Dinner at Tapenade Restaurant is a memorable experience. The cordial ambience, the feel of that which is unmistakably French, and service like a brilliantly engineered heist: the help comes and takes you from your worries, replacing daily stress with gustatory delights. And what delights!
The heady depths of reduction sauces. Heights of chiboust, confit, and coulis. The half-vanished art of textural balance. And in the end, the immeasurable value of experiencing that which is enjoyably different. All to taste!
(Forgive me. The preceding, though heartfelt, was indeed a shameless plug. I’m actually the headwaiter and part-time maître d’ at Tapenade Restaurant on Fay Avenue in downtown La Jolla. Sorry.)
But there it is. I love the restaurant where I work. And I’m not ashamed to hype the place because I know that we can back it up. Tapenade Restaurant reminds me nightly how working in the service business can be genuinely fulfilling. The cuisine is incredible, and the clientele, in general, seem to appreciate the quality of what we offer. In fact, if I might intone this next sentence without the least decibel of irony, then I would like to mention something that I feel increasingly, after 3 years at Tapenade and 17 continuous years in the service industry: waiting tables can represent a noble course for making a living.
Not only noble but heroic too. If it’s true that Americans fear public speaking more than death, then we food servers stare down the fear of fears more regularly than any other professionals I know. And we do so to provide selfless (though paid) pleasure for strangers. There you go. Heroic.
As for my claim to a certain nobility, perhaps I do place too high an estimation upon Life Experience. That is, perhaps I personally overvalue the pleasures of a dining event; but no. I’ve seen other people who feel it too. Appreciators, I call them. And maybe their potential appreciation, and the way I pander to them, only makes them hedonists and makes me a kind of Hedonist Facilitator. Whatever. The fact is, I get a spiritually uplifting kick out of trying to create a memorable Life Experience for people I hardly know. And I’ve embraced this line of business for my career.
So what got into me? Am I weird?
I decided I had to try to find a fellow Career Waiter who shares with me this unusual sense that waiting tables is an Entitled Profession. And I decided that if I could find just two of these lifetime servers and write their case studies, then I might illuminate an unlikely occupational enthusiasm.
Case Study One centers around Peter Jargowsky, who works at George’s at the Cove on Prospect Street in downtown La Jolla. I gravitated to Jargowsky because his staff at George’s beat out my team from Tapenade for last year’s San Diego Magazine “Best Service” award.
Better than we are?
And the folks at George’s seem to think that Peter Jargowsky is one of their best. So, then…the best of the best? Well, I had to see it.
My wife and I decided to go to George’s for dinner and to have Peter Jargowsky perform as our waiter.
The facts are these. Peter Jargowsky has been a server at George’s for over five years. He has grown into a fully consenting adult, he’s married, and he doesn’t excessively hang loose or party or hang out; he went to school, and he tried some other occupations; he’s deeply religious; and a long time ago, Peter Jargowsky came to this levelheaded professional decision: he waits tables.
And as it turns out, Peter Jargowsky is witty, effortlessly funny, and happens to be a refreshingly articulate speaker. Throughout our dinner, he was very present and relaxed and in the moment. At one point, Jargowsky described the George’s decor as “muted and masculine,” and then, when my wife said that she didn’t like the look, he immediately responded, “We maintain this image so that we do not distract from the presentation of the food, since that is the most important thing. If the place were too pretty, then you wouldn’t be able to focus on the appearance of the dishes.” Then he smiled wryly and added, “I hope you liked that. Because that was my own personal line of spin.”
Cleverness, and never missing a beat, and having your own personal line of spin are all attributes that help immensely if you’re going to be a Career Waiter. Jargowsky also knows his food and wine, serves from the left and clears from the right, seems graceful under pressure, and takes pride in his job. (And after having dinner under his tutelage, I don’t know if he’s a better waiter than I am, or if his team is better than mine, but it’s like apples and oranges, or better yet, like fish and cheese: the George’s waiters are fabulous at George’s, and the Tapenade waiters are terrific at Tapenade, and I don’t know if you could break it down more fully than that.)
Case Study Two takes place at the Broken Yolk Cafe in Pacific Beach. The Broken Yolk is a bastion of San Diego casual fare — the so-called turn-and-burn — on the other end of the dining spectrum from the fine choreography of Tapenade or George’s. But the choreography at the Broken Yolk is super fast and super fierce. The servers there are the definition of efficient, and friendly to boot. An extraordinarily crack crew. Their headwaiter’s Kim Harper, who smiles easily and has a truly sincere hello. Her eyes are almost unbelievably blue. Today she’s attired in her red company T-shirt, gray sneakers, and a small black apron over charcoal-colored sporty shorts.
And she’s got seven tables turning at once, full seats along the counter, and more potential patrons lined up waiting at the door. Her fellow servers are rushing by, every direction, a narrowly controlled chaos. It’s impossible to detect, among the irregular clamor, one coherent conversation.