If I am going to be completely honest with myself, and you, my reader, I should be able to admit that, sometimes, I miss waiting tables. It’s not that I long to return to the field (I did my eight years worth, from 17 to 25, and then a year just after grad school), it’s that I miss certain aspects of it.
So, today, I’m just going to explore with you this phenomena of missing the food service industry. I can explain what I don’t miss easily, but it’s harder for me to figure out what it is I do miss.
Off the top of my head, in an immediate response, these are 9 things I do not miss from bar-tending or waiting tables:
1. The pain in my feet after a shift (epsecially as I got older).
2. The uniforms, aprons and no slip shoes. And with this, came the never ending laundry battles. Since I’m admitting stuff today, I may as well admit that many times, Febreze (or generic Febreze) came in really handy. Yep, there were times when I worked two doubles in a row, so when I would wake up for the second double, I’d pick up my stinky uniform from last night, spray and go!
3. The jerks! Both jerk customers and jerk co-workers. The worst customers can be described as, greedy/cheap, living with an insecurity or power complex, perverted and/or a slave master. The worst co-workers can be described with the same adjectives used above.
4. The days when you work really hard, for nothing, like getting someone a million water refills or an all-you-can-eat dinner special, or ladies’ nights, and you have girls that don’t know that “free drinks” doesn’t mean “no tips,” you make no money and return home feeling like you do when you make over a hundred and fifty at least, but you only put 55 in your piggy bank.
5. The men that use your role as a “server” in the service industry, to exploit their manhood, show off their wealth and enjoy their impressive harrassy/bullying type skills…you know, where you suddenly feel like a piece of ass carrying a trey of pitchers or Old Fashioneds, serving a bunch of unoriginal scumbags (rich, poor, young or old).
6. People’s assumptions about me, and my co-workers in the industry. Many times, customers were patronizing, until they learned I was a college student; suddenly they treated me well. Not only is the patronizing tone a huge insult, but also this demonstrates how people treat others worse or better, depending on superficial traits. Weirdly, a few men would change their tone from “pervey” to normal right away. So some dudes think it’s ok to harass some women, but not others. Ew.
7. The extremely high cost of getting sick. If you call in sick, you, a) lose the chunk of change you would make during the shift and b) you would take forever to get better because the whole time you’re resting, the fear that you’ll be fired when you return remains not in the back of your mind but in the very front. Many times, servers go into work sick because of this. However, it’s a lose-lose because when you wait on people and you have a runny nose, flemmy cough or no voice, it’s a big big turn off in terms of tips.
8. Paying out of pocket for a lot of basic health services, especially before Obama-care.
9. Either developing, or trying not to develop a taste for cigarettes. After all, in the biz, if you smoke, your breaks are totally acceptable. If you take a break to text though, that’s completely unacceptable.
Wow, just compiling this little list is making me sort of stressed out. So, then why do I get these weird fleeting waves of nostalgia?
These are 9 things I do miss about working in the service industry:
1. The feeling of loyalty and family throughout the staff. This includes busboys to managers to owners. Working together to please a massive clientele really unites people. The food service industry is one of the last few industries where “the customer is always right.” This understanding across the workers creates a common goal which enables efficiency, teamwork and focus. I can’t tell you how many times I effed up and placed a wrong order. It’s really not good because while everyone else’s food at the table is ready, a whole new meal needs to be made. It’s all off balance. A chef would always come to the rescue and save my butt, by breaking the line and making my fu*k-up again on the spot.
2. The on-the-spot cash.
3. Always receiving a nice check after filing taxes (rather than putting any money out).
4. The social scene. Both on the clock and off the clock. You never feel alone in the service industry; it could be dysfunctional since most of the friendships I had during my years as a server were definitely, what today, I would call, co-dependent. Whatever it was, I miss it. Restaurant/bar staff are very close, knowing how many kids everyone has, or who has a crap boyfriend, who needs some extra shifts since his wife lost her job. It’s a web of support, connected by a powerful source of empathy. Then after work, there was always a place to go or a drink to drink. Sometimes I would even happily stay an extra hour just to hang out while I waited for a friend/coworker to get off.
5. You get a big number of passes to be a weirdo or have problems without being judged.
6. Coworkers are funny! We always had a lot of fun making jokes and pranks no matter where I worked or who I worked with. The bantering and competitive joke-cracking really brings light to the job.
7. The fast moving nearly manic pace of the work, the constant multi-tasking, physicality, rushing, planning, calculating, the free diet cokes (all shift long). There was something exciting about really busy shifts. Your mind is always juggling tasks to reach ultimate efficiency. You know money is coming in. You get a high off the challenge and competitiveness (only the best server gets the most money-making section). You know your manager will be in a great mood. You’ll burn a bunch calories, and feel like you’re really doing something.
8. The casual vibe of social interaction between colleagues. There is little to worry about regarding appropriateness or social engagement between coworkers. Your manager slips the F-bomb regularly. You call customers whatever names you feel like behind the scenes. You can be really grumpy and sleepy, and no one gets offended because they get grumpy and sleepy too all the time. You don’t always have to say “Hi. How are you?” (interactions with customers obviously require manners and all that, but between staff, everything is very relaxed).
9. “In the biz” exclusive discounts!
Okay. So, it seems like waiting tables definitely has its pluses, pluses I never appreciated of course while I worked in the industry, although now, I see how the positive aspects of working in the food industry are indeed special to the biz.
I’m so pleased to announce that three of my poems, “Slots,” “Scraping” and “Make a Decision” have been published in Barking Sycamores Literary Magazine Issue 13. Barking Sycamores is dedicated to neurodivergent literature and its craft. I’m so honored to be a part of this project. Barking Sycamores Issue 13
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