Dear Deann Bayless,
It is January 1, 2021 and I badly overslept, finally waking to the dim light of afternoon. I am drenched with cold sweat from a vivid restaurant-work dream. The emotional resonance of the dream is so powerful, that, immediately upon waking, I dash into the bathroom, and closing the door behind me, burst into tears. It is my first “ugly cry” in more than a year. And what a year it’s been. My partner Raven and I are living in Connecticut with my amazing aunt Judy, whose medical situation puts her at the highest risk from the coronavirus. The life-or-death risk from the contagion has meant not working in restaurants for the past year, but we know it could have been much worse. We are thankful for each other’s company, and the relative safety of our socially distant bubble. Now, I’m crying from the dream. With tears still wet on my cheeks, in the solitude of the bathroom, I start writing down what I remember:
I don’t know what kind of restaurant it was, what the name was, or even what city it was in, but I knew it was the Bayless’ restaurant. Chef Rick was cooking in the kitchen, and Deann was managing the dining room. The staff was hustling, all hands on deck, to prepare for a fully reserved service. It had been agreed that I would be taking a full section as a server. As the tables were seated and guests began to enjoy the festive offerings, I became increasingly bogged down, serving from an unfamiliar menu, navigating a new POS system, and executing steps of service in the correct order. The difficulty was compounded by the guests’, and my own, high expectations.
The staff, on the other hand, was a well-oiled machine of hospitality. No one on the team acted out of negativity towards me; no one was cheerleading the inevitability of my slow downfall. It was the definition of teamwork and professionalism. Everyone fulfilled, to the utmost, their own duties to the guests, and at the same time, both FOH and BOH were functioning as a collective safety net, catching my mistakes before they impacted the guests. As the weakest link, with the potential to break the chain, I was painfully aware of the stress I was adding to the equation. The team made it look easy, but I knew from experience, what they were doing was incredibly difficult.
For the greater good, I redistributed responsibility for my tables to neighboring servers, and requested to please speak with Deann in the manager’s office. I thanked her for the opportunity, and I apologized for coming up short. Dreading an angry admonishment for my failure, I listed all the different ways I had dragged down service. I described how, each and every time I messed up, the entire team had my back. Defeated and embarrassed, proverbial tail between my legs, I got up to go. Deann stood between me and the door. She was smiling.
Deann said that learning everything will take a long time, and I would have to be patient with myself. She said that from her perspective, even though I was not yet up to speed with the menus and on the restaurant’s systems, the guests were benefitting from my presence in the dining room — because of my conscientious nature, honesty, and heart. From her experience, Deann said she believed in me. I was returned back to the team, and as we successfully closed the restaurant, I woke up.