I was introduced 2 the restaurant industry waiting tables over 25 yrs ago. For the better part of almost 6 yrs I worked in the Industry in some capacity. It was a time I look fondly upon Becuz I was “on my own” supporting myself & making my way in the world….well sort of. It was the during college thru my 1st few yrs after & in order to make ends meet, I always had roommates w/which 2 split the bills.
Looking back it felt like I was making the choice but certainly, I had no other options. I remember thinking I made a lot of $, it was cash in my pocket daily & I averaged 20-25% (sometimes more). For that time in my life (my early 20’s) it was a “good living”. Knowing what I know now, several undeniable facts scream out: 1) I had no real responsibilities 2) I had a hardly-there car pmt 3) I split all my household expenses anywhere from 2-5 ways (depending on the year & roommate situation) 4) I didn’t really have a food budget worth mentioning (I’d eat shift meals at wrk) 5) I literally “LIVED” at wrk!! Pulling doubles back to back constantly. 6) my “social life” revolved around my wrk (even my boyfriend worked w/me) & since it was all “industry” friends…bartenders, cw’s (cocktail waitresses), servers etc…we hardly ever paid to go out, most everything was comped. 7) only the “older”, married-w/-family co-wrks seemed to be “struggling” & not enjoying themselves…but I never made the connection in my mind. It was a great time but let’s face it…anyone in their early 20’s typically has that to say about life…frankly they don’t really DO anything, R not responsible for anything or anyone other then themselves (if even fully that), if there’s a $ shortfall anywhere mommy & daddy usually picked up the tab & other then beer/cheap wine, pizza & hanging w/friends…what else was there?!
I remember my older friends/fellow servers w/families then seemed to wrk the most. They were the trainers, the lead servers, the sticklers for everything. They often worked more then 1 job, literally tearing off one uniform to dawn another & the hours were extraordinary. They didn’t often come out after wrk & seemed well…stressed all the time, like life just sucked the fun out of everything for them. Once I got married & had a child I finally understood the pressures they felt. That’s when I got out & got what is often referred to as a “real job”. This is not in reference to the amount or caliber of wrk (restaurant wrk is hard) but rather to the hours of wrk. Wow- a job that pays me ENOUGH, where what I made was predictable & guaranteed & where I could dcountbon the hours being reasonable & allowing me go actually have a life! Now looking back, it so happens that this was about 1989/90 forward and things cost a whole heck of a lot less back then compared to what they do now. Logic demands that changes be reflected in the industry if for no other reason then this fact combined w/common sense. The industry has now, what amounts to a voluntary slave labor force if you really think about it. Even though you learn a ton of people skills, unless you have connections it’s difficult to transition from that to more white collar type work & pay. I know many who tried but never could abandon the need a few extra bucks just go wrk some extra shifts. Seems a God send but the trade off is a tragedy. U literally have no life! You may not realize it at the time, you actually think you are calling all the shots, but at some point it hits you. I remember adding bartending & CW to my list of industry credentials ASAP as soon as I realized how much more $ I could make dealing mostly w/alcohol vs. food. After about 2 yrs I did those exclusively & only picked up server shifts to help out friends or make extra money in a pinch if no bar shifts were available. Serving tables was a last resort becuz the income was so poor by comparison. Lots of crazy stuff happened living off tips. Back then (& I’m pretty sure today is even worse) it was more a popularity contest then a measurement of “gratitude” for your server. I was always sure to become good friends with the hostesses so I could guarantee larger parties, guys, or older couples who I could endear myself too, ensured my decent “takings” for the shift. No foreigners either ideally…you quickly learn that the Europeans don’t often know how to “tip” so they rarely if ever do. Great people…great consumers…horrible “customers”. I’d get tips in rolls of quarters sometimes, I’d get notes of advise instead of cash, concert or game tickets at times, & even an occasional apology note for having underestimated the bill & now not having enough to tip me, promising to come back later w/money to make up for it…but naturally, they never did. I’d get hit on a lot by men and women alike and I remember thinking “I do not get paid enough for this harassment just let me do my job & bring you something to consume”. But you put up with it cuz what are your options? It’s the same no matter what restaurant or bar you go to. It’s get out of the biz or suck it up really, those are the two options. I received a couple marriage proposals (those were funny). I had a regular once who used to bring me books on personal growth to read…I guess he either thought I needed a lot of work or was trying to help me see there was so much more I could be doing if I chose, not sure which, I never asked. Craziest thing ever once was a guy who came in with his date, forgot his wallet and age didn’t bother to bring anything but makeup in her purse (no ID even or anything). Anyhow after they ate…a full spread mind you…all this “oh no” business started. Now mind you I never worked in diners or mid level places. I worked yuppie, trendy places or higher end dining & such, so people HAD $, they just chose not to spend it if they were jerks. Now this couple came across the part, dressed to the nines, ordering the best of the best then seemingly so embarrassed about the oversight to bring their wallets! He gave me the keys to his car & asked us to call a cab to drive him home to get it and come back. His date went to the rest room & to make a call (back then there were phones in the lobbies by bathrooms usually lol). I didn’t think twice about anything & neither did the GM. 1-2-3 hours go by. No one returns & we realize after the 1st 30 mins that she had not come back to the table, but we figured was in the bathroom or bar, having gotten busy with other tables no one realized she had jumped in the cab with him and left. The number they left us was a wrong, random number & all we had were the car keys. Long story short…for a brief moment I was the “owner” of a nice red Ferrari…but it turned out to have been stolen from a high end strip club valet downtown earlier that night. These two cons had evidently had a whole scam going where they’d case people in clubs, distract them drinking, steal their valet tickets, steal their cars unsuspectingly, & go Joy riding & partying leaving a trail of the high life behind them all for free! Lol. Dang…I came so close, now THAT woulda been the best tip ever! 🙂 I’m so glad I don’t have anything to do with the industry anymore, but I do have a soft spot for how hard people work & how difficult it is to “break free” from the cycle. The people & time mgmt skills you are in a position to learn are invaluable if you can ever manage to get out. There’s a humility you learn, an appreciation for how little AND how much it takes to please people. You learn decision making under pressure, to read faces & body language, anticipate, plan ahead, take initiative, how to converse, how to listen & how to have patience….lots and lots of patience and self control…and how to not take things personally! All these skills can/will serve people well if they choose. If one enjoyed that kind of work I’d say they are well suited to do anything where they are in charge of their own decision making. That’s why I became an instructor for Kaplan first, then later branched out in my own private practice which later led to becoming certified health coach & national trainer of certified health coaches w/Take Shape for Life (it literally fell into my lap and was the perfect fit for me). Life has brought me full circle and interestingly enough I now find myself in a position to help those who want better wrk for much better pay and earning conditions…do just that! 🙂 Not everyone is suited to be a coach just like not everyone is suited to serve, bartend or CW. We need people in all professions…it’s what makes the world go round. Seriously though…it’s just time! I haven’t been a part of the industry myself in many years but I am shocked that nothing’s changed in all this time. It’s no guessing game why I support the changes…it’s the right thing to do that’s why! Living off tips is…letting someone else steer your life & decide how slow or fast you get to go, and even dictate where you CAN go. You can’t plan ahead Bcuz you have no idea what your income will be. That’s usually a hood thing, the best part of wrking for yourself actually, but in this case U R an employee in every sense of the word but your income in an “unknown”. Think about that! I’m gonna hire you & run everything about your job, but you will never know what you will make and it will change day to day, week to week at my mercy, since I control when where, how and IF you get to work at all. It’s the biggest tease because unlike true entrepreneurship (which is what many servers & restaurant industry people like to tell themselves or mistakenly think of themselves as, their own-boss-I-work-when-I-want-to – which is a myth)…you have no control over anything the way the system is set up. The feeling of bills in your hand is an illusion of stability, it’s hand to mouth for most. An exchange of time for money which is rarely if ever “even” or to their advantage. Industry workers typically have no health benefits, can’t afford to get any, & never save any $. It’s hand to mouth all the way! I’d love the opportunity to help anyone in any way I can on a one-2-one basis but please do not ask me to champion anything beyond writing this story. I really just want to focus on helping people create optimal health in their life and training people to do more of what I do also.