Everyone Can Do Respect

Richie does not like menial tasks. Does anyone? Richie would rather be the star of the show. That’s a bit difficult when you’re a 45-year-old man wrapping sandwiches for a living — but it’s possible. Richie does not do well in the kitchen. He likes to be out front. Work the register. Talk to customers, make some jokes, and get some validation.

Unfortunately for Richie, this week, validation is not on the menu. This week, Richie must wake up at 5:30 AM sharp each day in order to polish forks. Why? After he tried to steal some power from their neighbors for the remodel of their sandwich shop, Richie’s boss decided he needed “a vacation.” Therefore, Richie is now taking a week-long trip to the best restaurant in the world to stage as an unpaid intern and, well, polish forks.

Nine hours into his first day, Richie already runs out of patience — and so does his manager. “No one is asking you to be here,” Garrett tells him, “but we need to have some forks without streaks in them. Every day here is the freaking Super Bowl.”

In a three-star restaurant with a waiting list that’s 5,000 people long at any given moment, everything must be perfect. That’s not something Richie has an innate understanding for, but there is something else for which he does. “You don’t have to drink the Kool-Aid,” Garrett says. “I just need you to respect me. I need you to respect the staff. I need you to respect the diners. And I need you to respect yourself.”

“I can do respect,” Richie says, and it’s true. Everyone can do respect. Later that night, Richie witnesses the staff heaping kindness after kindness upon a couple of high school teachers who saved for years to be at the restaurant. In the end, they don’t even ask them to pay. Richie sees their faces, and in that moment, he gets it. The next day, he shows up and polishes forks like there’s no tomorrow.

Over the remainder of his week as a stage, Richie gets to peer more and more into the staffs’ lives, and into the experiences they create for their customers. At one point, he even gets to deliver a surprise deep dish pizza to a visiting family who’s on their way out of town and would otherwise miss the iconic Chicago dish. For the briefest of moments, he becomes a visible part of the magic, “the star of the show” he always wants to be, and though it’s only a microscopic preview, after his time is up, Richie is filled with a new fire he had no longer been sure even existed.

A week of staging in a three-star restaurant won’t make you the perfect chef. It won’t even make you the world’s best fork-polisher. But it could remind you of an important truth you might have forgotten: Everyone can do respect. Respect the work. Respect the people. And respect the circumstances — no matter what they are.

You’re never too old to start over. To start something new. Or to start something you’ll love. And it all begins with a little bit of respect. That, too, will never go out of fashion. As long as you remember it, neither will you — and if it takes a week of polishing forks from time to time to do so, that’s more than a fair price to pay.