Over the years I’ve gotten a lot of so-when-are-you-going-to-get-a-real-job-attitude for the work that I do in restaurants from friends and acquaintances. I’ve taken that attitude with a grain of salt. But frankly, I’m tired of it.
I do have a real job. I am a professional server.
There’s definitely a misconception in the minds of people outside of the service industry that restaurant work is something that’s easy, good for a fast buck and a vocation for unprofessional types. Though restaurant work is not a 9-to-5 job and doesn’t require the fabrication of cubicles or the purchase of slide projectors, restaurant workers ARE professional.
I’m not sure what it will take to change people’s mind about this…but let me be clear:
There is nothing fast nor easy about restaurants. Restaurant work is mentally challenging and physically exhausting.
When will America’s dining public start treating servers with some respect?
A typical day
It’s Friday afternoon at 2 pm I’m at the ironing board pressing my dress shirt and apron. While I nibble on a late lunch, I scan the pages of three-ring binder filled with food and wine notes for knowledge retention. I listen to a recording I’ve made of myself reading tasting notes on domestic and international wines. I listen to myself describe a California chardonnay so that when a table asks me about that bottle, I already have a sound bite response.
It’s 4pm and my car is parked. I tie my tie before I cross the threshold of the restaurant. A double check of my uniform for any last minute adjustments, and then I give myself a moment for a deep, cleansing breath. It’s time for service.
By 4:30 I’m in a staff meeting where changes in the menu, service issues are discussed, and guest information is shared with the front of house staff. By 6, hundreds of napkins are folded, glasses are polished, and stations are stocked for the flurry of service that is about to hit.
7 p.m. the restaurant begins to fill up. By 8pm service has kicked into high gear. Tables are sat and resat. Orders are taken, menu items described in minute detail. Food is cleared and silverware placed. Dishes are run to the back kitchen for washing. Glasses are refilled and silverware is placed before courses hit the table. Menus are dropped and egos massaged. Checks are tallied, split, cashed out and rung up.
By 9pm–after 5 hours without food or drink—I’m dehydrated. A quick sip of water and I’m back on the floor with smile. Business roars. There’s a problem that needs attention, a table needs clearing, a manager is needed to help fix an error. I push through service like a boxer at a speed bag. My mind races with details. Did I deliver that wine? Check. Did I place that steak knife? Has that entree hit the table? Did I find out what city in France that cheese was from? Check, check, check.
No night is flawless. Something goes wrong. The only thing I can prepare for is my attitude, stamina and mental preparedness. Seven hours have passed since I stepped inside the restaurant. By 11 pm service begins to slow. Full dinner guests lounge in their seats and enjoy another glass of wine. Maybe they’ll have some dessert. Or another after-dinner drink. A back-waiter prepares a double espresso, giving me just enough time to drink a full glass of water and chew a handful of nuts. There’s still a few more hours left of work. I have to keep my energy up. I adjust my tie, tuck my dress shirt into my apron and hit the floor with a smile. There’s another cocktail to deliver, a menu to drop, a table to clear, a story to tell…
By midnight I’ve handed in my cash, tipped my support staff and clocked out. By 1 am I am in my car driving home. I’m starving, craving a glass of wine and wired from a night of speed walking 7,000 square feet several hundred times.
My mind races with the cruel barbs from a guest I artfully dodged, the selfish behavior of a co-worker that made my temper flare, the European tourist that gushed verbal compliments but only left a handful of dollars on a large bill, the joke that had me quietly giggling all night, the fiscally generous guest, the out of sorts guest that went out of their way to be rude and the sweet guest that went out of their way to be kind.
Every night is different. But every night ends the same way–with my head spinning from the millions of tasks and service issues. If I’m lucky there’s a glass of wine in my hand by the end of it all.
It’s true, there are other things I would rather do on a Friday night with my time. I’d love to write full time and have my nights free. But the fact remains that as an artist there are other things I have to do to pay my bills. And I love restaurants, the food culture and the people that work doggedly day and night to put food on the table. There shouldn’t be any shame in saying I’m a server at a restaurant.
Yes, I work in the service industry. Yes, I’m a writer AND a restaurant professional. And I take my job seriously. Very seriously. I’m a professional. Respect what I do.