The First Night
“Table Five requests an order of lamb shank!”
The tavern was abuzz with the sounds of conversation as patrons continually filtered in and out. Though there were six large tables within the tavern, much of the space was occupied by standing patrons. There were also those standing by the bar, behind which Rosalind worked at cooking up all the dishes to order, along with serving drinks whenever she could find an interval. Within this establishment – whose name I had recently learned was The Serene Ezov – customers were allowed to stand or sit as they pleased, but food was only served to seated customers. Rosalind said that this arrangement was to prevent customers from being a nuisance to each other, as the unfortunate incident of bumping into someone carrying a plate of food while standing could be avoided. The result was that the patrons who came for drinks stood at the bar, or otherwise in the empty space between tables, while those that wished to dine would be seated.
At that time, all the tables were fully occupied, and there were a good many people who were crowding around the occupied tables, waiting for a space to open up so that they could sit down. The bar was largely unoccupied, and a surprising number of people were sitting down to order food, even though people usually came to a tavern to drink, not to dine. People were shouting over each other in the tavern, the entire place a mess of sound, a depiction of pure chaos.
Naturally, due to the rule about only eating while seated, the only person who had to suffer the pains of navigating through this chaos while carrying plates loaded with food and mugs brimming with drink was myself.
Thankfully, as a result of Yingquan’s gift, I was possessed of a superhuman level of perception and agility, so while it took some effort, getting the plates and mugs where they needed to be without spilling anything was certainly within the realm of possibility. When I had taken the job, I had been far more worried about messing up the types of food on the menu. As it turns out, the cooking here was rather similar to the food served back in my home world, so I quickly had the menu memorised. Furthermore, while the tavern technically served three types of alcohol, it appeared that she only served one type on any given night, rotating between them based on the day of the week. So I did not need to worry about mixing them up.
As a result, my first night of work had started smoothly – since this was a town that was reasonably small, business was generally slow. Rosalind had informed me that, being one of only three taverns in the town, we tended to get just enough patrons to stay afloat, but not enough to make a lot of profit. Especially since it was an unusually cold night, most would not be leaving their homes this night. Rosalind told me to expect a slow night and long intervals between patrons.
She was terribly, horribly wrong.
At first, only a few patrons came in, mostly men, tired and shivering. I guessed that they had simply stopped by for a drink while on the way home – a fact I later managed to confirm with them. They seemed to be regulars, as Rosalind gave them a friendly wave. I greeted them politely.
“Will you require a table, or is simply a drink fine?”
Each of the men had stared at me, dumbfounded – not that I could blame them. It was their first time seeing me, after all, and few things looked as out of place as a girl wearing a butler’s outfit in a tavern. However, each of them soon replied with a request for a table and a meal.
In our establishment, Rosalind would sit at the tables and interact with her guests whenever she was not dealing with another order – it was a sort of added service in return for purchasing food and therefore paying more than for a mere drink. In my new capacity as the waitress, this duty fell to me, so I carried it out, sitting down and chatting with the patrons whenever there were a lack of orders. It quickly became evident that they were curious about me, and their decision to order food had thus been made out of a desire to speak to me. Their orders were interspersed with numerous questions which I answered in a deadpan, excessively formal manner befitting my appearance. After all, entertaining the patrons was part of the job description.
“Where’d you come from, lass?”
“I’m afraid that’s not a question I’m authorised to answer.”
“Are you a lass or a lad?”
“I’m reasonably certain I’m a girl, though now that you ask, I’m forced to question myself…”
A round of laughter ran through the tavern. I allowed a slight smile to creep onto my face, to make it clear that it was an act. A person who spoke like a butler could be perceived as prudish, but a person who pretended to do the same was more commonly perceived as playful. The questions continued as I shouted the order to Rosalind in a sharp, loud voice that contrasted greatly with the polite tone I had been using.
“How’d a striking young lady like you end up in a backwards town like this?”
“I was carried by the wind, just as Milady Rosalind was.”
“Miss Rosalind was born here, though?”
“Please keep it down. It’s rude to shatter the dreams of a young lady.”
I added a conspiratorial wink with the last statement, causing another round of laughter within the tavern. Rosalind made a show of pouting, but she quickly broke into a smile as well. It was likely she had not expected me to be this good at entertaining – but I had ample experience receiving guests in both of my previous worlds, in situations where the lives, or jobs, depending on the world, of my subordinates depended on my successful hosting of the other party. This much, at least, was well within my capabilities.
However, shortly after the first group went off, back to their homes, we were swarmed by a second group – larger, but still manageable. It was an unexpected number of guests, but still manageable. Surprisingly, many of them wanted to order a meal as well. Furthermore, this time, there were more women mixed in with the predominantly male crowd. Unfortunately, there were only six tables, so we started allocating them on a first-come-first-served basis, with large queues forming around each table, with people waiting a turn to be seated and served. For several hours, I went from table to table, recieving orders. The patrons would talk to me while I took their orders, and I would respond in that same excessively polite manner.
Rosalind, standing at the bar without a chance to rest, preparing dish after dish, seemed perplexed as to the influx of business. Of course, I knew the reason. I worked in marketing, after all. I would be a failure if I didn’t know the power of word of mouth.
No doubt, the patrons who had visited earlier had spoken to their friends or neighbours about the curious new waitress at Rosalind’s place. Having their interest piqued, these people would then come down to look for themselves. Their wives, worried about their conduct, might have followed them – explaining the increased numbers of women in the tavern. That was the second wave. I was expecting a third wave to enter shortly, people who saw the second wave either entering or leaving the tavern, and wondering what was happening, who would pop in to take a look. Additionally, there would be those who heard about us from the second wave, and decide to come take a look. Therefore, the third wave would have even more people.
Sure enough, just as the second wave of customers began to thin out, a third wave emerged, with even more people than before. This time, the queues spread outside the tavern, with people waiting in line outside, wrapped up in warm clothing. It got to the point where there were orders coming from everywhere at once, and it was near impossible to manage. Frustrated, I decided on a system: I would sit at each table for three minutes at a time before moving to the next. During that time, I would take orders and make conversation. After three minutes had passed, I would stand up, pass the orders to Rosalind, and move on to the next table. Each customer was allowed up to 10 minutes at a table per item ordered, starting from when the food was delivered. If they exceeded this time, I would continue to talk to the rest of the table while ignoring them. Since people started ordering more and more dishes and leaving them uneaten, we imposed a hard limit of two dishes per person. In this way, we dealt with the crowds slowly, a bit at a time, all the way until the last person finally left at 7 in the morning, four hours after our purported closing time.
Once we closed the door and switched the sign from “open” to “closed”, Rosalind and I both collapsed to the floor at the same time, exhausted. Rosalind spoke first.
“Well, this was a first.”
“Ugh, I haven’t felt this tired since I participated in that one-week-long defence.”
We turned to face each other. Her appearance was ragged and beat, and I was certain mine was as well, but we shared a grin. My first night had been an unexpectedly huge success.