On any given Friday night at Buvette, chef Jody Williams’s Greenwich Village gastrothèque, people pack the sidewalks waiting to dine on mussels and coq au vin in a tiny sliver of a space. For two years, I worked weekends there, shrieking over the din of ebullient guests and French jazz. By Sunday my voice was shredded. Inevitably, customers being led to their teacup-size tables would ask, “Is this really where we’re sitting?” My usual response: “I’m afraid I don’t have anything smaller.” We’d plow through the crowd and they’d wedge themselves into their backless seats. Usually they were hungry and irritable. An hour into my shift, I was so harried, I couldn’t remember my own name.

In a place this frenzied, traditional wine service requires dexterity. Sometimes I was tempted to plunk the bottle down and forgo the ceremonial uncorking, but I never did. After I got the customers to put their phones away and pay attention, I presented the bottle and often asked whether they’d had the wine before, and if so, where. I’d shout, “Did you know this varietal is found only in a remote region of France?”

While inspecting a label, ripping foil, disgorging a cork, I’d learn that they’d honeymooned in Paris, or were old friends seeing each other for the first time in decades, or were just visiting New York. They’d learn that I love wines from the Loire or that I wanted to work at Buvette based on one taste of Jody’s brandade (salt cod puree on toast) years earlier. The whole point of the ritual was to build a rapport. That’s why I poured small glasses of wine: Every time I circled back to refill them, it was another opportunity to connect.

People often say to me now, “You can’t possibly miss waiting tables!” I don’t long to put up the chairs at 3 a.m. or to feel my wrists cracking from polishing 20,000 wineglasses. What I do miss is creating space for the surprising, tiny acts of graciousness that happen over food. The art of good service is a two-way street on which strangers forge a lovely balance and, on the best nights, a sense of enchantment.

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