Inside the restaurant experience

New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni goes undercover at the East Coast Grill in Cambridge with My Week as a Waiter. Totally worth reading so you have some idea how much work goes into "just" being a waiter. Servers work hard, very hard. I saw it first-hand when I worked at Fifty-Six Union in 2004. Pretty much every job in a restaurant is harder than you imagine, even hostessing. I worked a handful of busy nights as hostess in August, and let me tell you, if you think you just read that list and take people to a table, you've got no idea. Just like Bruni as server, I was flummoxed doing what seemed like simple tasks.

My favorite memory was when it was pretty busy and things were hopping. I had no idea what time it was, people just flowed in, I seated them, menued them, and returned to do it again, while also ushering folks to the bar, taking people from the bar to their tables, and answering the phone. At some point, the phone rang and I picked it up,

"Good evening, Fifty-Six Union. How may I help you?"

The man on the other end wanted a reservation for that evening. I quickly scanned the book and spotted only two openings.

"We could do 6:45 or 9," I tell him in my most helpful, cordial voice.

"It's 7:15," he replied with a tone that pretty much also included the words, "You stupid idiot reservation girl."

"Well then, we could do 9," I say again, smilingly but now seething inside for being so stupid. Why didn't I look at the small clock mounted on my reservation stand? How hard would that have been? Oh the agony and the shame!!!

I don't remember if he took the reservation or not. What I remember is being humbled by the experience of hostessing. Over time, I improved, and would have gotten much better had I continued to do it. But even in just a few days, I learned the lesson that nothing is as easy as it looks, especially when it's new to you. Soon I moved to the back of the house and made many more stupid mistakes in the kitchen (like burning some little turnovers in the oven because I didn't check the temperature before I put them in, and it was at 500°!) Still though, it was great fun — even the hostessing.