I worked as a waitress throughout college at a local chain restaurant, chatting with regulars and daydreaming by the sweet tea stand. It was a busy gig and I often worked long hours, pulling doubles and early morning opening hours. But I loved it endlessly. The tips were great, yes, but the best part – by far – was what I learned about others (and ultimately, myself) as I weaved through the tables and booths, straws in pocket and tray on hip:
1. Always be prepared.
As a waitress, part of your job is to keep the kitchen stocked with various sidework responsibilities – filling butter trays, brewing coffee/tea, rolling silverware. And if you slack and get behind the game? Lord save your soul, as the whole operation will come to a screeching halt. Have you ever visited a restaurant where they were out of coffee? Blame a waitress, and then say a little prayer for the repercussions.
The Takeaway: Keep your pantry stocked, your gas tank full and your savings in the bank. You never know when the local bridge club is going to storm the doors and demand 48 glasses of tea.
2. Less is more.
My table-visiting rule of thumb from 5+ years of experience? Avoid overkill. If glasses are full and folks are eating, stay the heck away from the table. Never have I visited a restaurant hoping desperately to learn more about my server and hear about her great aunt Margaret who is has taken ill with shingles. Stay friendly, stay [relatively] quiet and stay available (but not too available).
The Takeaway: Avoid over-sharing, whether in person or on social media. Or don’t. (But the tips are better if you do.)
3. Ditch the hierarchy.
If you want to be an excellent waitress, make friends with the cooks, prep chefs and the dudes behind the grill. It’s a thankless job with a mundane routine, so maybe offer to bring them a drink every now and then, or ask them how their day is going when things get slow. Bonus? They’ll bend over backwards to rush your order next time you’re in a pinch.
The Takeaway: Sure, you should treat others with respect whether something’s in it for you or not. But pay special attention to the little people – assistants, secretaries, interns – while you’re out in the world. Little people get promoted to do big things, and most have a very, very good memory.
4. This too shall pass.
Multi-tasking stresses me out to no end, so waitressing was indeed a challenge. When juggling 6 tables and a party of 12 on the deck, I’d often find myself chanting “This too shall pass” as my survival mantra. To this day, it’s a big part of my daily repertoire.
The Takeaway: Life flies by faster than the dinner rush. Enjoy the moment, seize the day, and when all else fails – sneak out the back for a quick break and a breath of fresh air.
5. Fast food is gross.
Vats of artificial mayonnaise and bags of frozen, chunky potatoes from the kitchen were enough to rid myself of all fast food cravings for months and months and months. (Tip: If you want to go on a diet, get a job as a waitress.) And although I’m a willing participant in and byproduct of a faster culture, I often cringe when I think about the food (or lack thereof) I’m ingesting from many restaurants. There’s nothing like a ketchup-covered, half-eaten fatty steak to make you change your ways.
The Takeaway: Slow and steady wins the race. This is always, always true.
6. Above all else, be kind.
The service industry attracts some of the cruelest folks, from young, boisterous teens to uppity, entitled grown-ups. Yet each have a story, and I’ve found that the meanest tables I’ve served often have the saddest ones. Smile through the insults, and be grateful for your own blessings.
The Takeaway: Wasn’t it Plato who said it best? “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”
And, of course, one final bonus lesson: Never, ever eat the Ranch dressing.