Follow The Fold

29 Sep

The Industrial Revolution failed; people still fold napkins.

Every night, a restaurant’s staff  folds thousands of napkins, in order for them to be unfolded, soiled, cleaned, pressed, and then folded again. It’s an endless enterprise.

Over the course of one evening, the house stockpile of folded whites, rises and falls, like the tides.  Usually around 11:30, the last reserves have been snatched up, and reset on tables.  Only after the saddest, off-white  folds begin circulating into service, do the bussers begin to prophetize, “No napkins soon! No napkins!” Service must stop, folding commences, and the famine is kept at bay.    

Folding is time intensive.  The more elaborate the fold, the more time it takes.  The past three restaurants I have worked in have used the same exact basic fold.  So I’m quite comfortable with this particular tri-fold, and can produce the napkin in 8 seconds flat. 

At 8 seconds a napkin (I just timed myself), 50 napkins should take only 8 minutes, but that doesn’t seem reallistic. In fact, 50 napkins usually takes 10-15 minutes, even at a pert pace. There must be some breathing room in there that I’m not counting? Ah yes, gossip.

I just calculated that I have folded a minimum of 31,200 napkins, in the last three years.

(Minimum of 50 Napkins a day)* x (Average of  4 days a week) x (52 weeks a year) x (3 years)

=31,200

*Some side-work requires 200 napkins. Number of napkins folded does not include silverware “roll-ups” for the patio.

31,200 napkins is a substantial amount of gossip. Lots of sex has been relived over those clean linens, lots of dreams shared, and lots of tears shed.

Not everyone socializes over folding. I once had a manager named Sally, who folded napkins like a solitary Catholic reciting her rosary. She had an alcoholic boyfriend, and slowing stacking the perfect piles of white, seemed to give her solace.  It took her about 200,000 napkins before she decided to break up with the brute for good, Hail Mary!”

There was a girl Lilly, from Tennessee, who could talk faster than a cotton-mouth could slither, and who could fold faster than she could talk.  That girl could talk n’ fold, and talk n’ fold, like she had been doing it for all of eternity.  She even could take an espressos break, tell you about her last bikini wax, and still be a good fifty napkins ahead of you.  I once tried to catch up with her and nearly folded myself into an anxiety attack.

 And then there was Ahmed, a quiet, stoic Bengali, who approached napkins, much like he approached waiting tables (And life for that matter): absolutely precise, but without a hint of urgency.  Ahmed wouldn’t have folded fifty napkins a night, if Allah Himself had commanded it (He had not).

So many folds, somany friends. Tonight I taught a new server the tri-fold I’ve had in my hands for the past five years. I can’t remember who taught me my first one; I’d curse the sorry soul, but, I think it was Sally. Poor Sally. She’s probably still praying over a fold in some back server station, planning her escape, one napkin at a time. Aren’t we all?

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