Reprinted with permission of NHPR
Kevin Roark waits tables at the Barley House in Concord. On this day, he stands at the host’s station, greeting guests as they walk through the door.
“Two?” Roark asks a pair of women who have come in for lunch.
These women don’t seem to recognize Roark. But he has a reputation among the regulars here. You may have encountered a server like Roark at other restaurants. A little theatrical or over the top.
“We have a phenomenal, house-made red sangria,” Roark tells the women once they’ve been seated in a booth. “Should we skip the waiting process and get two sangrias?”
When they agree, Roark smiles. “Exceptionally difficult!” he says.
Regulars at the Barley House sometimes request Roark as their server this way.
“‘Is that little, funny guy here today?’ Roark says. “Come on, I’m the only dude who’s this short and this weird, so I know when I’m being talked about when they say ‘the little funny guy’.”
Roark is 26. He lives in Andover. He’s on the short side, thin, and wears a beard. And if he’s your waiter, he’ll bring more than just sweet potato fries and sangria to the table. Expect a quick wit, a sense of humor, and a quote from a film like Top Gun or The Princess Bride.
“My name is Inigo Montoya. I search for the six fingered man!” is how Roark often introduces himself. Sometimes he busts out a foreign language.
He knows bits of German, French, Spanish, and Japanese. His performance calls to mind an actor starving for attention, but he’s not a theater guy. In fact, big crowds aren’t his thing.
“You get me in front of a group of people, I clam up. ‘My name’s Jeffy and I like apples. Uh, hi.’ ‘Kevin, your name’s not even Jeffy and you don’t like apples.’”
He prefers the intimacy of a small group gathered around a table, and he uses humor to pry his way into a better understanding of what his guests need.
But beyond making him more effective as a server, he uses humor for a more noble purpose: In an age when you can order your food with an app or on a screen mounted to your table, Roark wants to use humor to humanize the job of serving customers.
“I think it would probably be a pleasant change from the, ‘Hi, I’m so-and-so. If you need anything, just press the button on the computer if you need my help.’ What’s the point of that?”
But Roark’s approach can be polarizing, and this fact is not lost on him. So when he says, for example, “My name is Inigo Montoya, I search for the six-fingered man,” he’s telling a joke, but he’s also reading your response.
“Because if someone catches it and says, ‘You killed my father, prepare to die!’ or they hold up their hand and say, ‘Only five fingers, I swear!’ That’s when I know we’re having a good time.”
Sometimes the jokes don’t work the way he intends. Sometimes the joke is a dud. But sometimes guests aren’t in the mood for Roark’s strong personality. If he gets a bad vibe, he dials it back.
“There was a time I was cracking jokes with my guest and one woman came up to me and said, “Look, I genuinely appreciate your personality, I’m just having a very bad day.” I said, ‘I’ll turn it off.’ And she goes, ‘Thank you very much.’”
On this day, everyone seems to be enjoying him, including Irene Oriani, who ordered one of those sangrias. She’s a former bartender, and she says anyone can serve a drink, “but you have to it with some finesse. I’d say he’s a good time. I’d say he’s unique, but in a good way, and he’s going to give you a great experience.”
That great experience is Roark’s singular focus. He’s even concerned about my experience as I follow him around with a microphone.
“I do my best for you, Peter,” Roark says, in an accent. “I just wanna make you happy and your listeners happy as well. Don’t you know that’s all I care about? It’s all I ever wanted.”
And then, in his own voice, he says: “It’s a good time. Just try to have fun.”
The original article can be seen at: http://nhpr.org/post/foodstuffs-his-name-kevin-roarkprepare-dine#stream/0