Gratitude Included: Why I Loved Being a Waitress

Posted

waitressThe low point in my waitressing life happened several years ago at a high-end steakhouse.

A party of six sauntered in and crammed into one of the plush, leather booths. High-maintenance from the get-go, they demanded complicated revisions to the menu and asked for their steak well-done. Since 99.9% of all chefs prefer to serve steak bloody and pink, asking them to char the thing is a great way to push their buttons. In other words, the next thing you know, you’re hiding behind the espresso machine, so you can stifle your tears before heading back into the battleground that is dinner rush.

We were already down one server, so after an hour of catering to this table’s every whim, I was elated to see that they’d licked their plates clean. “Can I get you anything else?” I asked, praying that the answer was “no.” Instead, one of the guys declared, “The food wasn’t very good. We want it taken off our bill.”

“Oh, well I wish that you would have told me sooner,” I said as calmly as possible, while eyeing their clean plates. “It seems like you really enjoyed it.” They were a little shifty. Were they high on coke?

“Get the manager,” one of them spat out. I mentally traced a path back to my hiding spot behind the espresso machine, but went to get the manager instead. When we returned, they had vanished—and left me without a tip. My manager comforted me by saying, “You’ll have to cover half of their bill.”

Why You Shouldn’t Look Down on Waitressing

I know. Most kids don’t sit at a restaurant with their parents and wistfully declare, “That’s what I want to be when I grow up,” while watching a server refill their water glasses. Waiting tables is usually thought of as a temporary gig that will help you earn some extra cash as a student or pay the bills when you’re trying to launch a singing career. At the very worst, it’s looked upon as an embarrassing last resort before unemployment.

Rutgers study called “Chasing the American Dream: Recent College Graduates and the Great Recession” found that four in ten grads were working in fields that did not require a degree, which likely means that there are a lot of well-educated baristas and servers out there. So this doesn’t have to be the Doomsday scenario that the media sometimes makes it out to be.

So despite all of the negative stereotypes that surround waitstaff—and my own challenging moments as a server, as evidenced by the steakhouse eat-and-bolt drama—I can still say that it can be a positive—even a great—experience.

  • http://twitter.com/SenseofCents Michelle

    Great post! I would personally be a horrible waitress and I always respect those that do. I can’t stand when people look down on certain professions!

  • kate

    Great article! Yoy are right about some people being a**es with the tips- my daughter did a brief stint at Hooters during college, and some of those patrons are stiffers too. Problem is, they keep coming back, and they have to be served. Pretty pathetic losers!

  • Hks

    Even with my Master’s working in a law firm, my husband consistently pulls in about $10k more per year than me working 4-5 days a week in a fine dining Italian restaurant. It is true about boot camp, as he is infinitely patient! A big chunk of his job is having to learn about food and fine wine, which are his passions. For him the job is more of a calling. Did I mention he can take virtually unlimited time off? Sometimes I feel like the joke is on me in my career! Great article!

    • Taxman

      I noticed that no one mentioned what they made AFTER Uncle Sam, State tax, social security, Medicare, etc. If I could keep what I make before taxes and insurance eat nearly 45% of my check, I would probably bring home more than a waiter. Oh wait, you all declared THAT part of your income on your taxes….it doesn’t matter what color the lie is, it’s still a lie…..think the same rule applies to cheating.

      • Ashley

        I don’t know about other places but at the restaurant I work for all of our tips are automatically declared. We can’t close out until we put in what we were tipped..

      • Hks

        Yeah same here. My husband makes about $6k per month and pays taxes on all tips. Lost as to what generalization (or point) that “taxman” is trying to make.

  • somedaythesea

    I was a overeducated (have an M.A. in Communication Studies) bartender for about a year before I found a “real job” with benefits. That year was the best of my life so far (AND the year I made the most money). It’s easy to understand why people don’t want to leave the service industry. I still work some shifts on the weekends because I just can’t say no to the money. Great article–thanks!

  • Still a server years later –

    I have been in the service industry in some capacity for nigh on three decades. I have a good-paying job during the day and still pick up one night a week at the Pub. My sister did the same thing and made roughly half of her day time salary from bartending 3 nights a week. You definitely have to be a people person and be organized — it is my “fun” job compared to sitting in front of a computer all.day.long. And once you get money in your pocket, from several hours work, its hard to let that go.

  • crystal arreola

    Thank you so much for sharing this and exposing this to so many people. You perfectly summed up everything I feel about being a server, and have always wanted to tell certain people. Some may look down on me that I’m 25 and still serving, but I’m making more than they think and probably make themselves, while working on my dreams. Great post :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.martina.1 Andrew Martina

    Yeah, I’m a busser at an olive garden right now and I would definitely say steer clear of the huge corporate owned chains. We are often understaffed, especially considering our huge volume, I make $5 an hour and tips are abysmal because we mostly market towards the poorer people always running some kind of ridiculously cheap special that brings the masses of sheep flooding in. Almost no one tips better than 10%, more people get stiffed then you’d guess, and the work is extremely laborious.

    • LeeLee

      One of my friends who used to work at OG would sing this to the tune of the theme song from Green Acres:

      Olive Garden is the place to be…. people think they don’t have to tip me.

      or

      Olive Garden is the place to be…. people think that they can eat for free! LOL

  • Allison

    Thank you for this insightful look at the under-appreciated value of a server. I’ve been doing it for 12 years, through college and beyond. I do have a B.A. in English, and plan on pursuing a career in writing, but enjoy what I do very much. It allows me the time to work on my writing.

    The forced budgeting holds incredibly true; also I have a very Type A personality that I believe waiting tables helped create, and I know every cent of my net worth at any given moment–and where it’s stashed!

  • amandababy6

    I really must point this out…I am a research scientist and it is 100% untrue that all we do is work by ourselves staring at petri dishes all day. Doing scientific research involves a great deal of collaboration and group discussions and brainstorming and borrowing and sharing. No one would be able to do any research without team work, even the biggest hot shots in the in the field have to collaborate! I work with my lab mates, my boss, my department head, as well as almost everybody from every other research department on campus, AND several people at other facilities nearby, throughout the nation and in other countries. I was a team-oriented athlete for 14 years and I have learned way more about team work doing scientific research than I ever did on a sports team, for crying out loud. Please end the stereotype, scientists need to get the word out to the laymen about how science really works! Ok, I am off my soapbox now. :)

    • bobbi

      I knew that there had to be collaboration in research! The method requires it. Thanks for the post, though. :)

    • Dina

      I’m glad you got on your soapbox! I’ll never stereotype research scientists again :)

  • CrankyFranky

    yeeup – my first city job was waiter – my friend was working there, got me in – tipped me to come in hungry and eat dinner when the boss was out – I loved those beef tacos !

    didn’t earn so much in my country – but learned – customer service – a lot of rich people are rude a$$holes, taste is subjective – instant coffee in a nice pourer, ‘ah – freshly brewed coffee!’ – no-one ever suspected – it costs nothing to smile and be polite, but brings rewards – working under pressure, in a team, if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen, etc. – appreciating the delicious food a skilled chef can produce, the hours of late night finishing around midnight – some of my best experiences – recommended.

  • Guest

    There

  • http://www.facebook.com/Elmtreemike Michael Moore

    There is honor in any labor.

  • http://twitter.com/hourly Hourly

    Great post Dina!! Totally agree that everyone should have to spend time working in the service industry. Not only does it give you perspective on how hard people work, with little reward…even a thank you, but the chance to interact with truly unique individuals who often are working their tails off towards a different goal. Next time you are dining out, talk to your server, ask them what else they do, and I promise you’ll be amazed at what you hear!

  • Danielle

    Great post! I was a waitress for 10 year before succumbing to the corporate life and I frequently say that I would be better off bartending or waitressing again. I loved the job and it was really good money! Good for you to using it as a way to work your way through grad school and being able to do what you wanted to do, write.

    From a former server…it is not a job for everyone and it is far from glamorous. But it is not the worst way to make a living!

  • Liz

    $200/shift? $70,000/year? Wow, those are NOT typical waiting jobs. I’ve worked in a few restaurants over the years and I agree with many points in this article- working in a restaurant definitely forces you to stay calm (and pleasant!) under pressure, get along with people, and budget yourself. I also agree that everyone should work a service job to understand how important the way you treat others is.

    However, this article is extremely rosy in its portrayal of waiting tables- every waitress or waiter I know has to scramble at the beck and call of customers during grueling shifts so that they can barely pay their rent. Maybe the minimum wage is lower in my state or maybe I only know people who work in restaurants that expect you to make minimum wage with your tips, but this description seems to give a rather limited analysis of working in restaurants. Everyone I know who works in restaurants is exhausted at the end of most shifts and has to really discipline themself to work on their art. If someone is a single parent or doesn’t have a degree, things are a lot tougher.

    Waiting tables is worthy because people are worthy. It is hard work that you can approach with dignity and self-respect. Even when people treat you unkindly.

    I appreciate this article and mean nothing against the author, but please don’t assume that every waiter or waitress is automatically paid a living wage and has an easy lifestyle.

  • LeeLee

    I have to admit that I miss waiting tables. Although I never worked anywhere high end, I did make great money. Unfortunately, I found it’s very easy to burn out when waiting tables. Thankfully, I was able to do it off and on in between semesters at school. I also did it part time to save up money even when I was working full time at a “professional” job.

    It was (and still is) one of my favorite jobs to do. Even though it was stressful, it was very interesting.

  • http://twitter.com/eemusings eemusings

    I enjoyed the camaraderie among the waitstaff when I worked in hospitality, and the free food. The hours could be a real killer, though.

  • Steve DiGioia

    “Earn More Tips On Your Very Next Shift…Even If You’re a Bad Waiter” – The Book, is available on Amazon.com

    http://www.amazon.com/Earn-More-Shift-Even-Youre-Waiter/dp/0989070204/ref=tmm_pap_title_0