In 2006, I worked as a waiter at an Italian restaurant in the Austin area. I was a pretty good waiter. I paid careful attention to what my customers needed. And I also paid attention to what the restaurant needed. There were inefficiencies everywhere. The stations were poorly organized and the high-traffic areas were further congested by equipment, boxes and other stuff which should’ve been somewhere else.
The most glaring problem of all, however, was the misuse of available space throughout the restaurant. All the waiters dreaded working in a section that was far from the kitchen. They knew they would have to walk to and from the kitchen a hundred times to retrieve something. The longer the walk, the longer their customers had to wait for them.
Walking to the kitchen was perfectly understandable to get something which should only be stored in a kitchen. Salad dressing and sauces, for example. But it made no sense to me for us to walk across the restaurant to get silverware, lemons or a to-go container. Every time I had to do this, I was just one more waiter in the congested areas of the kitchen who was there to get something. It was chaos.
I repeatedly suggested having stations on the far side of the restaurant. The objection from the managers, however, was that they didn’t want these items to be out in the open where customers would see them. That’s perfectly understandable. White styrofoam containers are ugly and no one likes a cluttered restaurant…totally valid objections.
One Of My Early Woodworking Jobs
“Well then we need cabinets,” I told them. “We need cabinets that are stained and finished to match all the wood in this dining room. They’re going to need doors that are solidly built, capable of taking lots of abuse from hurried waiters. I told them exactly where the cabinets needed to go. And when they finally warmed up to the idea and asked who they should hire to build these cabinets, I responded; “me.”
I gotta say…I was quite surprised when they agreed to this. They paid me to build two cabinets and two sets of shelves. I was thrilled at the opportunity. It wasn’t the first time I was hired to build furniture, but it was still quite early in my woodworking experience.
I was proud that I completed the job in a reasonable period of time. I was proud of it. Unlike my previous work which would only be seen in the homes of the people who hired me, hundreds of patrons would see my work in this restaurant. The manager paid me. I was happy and he was happy. All of us waiters proceeded to use the cabinets for the exact purposes which I had envisioned. I repeatedly examined them, especially the hinges, looking for any sign of flaws or failure.
Even after I’d stopped working there, I occasionally dropped in to check on my work. New managers came and went. None of them knew me, of course. Pointing out the cabinets and shelves, I would explain to them that “I built this.”
Represented by Your Work
I saw some obvious wear and tear on the pieces, which exceedingly bothered me, of course. I wanted them to last forever but I could see that they would not. It turns out, however, that the restaurant itself didn’t last very long. I just googled the place while writing this post and I learned that it’s now permanently closed.
I can’t help but to wonder what became of the shelves and cabinets I built for this place. Are they still there in the shuttered building? Were they taken elsewhere along with the rest of the dining furniture? Or were they simply thrown away?
These are the kinds of questions that go through the mind of a woodworker during his long, quiet hours in the woodshop. Could he have built it better? How is it holding up under daily use? Is warping? Or did they replace it with something else?
I shared some of these thoughts in another post, The Confidence & Insecurity of a Woodworker. If you liked this post, you might like that one too. Click here to read it. And thank you for reading about my early woodworking adventures.