well, you think, the solo guys usually tip pretty well. At least it’s not one of those bible thumper groups, they are always the worst. Once you worked a table of five of them and when you looked at the receipt nothing but “God loves you” was written on the tip line. That’s great, you thought at the time, but God’s love doesn’t pay for my textbooks.
After an acceptable amount of time, you make your way over to the man’s table. You wonder on the way if she might be watching you. Maybe you should ask her out again tonight? AS you get closer to the table you wonder about the customer. Will this be Mr. Important, or Mr. I’m Too Busy To Look At You? Maybe it’ll be Mr. I’m so Lonely Will You Please Talk To Me. Looks can be deceiving, you’ve learned your lesson there after three month of being a waiter at this hotel restaurant. Okay, here we go Justin, show time.
“Hello, my name is Justin. Can I start you with a drink?” Ugh, how many times will you say that tonight you wonder.
“Yes, and I’m ready to order as well.” This customer is looking up Justin. Probably going to be one of those eats quick, tips well and gets out guys.
“Ok, great! What can I get started for you?” You hate that you have to say that, but the management has made it clear that what they order is always a good idea. It might even beone of your favorites.
“I’ll have a Tanqueray and tonic, and for dinner the braised short ribs.” the man replies.
“Ok, excellent choice sir! I’ll bring some bread out for you too.” Did you put too much emphasis on the excellent choice part?
“That would be great, thank you.” the man says. He doesn’t seem to have noticed whether or not you over-sold your enthusiasm. So much the better. You make a note of his drink and dinner and turn to return to the kitchen.
There she is Justin. Standing there at that hostess station. Yes, that settles it, you’ll ask her out tonight again. There’s a new movie coming out with superheros in it, she’s artsy so she probably likes movies. You think back to the other times you asked her out. She never said “No” did she? No she didn’t Justin, you’ve got this, you’ve got a shot.
You make your way to the kitchen trying not to look at her on the way. This is impossible of course. You settle for looking but not looking, a skill you’ve mastered since you hit puberty.
Back in the kitchen you enter the order into the computer system. You briefly wonder at the slight magic of it all. You enter the order here and printers across the restaurant spring to life with whatever the customer has ordered. The bar gets one for the drink, and the kitchen gets one for the meal. In the office the main computer records the sale, updates the expected quantities of alcohol that should be at the bar, updates the sales figured for the night and who entered it. That would be you Justin.
It’s a slow night so you go back to the double doors to look at Jenny again. If she turned she could probably see you looking out the window at her. If she did you would have to push through them like you were on your way out anyway. Always planning ahead Justin, that’s the engineer in you.
You can’t see your table from here, but you don’t care. There are runners for the food and drinks, you only have to take the order, check up once during the meal, and then arrive somewhere towards the end to ask about desert and coffee.
She seems to be looking out over the dining room and you can’t help but wonder what she’s thinking of. Certainly not math equations and physics. The engineering girls think about that, but the engineering girls don’t look like Jenny. What does a girl like Jenny think about? You asked one of the other guys in the kitchen about her once but he only laughed at you. “You think you have a chance with that?” he had said.
You return your gaze to her. Be careful Justin, there’s that line. The line between gazing affectionately and staring. Just a little bit more you think. She would have said no right? You’ve been over this a thousand times in your head but still cannot come to a conclusion. She would have said no if she wasn’t interested. She didn’t say “I have a boyfriend”, she didn’t laugh and go “ohmygodno”. She had only said she was busy. That’s basically a yes, right? You’ve got this Justin. Now you just have to think of what to say. Maybe if you look at her again something will come to mind.