A new server recently started training at the restaurant.
After work the other night, we were chatting as we got dressed to go home. I knew very little of her, except where she last worked. And in the course of working a shift with her, I learned that she is sharp and has a take-charge attitude that can come in handy working in a busy, high-volume restaurant like the one I work in.
She mentioned something in the way-past tense about an old boyfriend, and I asked her if she's seeing anyone now. No, she said. I'm focusing on my career, she added with a bit of a grin.
I knew she was talking more about not having a boyfriend and less about the career part. But I asked anyway.
What's your career? Waiting tables?
She practically snorted her response. This? Yeah. Like this would be my career!
The disdain was unmistakable, punctuated by the rolling of her eyes.
It turns out that by "career" she meant that she is an actor, which, in this town, never comes as a surprise to me.
What does continue to throw me off guard, though, is the way so many servers seem to despise their jobs. I mean, yes, we're in a position of service. Yes, we are sometimes treated like the lowly help. Yes, we are constantly touching half-eaten plates of food and forks that have been in peoples' mouths. Yes, we have an inconsistent income. Yes, we witness customers being mannerless, socially inept, and downright rude at times. Yes, we deal with a lot of resentment from our underpaid, overworked kitchen counterparts. No, we don't generally have company retirement plans, health care, sick days, vacation days, or profit-sharing opportunities.
But what job is without its drawbacks? Waiting tables is, overall, a great gig. The other night, Dave and Ellie, a couple of great regulars, were sitting at the bar. Dave asked me a version of a question I get asked often: So, are you hoping to own a restaurant one day?
The answer is so easy.
See, despite all the things that make waiting tables a questionable career choice for some, I have some compelling arguments in favor of it:
- I never take my work home with me. I show up, work hard, go home. Done until the next shift.
- My work is physical. I cannot imagine having to sit at a desk all day. I like expending energy.
- I work around food. Good food.
- My job is social but the interactions are fleeting. I get a clean slate every time someone new sits down.
- I (usually) get paid well for what I do (this admittedly is not the case for every server or bartender).
- My job is fast-paced and challenges me every day.
- I learn a lot about food and wine, and sometimes the whole restaurant seems like it's one, big psycho-social experiment, which is its own kind of education.
- I have a flexible schedule. This means not only that I can take time off when I need it, but I can also pick up extra work when I need it.
The corollary to Dave's question that I often get asked is What is it that you really do? And when I reply, You're lookin' at it!, the person asking the question usually doesn't see that answer coming.
Surely I wait tables to kill time until I become a published writer, get a degree, or land my big acting break, right? Because who would want to do this kind of work forever? I mean aside from the big-haired ladies in the pink, polyester uniforms who snap their gum and call you "hon"?
Don't get me wrong; if someone were to throw me a book deal (ahem), I wouldn't shy away from it. But serving good food and drink? It makes for a career worth focusing on.