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“Hi! My name is AC, and I’m going to take care of ya’ll tonight! Can I start you off with a...” I hope they get the expensive margaritas on the promotion, I need to get points for our contest. Oh, but the bartender looks swamped, I’ll have to wash some glasses for her. Damn! Table 13 needs ranch dressing, and is that kid over there throwing macaroni on the floor? Wonderful. Ugh, my feet hurt….
This is the typical inner dialog of any restaurant server, and let me tell you, it’s exhausting. It’s also fun and crazy. I’ve been in and out of the restaurant industry several times, and I keep coming back because it’s truly rewarding, despite being extremely hard work. Waiting tables is a job like no other, and it’s worth it for anybody who wants to test themselves and really see how they perform under pressure. Working as a server, you’ll learn more about humanity (including yourself) than in any other job. Here’s some of the lessons that being a restaurant server has taught me.
1) You never know what someone is going through. (Also, some people are just assholes).
I once had a table consisting of an old man in a wheelchair and a younger woman. They ordered one regular and one diet soda, and despite my best efforts, I set the full sugar soda in front of the old man. The woman got up and found me a few minutes later to snap at me about the switch. I apologized profusely and brought another diet soda, but the old man screamed, and I mean literally screamed at me, when I tried to replace the regular with the diet I had meant to give him. I did it anyway and backed away to lick my wounds. Later, I overheard the woman talking on her phone. Her father had Alzheimer’s and she was his only caretaker. So not only had it not been his fault, but she was probably stressed out from keeping him safe all the time. At that point, I gave up all resentment I felt toward them. The rest of the meal was pleasant, and in the end I got a decent tip. Cheesy as it sounds, everyone really is fighting their own internal battles, and it pays to be compassionate.
2) Patience really is a virtue.
Now, waiting tables is super fast paced, that’s true. But there are times when you literally wait. You wait for a table to walk in and sit down so you can serve them, and then wait for them to decide what to order. You wait for the cooks to make the food for your table. You wait for the table to stop arguing about who is going to pay the bill so that you can go run their cards and make your money. The list goes on. In this business, you have to learn to be patient with other people. This includes yourself because you will screw something up, and they will yell at you about it (see Point #1). You have to learn to forgive your own mistakes so that you can move onto the next challenge. If you’re not patient with yourself and everybody else in the restaurant, you spend your whole shift bitter and angry.
3) Multitasking is an important skill.
Read that first paragraph again. That’s every moment of every shift as a restaurant server. You may think that having a dozen browser tabs open, playing a game on your smart phone, and listening to a podcast is multitasking. Wrong. As a server, you have to remember a million things at once because every trip to or from the kitchen needs to serve several purposes. You can’t just get one thing at a time, so you have to learn how to multitask in the physical as well as mental space. Are you a person who loves seeing how many different things they can carry at once? Waitressing is a great job for you! Seriously though, I do this job (despite having a degree and being fully capable of working in an office) because it makes me feel like a superhero, to pull off six tasks at once with a smile on my face.
4) A strong work ethic will get you everywhere.
Waiting tables is hard work, no matter what your cranky grandpa says. You’re on your feet all day, and you have to clean constantly--you wipe down tables, you sweep, you take out trash, you scrape plates clean, you do an endless amount of cleaning. When food is ready, you have to take it; you can’t wait around because then your diners are mad and you get less money. You can’t wait to clean something or restock something because then your boss and (more importantly) your coworkers see you as lazy. And you’ll need those coworkers to have your back when it gets busy, so you have to have their back. Working hard is not an option in a fast paced environment like a restaurant. The thing is that you may not see the immediate effects of your hard work, but they’re there, and that’s the biggest lesson.
5) Take care of your body. You only get one.
Restaurant servers spend a lot of time physically moving. You have to lift heavy trays, bend down to get things off low shelves, walk around constantly, and maybe even go up and down stairs depending on the restaurant. All this will physically take a toll on your body, so you have to take care of it. If you don’t, you’ll suffer through each shift. In particular, you need good shoes. I never cared what kind of shoes I wore until I started waited tables, but now I’m all about shoes with good support. I also eat better, having small meals instead of large meals because I can’t afford to be heavy and tired. I do yoga so I don’t ache all the time. I also (and this is the ultimate grandma thing, I know) soak my feet and sometimes my whole body in Epsom salts. But this means I have the energy and the flexibility to do one of the hardest but most rewarding jobs on the planet.
That’s the thing about waitressing: it may be super hard work, but it’s so worth it when you see someone’s face light up. You have to remember that people don’t just go out to eat to get full. They go to a restaurant to celebrate, to connect, to have a good time. And as a server, you get to make that happen for somebody.