I work as a hostess in a restaurant. The other night as I was working I realized that the song that was playing was one that had played the night before, and even hours before. And it was repetitive to me, but it was new to the customers who aren’t here every night. Then I realized the “lifespan” of the restaurant. How all the elements of the interior decorating (the lighting, the music, the hum of voices, the smell of food, etc) and all other elements of “activity” contribute to give off the illusion of a pulsating life within this space.
I thought about how at the end of the night, when all the customers go home, this sphere deflates, and returns to the banal nature of its reality: a small hole in the wall of this building. But the maze of pathway created by the layout of the tables makes it appear complex and intricate. The lighting deceives customers into perceiving depth of space and of an intimate atmosphere where they are invited to engage in romantic talk. The alcohol lubricates their senses and they can be the sexy version of themselves. The bar area reminds me of a breeding ground for the early thirty-somethings. Suddenly I feel like the commentator on Planet Earth: The girl has put on her eye shadow with hopes of attracting a mate, she scans the crowd for one that suits her fancy. Her feet probably hurt in those heels. The man has applied cologne to complement his pheromones, groomed his hair in the privacy of his bachelor bathroom before going out.
The women stand on one side, the men on the other, reminiscent of a high school dance. They turn into themselves in pockets of friends, visible to groups of the other sex and bait themselves. And again and again, there is the move in, the pursuit, the evaluation, the rejection or the invitation.
Turning back towards the dining room, I thought about how big the experience of this night was to each of the customers: like a sphere hovering over each of their heads, and if you took the time to zoom in to each of those subjective experiences, you would have this variety of parallel experiences derived from this one platform. For the couple on the blind date, this is a climactic moment drenched with nerves and excitement. Then there’s the grandfather proudly showing off his grown son and his son’s baby to the public. There is the girl stuck on a date with a guy
she doesn’t even like… the guy galavanting in a gaudy designer outfit, pretending to be a connoisseur of wine.Meanwhile the girl is wishing she were on the date at the adjacent table, where the couple is quite visibly enamored with each other and will be making love later. There are the teenaged siblings reluctantly accompanying their parents for “family night”, wishing they were old enough to order an alcoholic beverage and mingle independently with the suave young adults at the bar. I thought about how this space offers a treat: a sense of importance, of luxury. After a long day of working in the office, this place offers a respite where they can be served, hear the word “yes, yes sir” and they are not the man that when he returns home stands in front of himself in the mirror in his boxers, thinking about how old and saggy his body has gotten, and other such insecurities. Here they are powerful. Here they can show their guests that they are regarded as a “regular” and as a pleasure to the owner of the establishment.
And I thought about how we erect these vertical industries from the two-dimensional plane of space and time. How we took the biological need of eating and created an industry around it. How we took the simple notion that cooking was tedious, and that eating was luxurious, and elongated that disjuncture to create this binary of served and servant. And then we embellished “eating” to transform it into an experience that included relaxation, socialization, etc. And thus the concept of hospitality was born. It offers everything that can be found in one’s own home, yet it displaces the responsibility onto another, and offers something new and unfamiliar. And what is this disjuncture but value measured in money… how much is a particular collaboration of quality of food, quality of service, the newness and unfamiliarity of a location you have to travel outside of your home to find, the ambiance, customer service and friendliness worth? And each individual restaurant builds this little microcosm of a universe people can retreat to for cultural variety: where would you like to go tonight Honey: France? Italy? India? Simultaneously, on the other side of the page, the restaurant creates employment out of something that if it had been performed in the home, wouldn’t be of exchangeable monetary value. And I thought about efficiency, how everyone in a party can order something different, and yet how their courses will be delivered in a timely and synchronized order… something that wouldn’t be feasible if you were hosing and cooking for a dinner party in your own home. I thought about how many minds and services and hand-workers are involved to give 200 people this individualized experience in one space in the span of four hours each night. I thought about everything it takes to make it economical so that the restaurant makes enough money to pay each of its employees (and not just a negligible amount, but enough so that they can support themselves and pursue their own luxuries). And at the end of each night, when all the customers and employees have gone home, and the manager tallies up the profits, he realizes that all parties have won. And because in nature there is the conservation of mass, and there is an inverse relationship where if you add to something you must be taking from something else… then how can both parties win? Because we carved out this pocket in the cross-stitch of space-time, created unintrinsic value structure out of a reciprocal biological need.