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Watch: A Career Waiter Who's Mastered the Art of Service Shares His Secrets

The Southern Foodways Alliance catches up with a server in his 46th year

The service industry has a notoriously high turnover rate, particularly where servers are concerned — but some are institutions in their own right, and inextricably linked to the restaurants they work in.

Goren Avery has been at HIghland’s Bar & Grill in Birmingham, Alabama since 1982. Avery, who began his serving career at 1971 at the Hyatt Regency, recalls his experiences as a black waiter in the 1970s and 80s: “They pop their fingers when they want something…they’d call you ‘Hey boy, I need this.’”

His decades of experience have given him a skill that comes as second nature. "You have to read a table before you get to the table,” Avery says. Many customers may not know what they’re ordering, and Avery has his own delicate way of overcoming problems before they arise — artfully explaining that beef carpaccio is raw without condescension, for example. “This is all I do,” he says. “This is a living for me.”

Avery’s decades of hard work in the service industry haven’t gone unnoticed: In 2014 he was presented with the Ruth Fertel Keeper of the Flame Award, which recognizes the unsung heroes of the food and restaurant industry.

Watch the full video above. Red Dog is a short film by Joe York for the Southern Foodways Alliance, an ongoing documentary project that “documents, studies, and explores the diverse food cultures of the changing American South.”

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