Here are ten things that being a waiter has taught me:
- Save for a rainy day. When most of your income depends on fluctuating tips, you get pretty good at holding on to money once you have it. A really great Friday night shift where you walk home with $250 can be followed by a Saturday morning shift during a blizzard where no one comes in and you only make twenty bucks. Waiting tables has taught me how to count my pennies and save what I make because you never know when the financial rug will be pulled out from under you. Or when the only people who sit in your station are going to think a dollar is still a decent tip.
- How to make small talk. Going into any situation where you are surrounded by strangers can be difficult. Whether it's a party, a new job or a meeting, the first impression you make is a lasting one. Being a waiter has given me the skills to make conversation with anyone and everyone and I don't get nervous when I have to talk to strangers. It's as easy as asking them how they would like their burger cooked. When all else fails, compliment their outfit.
- Don't sweat the small stuff. There was a time when I was a newbie and I would run into the kitchen to stress out until the burger for table 12 was ready. One day, an older server told me something I will never forget: "It's just lunch. There will be another one tomorrow and there is no such thing as a lunch emergency." I have carried that calming thought outside of the restaurant. When I am stuck on the train or in traffic or in a long line at the store, all I have to remember is that in the scope of world events, this is probably not a very big deal.
- How to get along with others. A restaurant staff is ever-changing. People come and go and you never know who you will be working with each shift since it's very seldom that you have a set schedule. Because of that, some days you work with people you like and some days you don't. But working in a restaurant requires teamwork. Whether you like everyone or not, you still may need to ask someone to water your table and they will ask you to take some bread somewhere. You quickly figure out that it's easier to just get along than it is to not. Suck it up. You don't have to like everyone, but it's pretty easy to get along with everyone.
- Time management. Having a station full of people all needing things at the same time is a real lesson in making the best use of your time. If table 1 needs to have their cocktails rung in and table 2 needs more water and table 3 needs a spoon for their dessert that will be up any minute, you get real good at figuring out which one is the most important. (The spoon. Duh.)
- Multi-tasking. This goes right along with time management. If you ring in the drinks and then grab the water pitcher on your way to the side stand to get spoons, you can then drop the spoons at table 3, fill the waters at table 2 and then breeze by table 1 to tell them their drinks are on the way. This is handy in the real world at places like grocery stores, malls and while cleaning your apartment.
- A smile will get you far in life. When someone sits in my station and has a sour-puss look on their face and then tells me they want the happy hour price for their beer even though happy hour ended five minutes ago, I am not going to do it. In contrast, if someone is friendly and smiling and asks nicely, it is very possible that I will simply hit the happy hour beer price for them. A smile makes a huge difference.
- How to treat other people. Being in a position of subservience really teaches you how to treat others. When I am treated poorly, it's very obvious that the person doing the mistreating is used to having people to push around. I know what it's like to be told what to do and to never hear the words "please" or "thank you." When I am out in the real world, I make certain that I always make eye contact with anyone who is doing something for me and I make frequent use of "please and "thank you." We are all people and we all deserve to be treated kindly. Servers know that. Vice Presidents of big corporations? Not so much.
- Patience. It's not easy to have patience when a three year old at your table wants to order for herself. The mom is saying, "You can do it, honey. Tell the man what you want," but I can feel the stares of the four other tables who are needing my attention as well. Patience is learned and when your income is dependant on how patient and attentive you are, it's learned quickly. That's why when I am at the grocery store in the 10 Items or Less line stuck behind a senior citizen who has 15 items, I know to breathe deep and let it go. Patience is a virtue. Learn it.
- Good shoes. I am on my feet all day and the shoes I wear are very important to my health and well-being. Cheap shoes don't support your soles and they fall apart too soon. Waiting tables has taught me to spend the extra 25 bucks for the better shoes. They last longer, they look better, and they are more comfortable. Wear good shoes.
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