I have lived out my adolescent dream. I’ve come home after a night of work with several hundred dollars having kept all my clothes on. And that part is really nice. But is it worth feeling constantly stressed and worried about working a job, about keeping a job that you aren’t good at and do not like?
For the better part of my adolescence, since I was about fifteen years old, I wanted to be a server. Not permanently. Certainly not as a career choice. I just thought that of course I would need to trudge through a series of demeaning, temporary, low-paying jobs before I hit my stride and became rich and famous or win the lottery. I figured as so many young girls do that certainly, definitely, without a question I should be a server. That’s a super easy job and you make ‘mad cash’ right?
That was the wrong assumption, and the wrong decision. I am a bad server. A very bad server. And I do not enjoy my job at all. But I make money. There’s only one reason anyone who has never been a server makes the decision that this is what they want to do – money. I would bet that 98% of people become servers for the money. There are very few other perks in working this kind of job. The hours suck. You always work weekends, and you never really know what your hours are, so it’s virtually impossible to schedule your time.
You don’t get breaks. Unless you smoke. If you smoke you can usually convince your manager to let you run out for a quick smoke break, because they get it. They smoke. Everyone who works in a restaurant smokes. Because they work in a restaurant. It’s just how you get by. So even if you don’t smoke, you lie and say you do because it’s the only way you’re granted the luxury of sneaking outside (and sitting down for a moment).
The ‘cigarette’ is not enjoyable because the entire time you know that despite being given permission to be outside, even though you have been on your feet for nine hours, if one of your tables wants a beer, some ketchup or their bill and your ass is not there to get it for them, there is a world of pain waiting for you when you get back inside. Even other servers have been running around frantically looking for you even though you were gone for three minutes.
Most young girls want to become servers because they’re thinking “TIPS TIPS TIPS”. You grow up and you hear these wonderful stories from a few people you know who managed to score serving jobs at sixteen, and leave at the end of the night with hundreds of dollars, and get bought shots by cute boys who just think they’re doing such a good job. I tried for years to get a job as a server and it was always the same situation – If you don’t have any experience, no way in hell we’re hiring you as a server. I worked several hostess and junior serving jobs before I ever got hired as a server and I used to think this was stupid as fuck, but I kind of get it now that I’ve learned this shit is actually hard, and I’m not very good at it. I’m not going to mention where I’m actually working now because this is 2015 and I’m not an idiot. As much as I hate and sometimes fear my job, I’d like to keep it for now.
When you’re a really bad server you’re much more concerned with finishing the shift alive. If I get through my shift without crying, severely screwing up someone’s order, getting yelled at or in trouble with the management, my night is a success. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to continue this job, but weirdly one of the things that kind of gets me through it is just knowing how much I suck at it.
I feel like it’s only respectful to give some serious props to the people I have met who actually are good servers. They blow my fucking mind and I spend most of my shifts in awe of how any one person can remember so much shit, be doing so many different things at the same time and actually be smiling and happy. I get that these people have been doing this much longer than I have. They’re more familiar with the restaurant, the menu, the policies, the clientele and the standards. It doesn’t make it any less amazing that someone can be serving maybe fifteen tables at a time who are all doing shots, ordering food, asking questions, wanting separate bills, and any other number of things that are just annoying to deal with.
I had a guy last night who explicitly told me he wanted four slices of avocado with his chicken wings. What the fuck? This is a lot to deal with. And when you don’t have a lot to deal with it’s almost worse because you are bored as fuck. There is only so much cutlery you can polish, linen you can fold and random shit you can wipe with a cloth before you are basically contemplating suicide.
There is no nice, normal pace in a restaurant. You are either running your ass off, sweating, clearing, running drinks, running food and assuring the three tables of eight you just triple sat that you promise you’ll be there in one minute, or you’re serving two dudes who both just want water and some french fries. You’re walking laps around the bar, watching the minutes crawl by and trying not to think about how much your feet hurt. There is really no in between.
Can I just bitch for a quick minute about people who order fucking water? I realize it’s the cheapest beverage you can get (i.e FREE) and it’s good for you. Usually there is no issue with this. But when you’re serving a huge section that’s totally full and all six people at your table order a beer…and um a water too please? Annoying. Or when someone grabs your arm as you pass and asks “Hey could I have some water?” Realistically these people are doing nothing wrong, and it shouldn’t be so annoying but it is.
I’ll tell you why it’s so easy to forget that someone wants water. When someone orders anything that costs money in a restaurant it gets punched into a computer, and someone makes it for you and it sits there waiting for you to fucking run it. If you don’t, there is a bartender or a manager who shouts “HEY, YOU GONNA RUN THIS?”
When someone wants water, nothing is punched in, and it’s really easy to forget about, especially when you have twenty other things to do. I often forget to bring people water, but as we’ve established I’m a bad server, it makes sense that if you’ve asked me twice for water and I haven’t brought it – you get a little pissed off. Justified. But after doing this for a while, I can’t tell you how annoying it is when it’s twenty minutes to last call and you’re running your ass off and have two tables full of bitches who are drinking WATER and just want more and more every five minutes. How fucking dehydrated are you? Go home. I’m sure you have water there. If you don’t, you have serious life problems and probably shouldn’t be here in the first place.
So I’m a really bad server. I’m bad at my job and I really do not like it at all. But this is okay. I won’t be doing this forever and I don’t have to be good at everything. I’m good at reading, writing, ranting and bitching. I’m good with animals, with planning and organizing. I’m a great cook. I’m pretty decent at yoga, at hiking, at figure skating, piano and I know my shit about wine.
But I am not a good server. I have lived out my adolescent dream. I’ve come home after a night of work with several hundred dollars having kept all my clothes on. And that part is really nice. But is it worth feeling constantly stressed and worried about working a job, about keeping a job that you aren’t good at and do not like? No, absolutely not.
Cover art by Alvaro Tapia Hidalgo as part of the ‘Angry People’ project.