What is black, white, and red all over?
Me, in a waitress uniform after I spilled a Bloody Mary all over myself and a nice old man at Table 53.
I spent about 3 years of my life serving tables, first at Cheeseburger in Paradise Bar & Grill in Virginia Beach, then at Bond 45 in Midtown, Manhattan. Slightlyyyyy different clienteles.
Looking at the above picture of me gives me lots of feels, to be honest. It transports me back to the giant restaurant in Times Square in which I spent countless hours, developed wonderful and terrible memories, and learned some of the greatest lessons of my life.
Somehow, waiting tables or bartending has a lowly reputation, as though only uneducated, desperate people would dare choose a job that revolves around giving other people a nice experience while sharing a meal or drinks together. It’s so much better to sit behind a desk all day and punch numbers! Yeah..okay.
While waiting tables may not be my top choice for a lifetime career, I certainly don’t judge people who do it forever…as long as they’re not just killing time and putting off a bigger dream. When I was a waitress in NYC, I made twice the money I made at a 9-5 and worked half the hours. Plus I enjoyed the benefits of meeting new people every day in a high energy environment that rarely got boring– and when it did, you were sent home so not to waste your time (at least when you had a good manager).
I think everyone should be a server for at least one year. And here’s why:
1. You learn to manage other people
No, I’m not talking about being the manager of a restaurant. I mean that as a waitress, you have to manage upwards of 30 people at multiple tables. You have to set their expectations, anticipate their needs, and prioritize your decisions to best please everyone. While it’s a safe bet to say “the client is always right,” sometimes you have to put your foot down. You have to show a customer firmly, yet nicely, that you make the rules, not them. You have to gauge the patience level of each table, and make decisions accordingly. You have to be serious and unobtrusive with one table, then without skipping a beat, treat the next table like you’re old college buddies.
Ensuring that all of your tables enjoy their experience is a skill that transfers incredibly well to real life. Know your setting. Be able to read a crowd. Have the confidence to stand up for yourself in a friendly manner. Work a room. All while wearing an androgynous penguin suit. Ready, set…GO!
2. You become a multitasking master
Any waitress has exactly 26 different things they’re trying to do at one time. On my way to ring in Table 10’s order, I need to bring Table 9 ketchup and pour water for Table 11. Once I put in Table 10’s order, which should take about 4 minutes, it’ll be time to fire (“send”) Table 7’s second course, so I should do that while I’m already at the computer. After that, I need to go pick up Table 9’s wine from the bar, and on the way back grab the parmesan cheese grater to take to Table 7, in case they want it on the pasta that should be delivered by the time I get back up there. Then I need to get Table 8’s drink order since they just sat down. Ugh, why is Table 9 waving at me like they’re on fire? What could they possibly need right now? Oh, their steak isn’t cooked right. I need to take it back to the kitchen, but Table 8 is going to kill me if I don’t take their order in the next 30 seconds.
And on and on and on and on for your entire shift. My husband doesn’t understand how I can be so detail-oriented about five different things at one time in my brain, but I owe it all to my waitressing experience.
3. You learn how to work with absolutely anyone
You can’t ever totally enjoy working with absolutely anyone, but you can figure out how to do it. In a restaurant, you’re working with managers, fellow servers, bartenders, busboys, and even your patrons. Every single one of those people has a different background: Multimillionaire CEO, girl who dropped out of high school, married guy with kids, single 30-year-old lesbian, straight-laced student, Muslim who has to take prayer breaks in the middle of the early dinner rush, wild party animal, etc.
When it comes to your coworkers, you have to be humble enough to work alongside people you may not understand or have your same “ideals.” In the end, I not only learned how to successfully work with them (most of the time…), I gained a much broader scope of how different people view the world, and befriended people I never would have otherwise had the opportunity to meet.
4. You grow a backbone and gain humility
This sort of coincides with #1, but is a benefit all on its own. Your customers will yell at you whether you deserve it or not. People will whistle, snap, and wave like you’re a dog. Your more experienced coworkers will roll their eyes when you make a rookie mistake. Over and over, you will be made to feel like a failure, but eventually, you stop letting it get to you. You keep improving, and know that you can’t please everyone. You don’t take everything personally. You speak up when you need to, but know when it’s best to just brush it off.
5. You make the best of friends
While coworkers can drive you crazy or be judgmental, you’ll generally develop a sense of camaraderie that can’t be matched in any other career. It’s like one, big dysfunctional family. Not everyone gets along, but you feel comfortable enough with absolutely everyone to change in a locker room together (at least in NYC, where you change into your uniform once you get to work) or tell them about your deepest fears. I took a trip to Puerto Rico with some of my NYC restaurant coworkers. We grabbed drinks after shifts. Everyone knew everyone else’s business. It was half amazing, half a giant pain, but I certainly cried when I had to say goodbye.
6. Your get a wide sample of human nature
Most people are naturally very kind. Sure, some people might be impatient or haughty, but for every table that gives you a hard time, you have three tables full of wonderful people. I quickly learned that this world is full of far more lovely people than it is full of negative people. That realization helps me keep a positive outlook on life, not assuming the worst in everyone I meet. And my happiness level is directly influenced by that point-of-view, so that’s a huge plus.
7. You know what’s happening when you’re out to eat
I always have a general idea if my server is being lazy, or if they’re just busy. I’ve been in their shoes, so I know what they’re dealing with, and treat them accordingly. When they’re just being bad at their job, though, I have the right to get annoyed with it. Yo, girl, I know that you have been standing in the kitchen talking to the cook that you have a crush on. When they’re slammed or made an honest mistake, my heart goes soft because I know how horrifying those experiences can be. No amount of spilled soda on my shirt is worth making a waiter feel even worse than they already do…but they better be running as fast as they can to get napkins.
P.S.– 15-18% is not an appropriate tip. You need to tip 20% or more for someone who did their job. Only give 15-18% if that person showed 0 interest in doing their job. If you aren’t experienced enough to know if bad service was due to the server or due to the guys in the kitchen screwing up, then tip 20% anyway. Half the time, servers are just the messengers of bad news, not the culprits.
Oh, by the way, one of the reasons I got my first 9-5 job was because the president of the company saw my waitressing experience, and knew what that meant in terms of everything I mentioned on this list. He was a former server himself! Never underestimate how the crazy, difficult, humbling world of waiting tables can unite you with big wigs and lay a valuable foundation of experience for your future career.