When I was in college, I waited tables for extra money and not to toot my own horn, but I think I was one of the best. That is, unless you count the time when I was handing a customer a glass of water and the glass literally exploded in my hand and all over her. (Quick side note: I would recommend NOT putting ice and cold water into a glass that just came out of the dishwasher and is still hot. I was in college, but apparently lacking a little bit of common sense. Lesson learned.)
I was a waitress for about three years and I loved it. In fact, I actually owe the break in my professional career to my success as a waitress. It’s true. One night I was making small talk with a customers and he asked what I was studying. I told him that I was at Miami University working towards a Marketing degree. Fate was on my side that night…turns out he was the Vice President of Marketing for one of the largest companies in town. He gave me his business card and told me to contact him if I was interested in an internship. By the time he got to his office the next morning, a fax (and now I feel old) with my resume was waiting for him. And the next summer, I had an internship and ended up working for that company for nearly 10 years after I graduated. Yep, you could say waiting tables changed my life.
I’ve always believed that magic can happen over a table with food–it brings people together and connects them. Strangers become friends….or even your boss.
The mission of One Bistro
There’s a small restaurant a few minutes away from me called One Bistro, but it isn’t like any other restaurant I’ve heard of. It looks like a normal restaurant–quaint tables, a menu with delicious food, a busy kitchen. But here’s the difference: the prices listed are “suggested prices”. Their core belief is that if you’re hungry, they have a seat for you…whether you can pay for the food or not. If you’re not able to pay for your meal, you’re able to volunteer and pay back with your time. Genius. Oh, and if you can pay for your food and would like to pay a little extra, that money goes towards someone else’s meal who can’t.
The “restaurant” only has a few regular employees, otherwise they rely on volunteers for most of its operations including servers, dishwashers, bussers and hosts. The owner, Rob, is probably one of the most interesting people that I’ve ever met. He was an extremely successful executive chef when he got “the calling” to use his culinary talents to help those in need.
Hunger is something that effects more than just the homeless. Rob wanted to create a place that felt like a regular restaurant where people could come for a meal–without having to go to a soup kitchen or shelter. He explained that the restaurant is obviously there to feed, but really the restaurant creates a community that is able to help much more than people’s stomachs. One Bistro is a safe place for people to come not only for a good meal, but also for someone who cares.
Today I had the pleasure of being one of the volunteers, waiting tables for their lunch service.
And this was a very special act of kindness for me because I wouldn’t be serving alone; I recruited a partner in crime.
I hadn’t seen Mary since high school–we were friends then, but we just went our separate ways after graduation. Then through the power of social media, we connected again last year. One of our mutual friends read my blog from my first 30 Day Christmas Challenge and helped to re-connect us. Why? Because Mary completes acts of kindness all. the. time. Long story short, I asked Mary if she would want to team up with me and complete an act of kindness together. Not only did she accept that invitation, she took me up on another offer and agreed to do her own 30 Day Christmas Challenge this year. (And she also started a blog about it and I think it’s amazing–you should definitely check it out!)
Mary and I were both a little nervous about serving–she had never waited tables before and I had visions of more glasses exploding in my hands. But luckily we found a groove and made friends with some of the other volunteers–especially a family that was volunteering together (I love that!).
But the moment that I will remember most was meeting Mariah. Mariah is 10 years old and was also volunteering. In fact, she volunteers at One Bistro at least once a week. Before lunch service began, Mary and I spent some time talking with Mariah. Not only was she volunteering at the restaurant, but she was going to volunteer at an animal shelter later in the day. I honestly didn’t know what to say when she told us that. I was impressed–I don’t know many kids that want to spend so much time giving back.
But later Rob explained.
Mariah’s mom is addicted to heroin. Her mom’s boyfriend has also been arrested for drugs. Mariah comes to One Bistro to get away–to be surrounded by people who are positive role models and who care about her. Again, this place is about so much more than just food.
As he continued telling us about her story, I had to look away. I’m a crier…an ugly one and I could feel the waterworks coming. Here’s a 10 year old girl who’s doing the best she can to get by–even though the deck is stacked so much against her. Mary’s eyes also started to fill with tears–it was hard to not be affected.
Mariah was wearing a One Bistro t-shirt and I noticed that it was filled with signatures.
“Can I sign your shirt?”
Mariah smiled when I asked–she actually had a Sharpie ready. So I wrote a short message that summed up my thoughts: “You rock!” Mary was next–we were both honored to have our names written on her shirt.
What I loved about volunteering at One Bistro was seeing so many people who were eager to give back. That family that was volunteering with us for lunch….yeah, they decided to come back and serve a second shift, working the Thanksgiving dinner that would feed 150 people. Customers that I waited on asked how they could volunteer and help. Today I was surrounded by kindness, generosity, inspiration…not to mention amazing food!
Yes, today was a good day: kindness helped reunite me with an old friend and ironically, waiting tables once again changed my life.