A few days ago, as I was strolling through my Facebook newsfeed I came across a post that deeply affected me. A woman posted a status stating how she disagreed with how service industry workers were protesting for higher wages. I immediately retaliated and made my personal opinion on this matter known.
While BuzzFeed and other similar blogging sites have created humorous “server life” (or “#ServerLife”) articles, I thought I would offer the Internet a more realistic approach to just what life is like for a young service industry professional. Here is my story:
I have been serving tables since I was sixteen. I first began working as a server as a part time job to earn spending money and to pay for the gas to drive myself to and from school. I continued to wait tables full time throughout college in order to cover my rent, bills and spending money.
I graduated three years ago from a prestigious university in Southern Alabama and prior to graduating from college; I worked as an intern at a large cable news network in New York City.
I distinctly remember what it was like walking through the large revolving doors of that Midtown Manhattan office on the first day of my internship. It was the first time in my life that I wasn’t wearing an apron or collared shirt to my place of employment. It was beautiful (and unfortunately, fleeting) feeling.
Fast forward six months, I now had a college degree, my reputable internship had ended and I once again found myself dressed in an apron now complete with cocktail sauce spilled on the breast pocket of my white uniform shirt. I was waiting tables. Again.
For the first year following graduation I honestly didn’t mind waiting tables. Having moved from a small Southern town to New York, I prided myself on having a job that allowed me to live on my own in one of the world’s most iconic cities.
That pride has unfortunately subsided. I am now 24 years old, I work two jobs and I struggle every month to pay my bills. A typical day for me consists of waking up at 4am to work as the opening barista at a local coffee shop, getting off at around 2pm only then to head into my second job as a server at around 5pm. I work 5pm until about 1am, I then head home, take a two-hour power nap and then wake up to do it all over again.
In what little free time I do have, I pursue my “real” career as a journalist and write for various websites. I do not get paid for my writing-despite the fact that I do actually have a degree in journalism.
Before you judge me or begin to fabricate the sort of upbringing I had or the lifestyle I lead, let me clarify: I’m the daughter of a decorated military officer, I have never been arrested, I’ve never tried drugs, I don’t have any children, I’m unmarried and I have a college degree with an impressive resume of extensive internships…yet here I am.
While I am thankful for my two jobs and while I certainly don’t regret moving to one of the most competitive cities in America, it is hard. I often tell myself “I work too damn hard to be this poor!” I go home each night reeking of coffee and seafood, my hands remain calloused and bruised, and I am plagued with perpetual under eye circles. I recently learned that I just happen to be allergic to the cleaning solution used at the restaurant I work at so I keep my hands bandaged while I serve tables. Aside from the physical aspect of my two jobs I must not fail to mention the emotional aspect. Just this morning, I was called a “dumbass” by a person I had never met before simply because I didn’t make his cappuccino bone dry. While some shifts are certainly better than others, these are the sort of remarks and situations I deal with on a daily basis.
Now while I may have gained your sympathy with this article, that actually was not my intention. I actually decided to write this piece to raise awareness. You see, twenty or thirty years ago service industry jobs were jobs, not careers. However, because of the economy, the rising cost of higher education and the influx of college graduates in our society, these once-upon-a-time jobs are now careers. They are careers for young people, like myself, who despite their “promising” upbringing and their “relevant work experience” simply cannot find a lucrative career in their desired field.
I laugh at how my parents’ generation scoffs at my generation often referring to us as “entitled” and “spoiled”. But, as terrible as it may sound…can you blame us for being that way? We were told from the time that we were young that if we refrained from drug use, stayed out of trouble and graduated from college that we would have a job. A “real” job. We were told that jobs waiting tables, flipping burgers and serving lattes were for the people who “didn’t do all of the right things in life.” Now as young college graduates, we enter society only to learn that for every available job there are 800 other applicants who are just as qualified (if not more qualified) than we are. We don’t mean to be entitled. We are aware we must work for what we are given. However, after years of working hard as coffee-fetching interns, baristas, bartenders and servers we begin to lose hope in the job market. When we reach that point can you blame us for striking and petitioning for higher wages? Can you blame us for becoming bitter and perhaps gaining a sense of entitlement? I certainly cannot.
All of that being said, my message I chose to leave you with, is a plea. A plea to be polite to your server, your barista and that young twenty-something ringing you up at the grocery store-because chances are they aren’t working their job to obtain spending or gas money. No. Chances are this particular job has sadly become their career and they are just trying to get through their shift and reach the end of their workday. Just like you.