Tonight was our last night of dinner service before Duke students go on Spring Break and we’ve had a rather spirited discussion about what to expect from the evening. My boss and I were looking at it from two very different vantage points: she didn’t want to buy food that would then be left over and I didn’t want to run out of food. I also expected to serve more than double her expectations. I was looking for seventy or so and she thought we’d be lucky to have thirty customers.
Here’s the part where I tell you I am not a business person. I don’t have an entrepreneurial gene in my body. I have had any number of good ideas that have cost more money than they have made. My boss, on the other hand, is a successful business person and her ideas are actually profitable.
The menu I presented this evening was evidence of a compromise. We ran out of a couple of things – the squash ravioli and sweet potato polenta – that will not be on the menu after the break, as we make some seasonal adjustments, so it made sense to let them go early. And she sent me some food for the other dishes. Six people sat down right when we opened and we had served thirty people by six o’clock. Soon after, the number 86 started to show up on the white board where the kitchen communicates with the servers.
When we run out of something in a restaurant kitchen, we tell the servers to “86” the item, meaning we have no more, so don’t take any more orders for it. The board began to fill up:
86 roasted chix
86 mac rolls
By eight o’clock, we were offering Chicken Alfredo and Chicken Parmigiana and Upstairs at the Commons had turned into Uncle Milty’s House of Pollo and Pasta. We made it to closing time and counted up the evening to find we had served 81 people. I 86’d myself and came home, with missions accomplished: everyone fed and very few leftovers.
Just before service, we noticed we were out of mushrooms, which we needed for a couple of dishes. I took a small pan and went downstairs to The Great Hall, a restaurant below us, and asked Vernon, one of the chefs there, if he could help me out. He and I have been talking because he is going to North Carolina Central to get a degree in Hospitality and Tourism. He was certainly hospitable and generous with the mushrooms.
Words do funny things sometimes, or we do funny things with them. Somehow we’ve decided that hospitality can be used as a name for a business: the hospitality industry. The two words together do the same thing to me that happens during church budget discussions and someone inevitably starts talking about how we need to run the church like a business. I struggle to let the words live together, even though I understand the rationale for their usage.
Restaurants are a business; hospitality is not. Neither is church.
The distinction is important because ultimately a business has to look at things the way my boss was looking at them today: the bottom line. When we run the reports at the end of the night, will the show we did well? Did we make enough this week to pay the bills? How do we keep the business going? But good business is not necessarily good theology.
One of the sentences that lives deep in my memory and rises to the surface is from the liner notes of a friend’s record so many years ago that it actually was a record says, “Thanks to God, the Ultimate Spendthrift.”
Spendthrift: a person who spends possessions or money extravagantly or wastefully; prodigal.
Now we’re talking theology. And, yes, it’s a stretch to think of the words wastefully and prodigal as descriptive of God, I know – but give me a chance. The nature of any institution – a church, a restaurant – is to spend a good bit of time on self-preservation. That’s not all bad. It’s harder for a church because we are building the institution around a God who is not a save-it-for-a-rainy-day kind of God. When the one we call the Rich Young Ruler came to Jesus and asked what it would take to follow him, Jesus looked at him (and loved him, the gospel account says) and then told him to give everything he had away and come along for the ride.
He couldn’t do it.
We had a discussion recently among the deacons on our church around how many cups to fill for Communion. The question was asked in the spirit of not wanting to be wasteful. I couldn’t see past the possibility that someone would go to reach for a cup and there wouldn’t be one because we had been too cautious pouring too many. As I am wont to do, I moved to metaphor. For me, the fuller the tray, the better the image. Drink one. Drink two or three or seven. There’s enough to go around and then some because we belong to God.
86 isn’t part of God’s lexicon.