Monday, April 26, 2010

Thinking Like a Busboy

In my early 20s I worked in a variety of capacities – busboy, waiter, wine steward – at Dante's Down the Hatch in Underground Atlanta.
Since then I have had occasion to write two letters to Dante Stephenson. The last one was earlier this week, a letter of introduction I sent with my son who's going to school at Emory and needs occasional work. I thought Dante would appreciate that anachronistically formal touch. He is, after all, a man who sometimes dresses – I kid you not – in a Napoleon costume, and in spite of our sometimes contentious relationship during my employ, we have some things in common, not the least of which is a high opinion of ourselves which in me manifests itself as a bad case of smarty-pants and in Dante as egomaniacal derangement.
Just having fun with you Dante. (We love to kid the emperor.)
My other letter was on the occasion of the establishment's 20th anniversary, I believe, and was in response to a request by Dante that former employees wax nostalgic. I told him in that letter that I had learned more working at The Hatch (now, by the way, long since safely removed to Buckhead) that was of use to me in my “adult” life than I had in college. At the time I said it, I was certain it was true, but I could not have said what it was I'd learned and I didn't try.
Since then I've realized that what I learned, incorporated into my intellectual life and put to use every day, is “thinking like a busboy.”
In order to appreciate what I'm talking about, you'll have to disabuse yourself of the notion of the busboy as someone who cleans the dirty dishes away when you leave. In a place like Dante's, a good busboy is the point guard, the field marshal, the negotiator who makes the trains run on time.
He, or she, is not often tipped by the customer, but is well tipped at the end of the night by the waitress or waiter, if she expects her trains to run on time the next night. (The restaurant manager is more or less a glorified busboy who often makes less per hour since he doesn't get a slice of the tip pie.)
With that in mind, the key to thinking like a busboy is -- Never make an empty trip. If you have to go to the kitchen, take something with you. Always keep the big picture in view. Don't run to get something for table 10 without checking tables one through nine on you way out. If you've taken an order to the kitchen and there's no food ready to come out, bring some more glasses for the bartender whether he needs them or not. He will eventually and you'll have to go get them.
My wife and daughter scoffed when I mentioned this latest crackpot notion to them. Both claim that I do not put my busboy theory into practice, i.e. take stuff back to the kitchen when I'm headed that way.
Although I think they're wrong about this, I offer this information in the interest of a balanced presentation. I contend I bus as many tables as they do, but that's not what I'm talking about anyway. When engaged in housecleaning I employ the busboy mantra in its most physical sense. I maximize my efficiency by dropping laundry off on my way to get the mop, etc., but while so engaged, what I take with me is often not something as tangible as dirty socks. That's where application of the busboy philosophy to the life of mind comes into play.
And yes, Ricky, I know I have some 'splainin to do, but that will have to wait till next week, or else there might not be enough room on this page for people to tell us how their fractured lives will be made whole by the opening of the new LongHorn Steakhouse.

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