The New Joint

open kitchen

It’s a newer restaurant, but you recognize the aesthetic. It’s a small, “intimate” space. In fact, the lack of space is screaming at you, telling you how valuable the seat you’re occupying is, and the prices on the menu back it up.

Because it’s so cramped, you’re concerned that your conversations might bleed into those of the people next to you. But you needn’t worry about that – as soon as you sit down, you can’t hear anything. The music is loud, and the pace inside is frenetic. The dishwasher is running. There are plates being moved, pots and pans crashing. It’s an “open kitchen” design, so you can look on as the cooks, servers, and bartenders all work at breakneck speed. You marvel at their efficiency in such a cramped space, at how they never seem to slow down. There’s only one person making drinks, and he impresses you with both his speed and his attention to detail.

Luckily, you didn’t come here to relax. In fact, there’s nothing remotely relaxing about this experience. There’s a feeling of high anxiety throughout the joint. When you get up to use the restroom (It’s called a Wash Closet here), you’ll almost certainly be in someone’s way, so you’ve got to keep your eyes peeled and be ready to move out of the way quickly. Even in your seat, it seems like people are constantly trying to squeeze by you. The value of the space you’re sitting in is further reinforced by the cadre of people you see gathered by the entryway awaiting their turn to get a crack at the menu.

The workers are sweating away in front of you and getting something close to minimum wage from the people who own the place. You know – as they do – that their bread is buttered by the tips they make, and that knowledge brings you a level of satisfaction. You monitor them closely, and if they fail to meet your expectations – if you see them linger a little too long in the kitchen or if they get your drink order wrong – you’ll punish them by decreasing their take home pay. In this place, you’re not just a customer – you’re the employer. This knowledge seems to make the food taste better.

As you finish eating, you conclude that the waitstaff has performed admirably. Your food arrived in a timely fashion and was arranged with obvious attention to detail. You know that as soon as you exit the restaurant, you’re entering a world that makes you feel completely powerless, so you order one more drink and smile to yourself as you watch the bartender rub the lemon peel around the edge of the glass – something you didn’t even know you wanted until you saw it happen. That man just earned himself a good tip, you think.

You still feel like shit, and you’ll feel even worse in the morning. But you can’t wait to tell your friends about this place.

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