Not “Just A Waitress:” The Most Important Things You Learn From The Food Industry

It was season 2 and Episode 8 where it was revealed that Ross and Rachel were finally going to be together.  If you are a product of today’s modern world, you know exactly what couple I am talking about and just how relieving and exciting this news was.  If America’s sweethearts from the beloved show Friends  were not meant to be together, then who in the hell was?  There was only one obstacle in the way of the most perfect romance ever.  Her name was Julie and she was Ross’s current (but completely irrelevant) girlfriend.

How was Ross to decide between Julie and the girl who had his heart as long as he could remember?  Leave it to his best buds, Joey & Chandler, to suggest a Pros & Cons list of the two.  *Note to any guy reading this: In your head = not a bad idea. On any kind of physical evidence = very bad idea.  So he wrote some frivolous flaws Rachel had and her cons list which ended with “just a waitress.” Ouch.

I was a senior in high school when I was watching this season (for probably the 1,000th time) with a fabulous friend of mine who was a few years older than me and happened to be a waitress. I remember thinking to myself, Damn, that sucks. You can even look like Jennifer Aniston and the job still doesn’t cut it. Thank God I’ll never have to be a waitress…

Hey, can someone pass the salt for this plate of irony I am being served?

Truth is, “Changing the World by Becoming a Waitress” was not the title of my senior paper and it definitely wasn’t at the top of my bucket list either. But here I am. On the cusp of my 5th year of being a server/bartender and I’d like to give you a few reasons why I think EVERYONE should experience the oh so glamorous job of the food industry.

1. It will challenge your skills.

Think about the most annoying or awful person you know. Got that shining beam of humanity’s face in your head?  Good.  Now imagine Positive Polly going out to dinner and not alone either. Positive Polly has decided to bring the whole Positive gang of Pollettes with her.  The Pollettes are then informed that there will be a wait of 30-40 minutes until they can stuff their pleasant faces.  The Pollettes decide to wait.  The Pollettes complain.

The Pollettes are now just as grumpy as they are hungry.  And now the Pollettes are heading for the least desirable table in your section.  Good luck.

A server’s job is to show up to work, set aside all of life’s lovely hurdles they’ve been given and make complete strangers happy.  And not just one or two strangers, hundreds and (depending on the gig) even thousands of strangers.  That is quite the task.  Especially when God’s sense of humor kicks in and you are graced with someone like Positive Polly’s presence.  Sweet Jesus.

Polly wants Pepsi, you have coke.  Polly wants dijon mustard, you have yellow.  Polly wants chicken fingers, you have chicken breast.  Polly didn’t want tomatoes on her chicken breast.  Polly sends it back.  Polly now thinks the chicken breast is cold and sends it back again.  In the time it took to make the 3rd chicken breast that you deliver to the table, Polly has decided to become a vegetarian and very matter of factly requests to see a gluten free menu. This all makes sense to Polly.  Polly is impossible.

2. The land of tipping.

Listen, there are some really crap servers out there, I get it.  Just last night I went out after the end of a very long back to back doubles work week to talk it all over with my reliable good friend beer and received crap service.  She was all of nineteen years old, very uninterested in getting my order right or apologizing for our appetizer coming out after the meal and, to top it off, her douche-tastic boyfriend was waiting for her to get off in the booth next to us.  I’m pretty sure they even sneaked out the back halfway through my meal to have a make out sesh.  To say the least, she was awful.

Finally, with some delayed enthusiasm, the over priced mediocre chicken wrap and beer bill came that you can always expect from a corporate place like Buffalo Wild Wings.  I thought about what most people would do in this situation: stiff her.  Yeah, that’ll teach her a lesson!… is what most people think.  In reality, the only thing stiffing the girl is going to do is make her even more unpleasant to the next table of patrons seeking  late night saucy rubber chicken.  No nasty note I leave, manager complaint or even a good talking to is going to change this girl’s attitude.  It is who and where she is in life. So I left her 15%, wished her a nice evening and prayed that her and flat-bill-hat-boy planned on using protection later on to ensure a little hope for future generations.

My point is that you should consider your surroundings.  Is your warm Bud Light 1/2 off because it’s ‘Thirsty Thursday’?  Is your seat a plastic padded booth or chair with unfortunate designs? Did you get a free burger because you purchased a full priced one?

Are there kid’s cones with sprinkles on the menu?  If yes, then don’t go expecting your server to dive bomb for the honey barbecue sauce that is about to drip on your Iron Maiden t-shirt.

3. A home away from home.

I can honestly say that I have made some of my greatest friends in life through my serving jobs.  One thing that is great about the personality requirements for becoming a server is that there really aren’t any requirements.  Other than, hopefully, you have one.

It is because of this that I have met so many great walks of life.  I’ve absorbed so many different qualities from their perspectives and have been smart enough to apply them to my own.  My first & favorite big hearted but ‘I don’t give a f*ck’ bartender is the reason I developed thick skin.  I cried THREE times on my first ever serving shift.

How embarrassing!  Not the fact that I cried but the fact that I actually let these people affect my life!  She was the first person to get in my face while I was feeling sorry for myself and very sweetly say, “Why in the f*ck are you allowing those f*ckers to make you cry?  F*ck them. Get over it.”  To this day it is some the best advice I’ve ever received.  I am in control of the steering wheel for my emotions, not them.

I suppose that my absolute favorite thing about the industry is that it is one of the only jobs where it is totally OK to be totally NOT OK.  It is a job for those in between jobs, those between conflict, those between decisions and those between dreams.  For me, it puts a roof over my head and food in my belly while I plan and prepare for my heart’s  greatest desires.  It is flexible, it is disposable and it really can be fun.  I get to witness first dates & breakups, celebrations of those born and those lost and am constantly surrounded by an ever-changing atmosphere.

Most importantly, I share life’s craziness with those I work with and am lucky enough to witness their growing journeys as well.  I have seen diplomas attained, babies born, relationships blossom, goals reached and dreams discovered in my fellow employees.  The comradery that can be found in a restaurant is a unique kind of wonderful.  The kitchen is yelling, the bussers are sweating, the bartender is slamming, the servers are running, the hostess is stressing and the manager is somehow smiling through it all. It’s madness. But at the end of the night we all saddle up at the bar, count our cash, take a deep breath and say,”Damn. We made it.”  We cheers our shift drinks, have a few cheap laughs at the customer’s expense and wish each other a safe drive home to what the rest of the world considers the real one.

So be kind to your servers and bartenders.  We are also someone’s son or daughter who is just trying to get by, or we are trying to get by for a son or daughter of our own.  Maybe we are just a kid chasing a dream or someone trying to repair a dream that ended up broken.   Next time your server approaches your table, consider taking a quick walk in their unattractive slip resistant shoe’s.  Eventually, you just might be the one leaving with the tip. TC Mark

More From Thought Catalog