I spent the first real sunny day we’ve had all summer sitting on a park bench with Pheobe Damrosch’s Service Included, which, in addition to being a perfect park-bench kind of read, is a sort of love letter to the service industry, and the often-unappreciated dedication of a successful service professional.

In 2006, Damrosch was the only female captain at Per Se in New York City. Recently ranked the 6th best restaurant in the world, Per Se is chef Thomas Keller’s east coast equivalent of his first restaurant, the French Laundry in Napa. Keller’s food philosophy revolves around the idea that an approach to food needs to include an understanding of the ingredients and their sources–the story, as we say at Peet’s–and small, sublime portions in which the focus is on a variety of flavors and textures. This is food as a way of life, as a pursuit of what Damrosch refers to as “everyday luxury.”

Aside from the food–the pursuit of which she is passionate about–there is much here about the realities of service, and about why one person might choose to spend their life in what can be a thankless, belittled, ill-understood role. In fact, one of my favorite bits comes at the end of the second chapter as a helpful tip to the reader: Please do not ask us what else we do. This implies that a) we shouldn’t aspire to work in the restaurant business even if it makes us happy and financially stable, b) that we have loads of time on our hands because ours is such an easy job, and c) that we are not succeeding in another field. Amen.

As someone working daily in what is often a busy, stressful, dangerous environment (hello, boiling water!), I know firsthand how frustrating it can be to invest an incredible about of time and energy into learning, tasting, and creating and rarely get to share that information. I also know that the one customer who comes in, trusts your knowledge, and relinquishes themselves into your hands can make the rest worthwhile.

It’s so easy, in the service industry, to develop an us vs. them complex, to see the people on the other side of the counter as completely out of touch with the realities of your job and totally unaware of the knowledge you possess. Service Included is so effective because it resists lapsing into the customers-as-freaks, expose-of-everything-that-irritates-me kind of story. While customer quirks are there (and are some of the best moments in the book) Damrosch never loses her empathy for the people she is serving. In fact, empathy, if I try to sum things up, is the main idea I’m left with. The purpose of the server is to make the guest comfortable, unintimidated by a complicated wine list, unafraid of three different forks, willing to embrace the new and the different. We can take it further–empathy and respect for ingredients, for tools of the trade, for sources of cheese and vegetables and all the other thousands of things that happen behind the scenes. Empathy toward the process, awareness of a bigger picture.

It’s also easy to believe, serving folks every day, that only a tiny percentage of the population is at all interested in having any kind of empathy. And frankly, what kind of person willingly subjects themselves to fulfilling the whims of others, day in and day out? Who wouldn’t grit their teeth at a certain weekend regular’s crazy bean order that can’t possibly taste good? I think what makes a true professional, what makes service enjoyable, is the ability to not only deal gracefully with ridiculousness, but to do so with empathy, style, and the sincere belief that making one small cog in a greater mechanism run smoothly benefits us all.

To those who serve, in whatever capacity, thank you. What else do you do again?