In our world today, many have begun to view the service industry as an increasingly lackluster position. To some, it is just a stop on the road to a greater career. However, to a select few, a career in the service industry is where they find their passion. They approach every day as a chance to serve and strive for excellence, and in achieving that excellence, they become legends in their community.
This is the story of Goren Avery. Avery was featured in a short film by Joe York entitled Red Dog. The film was made for the Southern Foodways Alliance, which strives to document and explore food cultures in the changing American South. In it, Avery explains that he has been a server at Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham since 1982. He began his serving career at the Hyatt Regency in 1971 and recalls the struggles of being a black waiter during that time. “They pop their fingers when they want something…they’d call you ‘Hey boy, I need this.” Tips were hard to come by, and it was a battle to even make a living.
Avery has learned nearly every secret there is to learn about the food industry. He says, “You have to read a table before you get to the table.” Many customers come for business meetings or family functions, and Avery has learned to master the art of when to swoop in to the conversation. His communication skills are impeccable, as Avery can be seen joking and laughing with every one of his tables. He strives to make every customer’s experience the best that it can be, which sometimes means making sure they know what they are ordering. For instance, Avery has mastered a delicate way of explaining that beef carpaccio is raw without sounding condescending.
Avery mentioned the difference between approaching the service industry as a career, rather than simply a way to earn big bucks. He says that is what seems to define people like himself from the younger generation of servers. “This is all I do. This is a living for me.”
In 2014, Avery was presented with the Ruth Fertel Keeper of the Flame Award, which acknowledges the unsung heroes of the food and restaurant industry. His genuine care for his customers and unrelenting strive for excellence is what has cemented Avery’s name as a service legend. “You have to show every table some love,” he says. He added that while he has contemplated retiring over the years, he has always felt a call back to the industry. “I can’t stop until I get to the point that I can’t do it no more.”