My thoughts on the server life and the restaurant industry are tainted. With 16 years of serving under my belt, I have seen and experienced everything. From receiving a $100 tip for serving over-medium eggs and a side of bacon with a smile, to spilling coffee on the lap of an 80 year old man, to being thrown up on by an overheated baby. Working with the public can be very taxing and not just from day to day but from table to table. As a server, you are putting your best acting foot forward. Every table you take, you are playing a different role, molding yourself to the vibes of that table.
I can walk into any restaurant and immediately tell you which person has recently started serving and who’s a veteran. I can also scan the staff and tell you who is the hard working server, who’s the slacker, who’s the one always up management’s ass, who’s on drugs, who calls out most often, who only serves to get through school or are saving up for a particular reason, and who’s going to be making it a career. I can look at staff and see if the place is all about team work or if it’s each man (or woman) for themselves. I am like a blood hound but instead of sniffing out blood and bodies, I sniff out server characters and work ethics. It’s at times blessing but also a curse.
Eating out is one of my favorite things to do, and for many reasons. For one, as a child growing up with a single mother, we could barely ever go out to eat. Financially, it was something we could do only on a special occasion. That was until I started working and took some of the financial burden away from my hardworking mother. At that point, she had this thing where once a week it would be “kitchen closed” and so instead of her cooking dinner we would go out and enjoy something nice. To be able to go out once a week and reward ourselves for a job well done always felt amazing. The fact that we could sit there and be catered to while being able to enjoy one another’s company stress free was an awesome feeling and they’re memories I hold onto till this very day. I no longer live close to my mom or sister. I live states away and although I’ve got no family here, I still enjoy a “kitchen closed” moment, maybe more often than I should. I am one of those people that you’ll meet that has absolutely no problem in going out solo. All I need to keep me company is a good book or paper and a pen, sometimes those items make better companions than people, haha. So I’ll go out and with hardly any distractions I can tune into all that is around me and that is when the curse kicks in. I start observing fellow customers, take in the ambiance around me, and then finally my thoughts and observations land solely on the staff.
More times than not I begin to really watch the servers that I can tell are veterans to the game. I watch the ones who may not have intentionally made serving their career. When I zero in on these particular people, I become sad, almost depressed at the thought of how their working life has been. In one word, exhausting. It’s not easy serving for a living and I have met people who have been caught up in the game for 20, 30, or even more years. None of them truly enjoying what they do but all of them acknowledging how easy it was to get trapped. All of them accepting a fate that in reason did not need to be accepted but for one motive or another they simply just did. They got comfortable. I look at them, I speak to them, and in all sadness I always think to myself of how I do not want to ever end up like them. I refuse to be trapped in this game no matter how much money I can make. Money cannot buy my happiness in this industry. It could buy me time but definitely not happiness.
When I began working at the place that I am currently working, I started off working 5 days a week, then I opted to pick up a sixth day. I was 20 at the time and was making about $250-$350 a shift depending on the time of year. I was banking. I enrolled into school but my education took a backseat to work. I mean hey, what I was making a shift would make me more than an entry level job that I would be getting once I graduated college so why the fuck not? Soon everything came before my education simply because I had the financial means to place everything else first. Ten exhausting years later, I am still trying to finish my schooling, not so much for the career, but more so for the accomplishment factor. I have been at them same restaurant for the duration of the time, minus two years that I took off to go explore bits of the U.S. Since I have been back I only serve two days a week. By just working those two days I can make my monthly bills without a worry and have incorporated into my life meaningful matters of the heart instead of the wallet. I spend my time now painting and writing (among other hobbies). This, what I am doing right now at this point in time, is my passion. I have finally figured out that this is what I want my life to be like. I want to go out and live out many experiences and then come back to my humble home and write all about it. Whether it’s a blog, a magazine article, a book, it doesn’t matter to me. All that matters is that I am able to produce stories and experiences for others to partake in and do not allow myself to get trapped in the harsh life of fast money. That just isn’t me. That just doesn’t nourish my soul.
I’m thirty years old, well… in a few months.. and I find myself at a cross roads of sorts. I do not know how to get to where I want to be but no matter, because I will eventually find my way there. I may have gotten a bit side tracked with the bribes life has thrown at me but I found my out. Now that I’ve taken off that financial blindfold that life for a moment blinded me with, I can truly see the meaning of my own life. I can imagine the future and I am excited. I thank all my fellow servers for helping me unravel that blindfold because only by viewing them in their past, present, and future, was I able to take notes and study the road that this job would forever take me down.
I tip my hat off to those veteran servers who have done this for longer than I have been alive for it takes a strong person to dedicate their lives catering to people in this way. I encourage the newbies to keep up their enthusiasm but to never let go of what their end goal is. No one ever went into serving saying “this is what I’ve always wanted to do when I grew up.” The server life is something you fall into and it is up to the person to sink or swim. You either get trapped in the life or you use it as a stepping stone to where you want to be. Passion is the key to everything. I’ve got loads of passion and it is what’s keeping me from settling. Hold onto your passion. It’s your life vest.