That job is waitressing.
I identify myself as many things. As a writer, a yogini, a dancer and a wanderer. As a Jew, an artist, a woman and a traveler. Fairy, unicorn, and bird sometimes slip into that list as well. But never that I can recall have I identified with my current occupation. Waitressing, or “serving,” is something that I do to earn money, wholly separate and distinct from my essence or self.
Now, before any servers start raising their hackles, I am not offering judgment on the value of food service professions. I have a coworker who has payed her mortgage and supports herself through waitressing. This can only be viewed as impressive, and I respect her and anyone else who chooses to make a living as a server. I only wish to observe that I do not identify as such, probably because of the negative qualities that this profession has begun to hold for me. The longer I spend in it, the more conscious I am of its advantages, and its shortcomings. Most importantly, I am realizing that these are really two sides of the same coin. In writing this, I hope to explain why I am doing this work to begin with, and why, ultimately, I do not like it.
While I do not intend to pass judgment, I am fairly certain that it also steals a little bit of your soul. Make of that what you will.
So here they are, The Advantages of Waitressing… and Why They are not so Advantageous for me:
Pro: There is no contract.
That’s right. You can leave whenever you want (though it’s courteous to offer at least two weeks’ notice, especially if you hope to be welcomed back), and, if you find a good place, it is very likely you can come back whenever you want. It is also fairly easy to get shifts covered or traded. This makes being a server the ideal job for travelers, musicians, mothers, or anyone else looking for a flexible work schedule. For example, I am taking a week off in the middle of the busy season to go to a festival. What other kind of work would allow that?
The Flip Side: There is no contract.
Slow night? You might get cut (sent home). Over-staffed? You might get cut. Chef doesn’t like you? You might get cut. Really. There can’t possibly be a workplace more subject to the vagaries of individual whim. No contract means no promises, and that cuts two ways. I was recently cut from the schedule for several weeks at my second restaurant job due to over-staffing (as far as I know, no personal dislike was involved), and that’s fairly normal.
Pro: You work for tips.
Many times customers have tipped me 30 or 40 percent, or handed me an extra twenty for no apparent reason. (Maybe they liked my face?) There are a lot of generous people out there. Plus, in the U.S. it is convention to tip 18 percent on average.
The Flip Side: You work for tips.
Your hourly pay is about four dollars. If it’s slow, you make $4/hour. Plus, there are a lot of obnoxiously stingy people out there, and there are no actual laws on tipping. That means, outside of automatic gratuity, nothing is guaranteed. You depend entirely on the generosity of others for your wages.
Pro: You work on your feet.
You are constantly moving (running) around, with barely any time to drink water! Out of a six-hour shift, you spend six hours on your feet. There is very little need to add any additional exercise if you do this full time.
The Flip Side: You work on your feet.
You are constantly running around, with barely any time to drink water. It’s kind of exciting, but mostly it’s dehydrating and exhausting. Sure, I’d hate to be at a desk all day, but that doesn’t mean I love the unadulterated chaos.
Pro: You get to work with people.
New faces every day. Cool regulars that you get to know as the months go by.* I can’t think of a more effective way to hone communications skills.
The Flip Side: You have to work with people.
Horrible, self-important regulars who never tip well. Screaming children who insist they hate pasta as soon as the pasta they ordered arrives at the table. Every person who stubbornly refuses to notice you are waiting for them to leave so that you can go home. A lot of humanity passes through a restaurant’s doors… you end up wishing half of them would learn to cook and leave you alone.
Pro: You make other people happy.
I truly like this part of the job. I love giving people food, and I enjoy seeing them enjoy it. If it were that simple, I don’t think I would have so much to say.
The Flip Side: Making other people happy can be a pain in the ass.
Some people do not want to be happy. They want to be grumpy and discontented. They are demanding and unreasonable, and they can turn a day bad.
Pro: You make a lot of money.
The Flip Side: You make a lot of money.
Enough that it seems illogical to switch to something else. But these days, I kind of think it’s a trap. You do make a lot of money waitressing. That is why a lot of people choose to do it. That is why I chose to stick with it while I save money to travel. But the longer I stay, the clearer the flip sides become. The more painful certain customers’ arrogance, self-centeredness and smallness feels. The more the lack of any consistent real human connection begins to wear on me.
That is why I do not identify with this job. I am good at it (I forgot to mention that), but I can’t love work that yields negativity and spite in tandem with flexibility and profit. So I am scaling back, spending more time working for less money, and more time on writing, which pays nothing at present, but brings me joy.**
*I think I will do a follow-up piece soon to describe some of these characters in more detail!
**Stay tuned for the consequences of this ‘more writing’.
Sorry, no pictures to go with this post. I promise I will include a lot of pictures next time to make up for it!