Rural Living

Now That's Service!

by Margo Oxendine, Contributing Writer

Margo Oxendine

I have just been served by the consummate waiter.

Believe me, I’ve had my share of waiters. But before I reveal my discovery, let me divulge a little background.

I myself have waited on tables. It was grueling, tricky work. I did not like it. I began at the Red Lion in Roanoke, back when it was the top of the town. I drove by there recently; it is now a tattoo and massage parlor.

In Key West, I was a “lobsterette” at the A&B Lobster House, a pinnacle of tourist dining. The family ran this place with an iron fist. Even when the last customers finally ambled out, we were not free to go. First, there was side work. And then, the inspection. Mary, the dictatorial managing daughter, would stroll leisurely among our tables, assuring the sugars all faced the same direction, and all condiments were filled near overflowing. My section was always perfect, of course. Then one night, Mary paid excruciating attention to my tables. Finally, she held a glass ashtray aloft. It had been carefully Windexed.

Mary turned to her factotum and intoned, so that it could be marked against me, “Margo. Fingerprint on ashtray.” Is it any wonder I turned my career sights to treasure hunting?

Is it any wonder that, when it again became necessary to serve the public to make a living, I was known as “The Grumpy Bartender”?

Those days are long gone, thank heavens. Now, I work where I work best and happiest: At home in my pajamas, my snoozing secretary, Brownie, at my beck and call.

Today, I write from a hotel room in Virginia Beach. I love visiting the beach when most of the tourists are long gone. There’s something about waiting tables for a living that turns you against mixing with the public. I dine alone, facing a window, or away from the crowds. I bring reading material, in the unlikely event anyone should want to join me.

This morning, faced with a crowd at my favorite breakfast place, the Belvedere diner, I took to the streets. I wandered a block away from the boardwalk, and into The Jewish Mother, at Pacific and Laskin.

And there he was: Henry, the consummate waiter. His smile was genuine. He seemed happy to be there, anxious to cater to my every quirk. Hollandaise on the side? No problem. Avocado instead of turkey? No problem. He raised no eyebrow when I ordered a diet soda to complement my full-o-fat brunch.

Henry brought every single item the first time. I did not have to wait for some vital, quirky component to finally appear, long after the meal had cooled. He was pleasant, and immediately likeable. He was attentive, without being obsequious. Never once did he sigh, or roll his eyes, or walk away muttering.

I was particularly impressed with Henry because of the dichotomy. Earlier in my vacation, I’d spent four days in Washington, D.C. One of the reasons it tops my list is because of the Old Ebbitt Grill. I have always had fabulous food and sterling service there. It’s a dining institution in D.C., much like The Jewish Mother in V.B.

Great meals are available at both spots. The only difference, really, lies in the dollar figure at the bottom of your check. And the waitstaff’s attire. Waiters at the Old Ebbitt are quite spiffy; Henry wore shorts, T-shirt, and a faded cap.

Still, Henry in his beach togs was far superior to my spiffy, sniffy waiter at the OEG. That fellow practically sneered when I ordered a Diet Coke with my petit filet smothered in Hollandaise. That fellow snatched my soda away before I’d finished, and failed to bring the refill I’d requested. That fellow had perfected the art of walking right past your table, yet not noticing your hand signal, or hearing your plaintive “Excuse me!”

When Henry brought my check, he said he hoped I had enjoyed my meal. I told him I had enjoyed his service even more.

“Well, my philosophy is this,” he smiled. “I pretend I’m the diner. And I treat people as I like to be treated. I don’t rush them; I don’t make them wait; I make sure that everything is how they want it.”

Coincidentally, I am reading a book called Waiter Rant. Henry hadn’t heard of it. But I bet that waiter at the OEG has highlighted a passage or two.

Happy holidays, everyone! 


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