Rahel Mesghinna has worked in the service industry for much of her life. She’s a first-generation Canadian, born and raised in Regina to parents who come from the small country of Eritrea, which is just north of Ethiopia. While her folks lived in Italy for a few years, they felt better opportunities existed for them in Canada. Mesghinna came to Brandon in 2007 to attend Brandon University and has been working as a server at The Keg for almost two years. (TIM SMITH)
So what made you choose Brandon?
I’d never been to Brandon, but I just saw that BU was one of the cheaper universities, and it was a small community. I originally wanted to teach abroad, so I figured Brandon was close to home but it would get me used to not being around my family for a period of time and become more independent. And I’ve never left.
Is teaching abroad something you still want to do?
Definitely. Just with the size of Brandon, some courses aren’t as readily available as they would be in a larger city. But I’ve looked into Westman Immigrant Services, with their translators, and the School Division, because with the diversity in Brandon, there is a need.
What other languages do you speak?
I’m fluent in Spanish, and I speak a bit of Tigrinya, which is my parents’ native tongue. But I can understand more of it than I can actually speak.
So was waiting tables a stop-gap measure for you? I’m curious because as I’ve told you, you’re one of the best servers I’ve ever had ANYWHERE in the WORLD — you just seem to have a knack for it. Did you take specialized training? Does The Keg train people? Did you work there in Regina? Is this just a really good gig to pick up while you’re trying to prepare to do something else, or do you think you’d ever want to do this full-time, and for good?
Well, The Keg here is one of the places where I’ve MOST enjoyed working. Whether it’s a natural talent or part of The Keg training, I think they give everyone the same chance. The training is, by far, the best out of anyplace I’ve ever worked in hospitality. They give you the tools, and how far you take it is up to each individual. I think of getting a full-time job, but I’d still definitely want to work here. And a lot of the staff here have other jobs — they’re electricians and teachers and managers in other fields. But they all still stay here. So there’s a reason for that.
I love it here. I really enjoy, not just the work itself, but the customers and our guests who come in — and my co-workers. I might not always be in the mood to come to work, but I’m always happy and have had a good night when I leave.
What is you like about what you do? I try to be a good customer, and not be a pain in the butt, but I have food allergies, and I have a very definite idea of what I want.
I’m very particular, too! ‘Could we substitute?’ ‘Is there any way…?’ ‘Could we hold that off a bit?’ So as long as someone is polite, I have no problem bending over backwards — I’m more than happy to.
Are most people you interact with are usually pretty decent or…? Because we all hear the stories about the nightmarish customers, and I’ve seen people around me behave like boors. It mustn’t be any fun to put up with those kinds of folks. Because you probably have to from time to time.
You just have to anticipate every guest’s needs. I mean, everyone comes into the restaurant in a different mood. But I think they all want to have a dining experience. Why else would you want to spend the extra money to go out?
So I think that’s one of the parts I enjoy the most about serving, is the variety of people. I’ve had people come in for their first wedding anniversary. Or they come from overseas — just the other night I had a group that was Russian — they only had two people at the table who spoke English. So it was kind of fun to go back and forth, do a bit of charades and figure it out. I looked up on the computer in the back how to say bon appétit in Russian — they enjoyed it. So I think if you meet people halfway, all they really want is just sincere service.
You definitely deliver that. You’re attentive and SO pleasant and so polite, and you made our evening. And you gave us what we needed, and participated to just the right degree, but didn’t intrude. It was just a lovely balance on your part between great service and taking an interest in us. And I think a good or bad server can make or break a person’s evening.
I’ve already told you what I think you do so very well. What exactly do you do when you try to give people a great dining experience?
The way that I look at it is, if I had someone coming into my home for supper, what would I do, or if I was going to someone else’s home for supper, or what would I expect?
I’d want to make sure that they enjoy their evening, because I’m inviting them into my personal space. And that’s my job as well. I think that comes across, too, if you’re not sincere and you’re not really interested you just want to bring out the food.
Maybe I should have been an anthropologist, because I’m really curious — I want to get into each little circle and find out, ‘What brings you out tonight?’ I like the dialogue and the back-and-forth — to me, that’s really enjoyable and it makes the time fly by. I meet a lot of interesting people and when they come back, it’s great — it’s kind of like you make new friends, so it’s wonderful when they come back with friends or significant others or what have you.
Are you a foodie or a wine person yourself?
Another great thing about The Keg that I hadn’t had at previous employment is that they really want you to grow as a server. They provided a wine-tasting or a mini wine course. And I was one who was, ‘Wine’s not for me. I don’t like it. Know nothing about it.’ And after that course, I kind of dabbled and dipped my toe into the white wine pond, and now I’m doing backstrokes and just loving it! And I’m kind of getting toward red wine and just seeing how it enhances and can really play with food — I just love it.
That’s great! Do you cook?
Not as well as I’d like. There’s a reason, I always say, that I serve and I’m not in the kitchen. I sure do love a good meal, though.
Do you have a favourite food or style of cooking?
I like Latin food — Argentinian is probably one of my favourites.
Beef? I know they have a lot of beef in Argentina…
And it’s so simple — it’s nothing over the top. It’s just the way they prepare it and cook it. I never got the secret and I should have.
You spent some time in Argentina, did you?
I did a year abroad through a Rotary exchange. Made great friends — I’ve been back a few times.
Back to the restaurant biz. Any advice for customers? A waiter friend of mine said if there’s something a customer isn’t happy about, he or she should draw it to the establishment’s attention.
That’s right. We want to know so we can fix it, and if there is an issue with a particular dish, make sure that the other ones that are going out don’t have the same issue. But I think a ‘please’ and a ‘thank you’ go a really long way. And I always say it’s not what you say but the way you say it. I think you’re more willing to go out of your way and go the extra mile for a customer with a please or a thank you.
You talked about maybe teaching overseas at some point — do you think being in the service industry is something you’ll always gravitate toward? I mean, even if you don’t stay in it full time, is it fun to pick up a shift just because it keeps your skills up, or do you like it enough that you don’t want to leave?
I’m so indecisive. I want to do two things at once. I don’t want to pick just one career. I want to do something with Spanish and teaching, but I don’t want to not serve. I want to do both. Serving was my first job — my dad worked in kitchens his whole life, so it’s what I know — it’s what’s familiar to me.
I used to work for a catering company that my dad had in Regina. So if it was during the day, it was dishwashing, and helping with some light prep. During the evening, it was banquet serving, so setting tables, helping bus tables afterward. So I’ve seen all areas of it. But front-of-house — serving — is what I enjoy the most.
So you’ve seen all aspects of the service industry, then. And you’re still so jazzed about doing it!
I don’t know why. I don’t know what it is. But I guess this is where my passion is. This is what it’s like when you find a job that you truly enjoy and is fulfilling. And for a lot of people, sometimes they say, like, ‘You serve.’ Well, that’s the title of it. But I say, ‘You know what? It makes me happy!’ If I’m always happy to go to work, and when I leave work, and I can take care of myself, what more can you ask for?
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 16, 2013