**Note from the author: It’s quite impossible to sum up what working in the restaurant industry is like. Being able to understand it, is having experienced it firsthand. From my own perspective it is something I enjoy doing, until I stop enjoying it for the day. I think that sentence will really only translate to those that can relate to the relief of getting done back to back double shifts. The moment I dreamed of being a writer I was aware that meant pursuing what I wanted and waiting tables to survive. All in all the industry has given me plenty of things that I am grateful for and material for stories that I have yet to write. This piece is for all those working in the industry to get by while following their dream, or those that do it simply because they realize waiting tables can make you more money than most 9 to 5 jobs
By- Traci Taylor
Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable series
Working in the restaurant industry has its ups and downs, but the beneficial guarantee is the abundance of life lessons that take place. The past seven years I have acquired a lot of knowledge in regards to how quickly other people may resort to stereotypes to those that treat the wait staff a certain way (I think the saying is that the proof is in the pudding). There is a part of me that absolutely loves interacting with guests and providing service with a smile. However there is another part of me that often dreams of a job where it is possible to get weekends off.
Being in the industry can change a person: how they treat servers when dining out, how graciously they tip, and how they judge the people they are with for doing both of those things. The moment I decided I wanted to be a writer I was aware that it could mean many years living off of tips (just a suggestion- if quality service is given it is polite to show gratitude with more than just a “thank you”) and being employed as a server. What I didn’t know was all of the stress, life experience, and exposure to all sorts of personalities I would encounter along the way.
I was seventeen when I landed my first serving job in my hometown of Cape May. The thing about restaurant jobs is, if you stay at a place long enough the people you work with quickly turn into family. That was especially the case at The Ugly Mug because it was in a tight-knit community and I worked with the same people for about five years. They were the people that lavished me with hugs the summer I came out of the closet, and were the shoulders I leaned on without a doubt during the process.
Waiting tables for twelve plus hours a day with the same co-workers for over five years an unusual bond tends to grow unlike any other working environment. Without realizing it, being in the industry, quickly turns into a home away from home. It can be stressful, and that is why it is important to have a close relationship with your co-workers to be able to lean on them for support. Somewhere after the long work hours and drinking until sunrise after endless shifts, those co-workers end up being extended family.
My drinking habits increased when I became a server (I suppose I fall into a stereotype myself with the industry and alcohol abuse problems). The restaurant environment is one that addiction dependencies do run on the higher side for various reasons (merely stating from personal observation). Having to pull doubles multiple times a week and the general stressful environment only aids the dependency issues. I got wrapped up in a daily drinking habit, but for other personal reasons ended up losing control (if I ever actually had it in control).
Drinking is a common way to unwind after any shift at a job ends. The industry however is a bit different; it is sort of like living the college party lifestyle that never really stopped for some people. In a way I think it is the only outlet that seems fit to be able to deal with all of the difficulties that have to be dealt with shift after shift (for front and back of house staff). From an outside perspective it may not make sense, but for those in the industry it is the “norm”. Drinking tends to feel like it eases all worries and eliminates the stress (believe me not everyone that dines in restaurants are the kindest of people) at least until the next shift begins.
Not every guest that dines out is polite, and the majority of the time it is because they don’t know true restaurant etiquette (or they just really are unpleasant human beings). For that reason alone is why so many servers wish that in order for people to dine out they must have had to work in the industry for some amount of time (imagine a place where everyone tips a decent percentage and always thanked their server afterwards). I’ve worked in both high class establishments and local pubs; neither is excluded for having the occasional disgruntled guest. Some people forget that their servers are there to help them enjoy their experience.
I know just like not every guest is perfect, not every server is either. Any job that makes you a miserable mess, you should probably consider doing something about. Nothing in life is permanent and a negative attitude not only hurts you, but the people you are surrounding as well. I’ve had to remind myself at different points in time (in job scenarios, but also other things)that I am ultimately the one in control of my happiness. Sometimes when people find themselves in a comfort zone they forget that by changing one simple thing in their life (like a miserable work environment) it can make all the difference.
As soon as I entered middle school I got a job, I was raised to know in order to get the things you want you must work for them. I’ve worked in retail (corporate and ma & pa shops) and I even tried scooping ice cream for a year or two before I was introduced to the restaurant industry. Once you are in it, it’s hard to get out. The money is great (when it’s not the off season) and you meet some pretty amazing people that make up for all the crap that happens.
Having worked in restaurants in both a city and small town environments I must say there are some differences and similarities between the two. Most importantly I have respect for the people in the industry because I have experienced it. I know the money doesn’t always make up for all of the stress, and the occasionally unpleasant people you may encounter on a daily basis. The years I’ve spent in the industry have exposed me to a lot of things I don’t think I would have experienced otherwise. Not only has being a part of the industry given me lifelong friends in each place I’ve lived, but as a writer I must admit there’s no better source for material.