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Why everyone should work in the service industry at least once

Why everyone should work in the service industry at least once

Why everyone should work in the service industry at least once
September 10
12:00 2021

“Table six needs refills, the kid at table eight spilled his Mountain Dew and the couple at table ten found hair in their queso. Also, you still need to sing happy birthday to the lady at table seven.”

If you have ever worked as a server, you can probably relate to that scenario. If you haven’t, think of serving like working at a strip club: it’s a lot of moving around, pays cash and if you want to make good tips you have to make your customers think you like them.

I was a server for about six months. Like most people, I thought serving only consisted of writing orders down on a notepad, typing them into a computer and carrying dishes from point A to point B. It turns out that’s only half the job. The other half includes multi-tasking, dealing with customers and trying not to lose your sanity in the process.

When you first start out serving, you’re forced to adapt quickly. Everything goes at a rapid-fire pace and there’s little room for error. Your mind has little time to process the onslaught of information getting thrown at you. I remember freezing up the first time someone asked me for coffee.

Coffee? We have coffee? Where is it? How do you make it? Who orders coffee in a Mexican restaurant at 8 o’clock at night?

Before I get the chance to answer my own questions, another table is asking for two slices of lemon, eight sugar packets and a to-go bag full of chips and hot sauce. Also, they decided to split the check six different ways and one of them is paying in Bitcoin.

As a server, you’re constantly being pulled in 10 different directions by customers, cooks and the voice in your head asking if all of it’s at all worth it. Given how stressful the job is, it’s no wonder so many servers turn to drugs and alcohol to deal with the mental and physical demands of everything.

To make matters worse, you can’t let anyone know how stressed you are. At $2 an hour, your livelihood depends on tips from customers, and the only way to get a good tip is to slap on a smile and pretend you’re happy to see them.

Speaking of customers, serving is a great lesson in dealing with the public. In addition to bringing people their food, servers tend to act as the complaint department for unhappy guests.

One night, an elderly woman stood up and yelled that I “should be ashamed” because of how long her shrimp cocktail was taking. I told her there was nothing I could do since I didn’t have any control over the kitchen, which was like pouring gasoline on a gas station that’s already on fire. She cussed me out and left us a one-star review on Yelp. Similar to how someone might send an angry tweet to the president, she demanded in her review that I be removed from the establishment.

Now that I think about it, serving isn’t totally different from being the president. You get blamed for everything, you don’t sleep much and a few weeks in you’ll probably regret taking the job.

Despite its faults, serving is something that teaches you how to deal with adversity, stress and the public. Over time, you learn how to navigate these minefields and diffuse situations without igniting the building or your brain. Most importantly, it teaches you to sympathize with the people who work these jobs.

There’s a reason we see help-wanted signs outside of just about every restaurant. Serving is a job that’s underappreciated, underpaid and overwhelming.

The United States doesn’t make people serve in the military, but I think it should be the first to make people serve in restaurants, which can sometimes feel the same.

The tray is the weapon, the tip is the target and Yelp is the enemy.

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

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Jake Reynolds

Jake Reynolds

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