Swan Song

Swan Song

It was just after 10 pm on what was a record-setting Valentine’s Day dinner. A few minutes before we were set to close, I received a call from a barbershop quartet saying they were headed our way and asking if we would keep the doors open for them.

I said of course, knowing they had spent the entire day serenading their way across Billings, and warned the kitchen not to shut down, that we were taking one last table.  I was met with shockingly little protest on what was a long, hot, and busy shift for the kitchen staff, especially.

The gentleman filed in the door and ordered their wine and meals, and I overheard them recounting tales from the day.  I sent all the other front of house staff home and it was just me and the “boys” in the kitchen left, when, at the end of their meal, the men asked if we’d like a song or two.  Again I said of course and grabbed the boys to come enjoy.

At that point in time, the staff and I knew we were on what can only be described as a sinking ship.  Upper management wanted to change the entire format of the restaurant and we knew our days—at least our days as we knew them–were numbered.  With “Love Me Tender” being sung in the background, I looked fondly on this fine group of people I had worked side by side with over the previous years, young men who wouldn’t let me lift an ice bucket when I was pregnant with my son, guys who would never complain about a late table, and I looked at Chef Travis and said, “This is our swan song,” as the tears welled in my eyes.

It took a few months, but upper management eventually implemented the changes we all feared and ultimately could not accept.  I had never been at a restaurant at its inception before, but I was at this one from opening day, and it was more than just a job to me; I had stock, emotionally, physically, and otherwise, in that restaurant.  I had worked with the same group of people, roughly, for years.  We knew each other’s struggles and joys, both in and out of the restaurant, and so it made sense that when one of us decided to jump ship, we all did.  It was sad and hard and strangely poetic.

At that moment, I knew I was done working in fine dining.  I had done my tenure, I had worked with the best, AT the best, I had put my blood, sweat, and tears into a place and people I loved, and I knew that any other endeavor would pale in comparison.  I’ve now been out of the service industry for just over two years, working my “9 to 5,” and I miss it immensely.  I miss the people and the adrenaline of a busy night, I miss the choreographed dance of a staff that is “on it,” and if we’re being honest, I miss the cash!  I look back on my 18 years in the service industry with fondness.  It taught me character and hard work and how not to hold a grudge.  It has given me lifelong friendships and endless memories and stories.

Those 4 men left the restaurant that night happy, full, and grateful, and I sat with the lights dimmed, a glass of wine, and an irreplaceable memory.