Usually people find themselves in the service industry on their way to something bigger and better. Some are in school hoping for that sweet spot to open up right as they walk across the stage to receive their 20,000-dollar education. Others are in this line of work because they have no other choice and the economy is pitter-pattering slowly, but surely. Then there are the ones who get pulled in and have a hard time leaving.
I guess I would say I’m somewhere in between them all. My brief stint in the fast-food industry ended in 10th grade when I thought I could work at Wendy’s, only to be frightened by the man (who had just gotten out of jail) turning burgers on the flattop and flipping out because I thought I had locked myself inside the walk-in refrigerator. I had a lot to learn. My work ethic was next to nothing, but luckily… that has changed.
The industry makes you harden up. Sometimes it makes your cuss more and forces you to bite your tongue more than ever. Some are better with customers and others are better at making the products to serve. I’m better at the latter, but learning to fight off my introverted tendencies to feel energized by small talk and the usual “hey-how-are-yas”.
I think the people in the industry do some of the noblest work there is. The cooks, servers, bartenders and baristas face the best and worst of the human condition. People have to eat and drink, so we give it to them. If they don’t like it, we hear about it. There’s a special place in my heart for these people and anyone who knows me well will tell you how intimidated I am about the waiter/waitress. After all, they are the ones to judge whether you are cool or not. I imagine their thumbs, edging up and down, determining whether you’re a decent human being like the final say of a gladiator’s death.
But we all know about the bad ones. The servers and staff who just stink at what they do. And bless their heart. It’s not always their fault [though sometimes it is]. When you get stuck in a rut, it’s hard to act happy. Some customers will eat you alive because their money is in your hands. You better not waste it on a bad experience. I’ve been around some who take this too seriously – patronizing every action of the server when I think it’s just fine. “She totally forgot the bread!” or “I can’t believe how awkward he is…”
Of course, everyone is different. I like the simple small talk and order. The waiter doesn’t need to know where I went to high school or when my sister’s birthday is! We have such odd expectations. Most other cultures wouldn’t give you nearly as much attention as we do here. I just want to be liked by the employees, because I know how it is. When you work in the trenches, you join a special group of people.
You are a part of the industry.
A couple of nights ago, I was serving drinks at a local event. A guy walked up and I gave him his deliciously cold IPA saying, “Here ya go sir…” in a fairly relaxed tone. He responded… “Ahh, don’t call me sir. I work in the service industry too. I’m a chef. Look at my hands. We’re all equals here…” He smiled and walked off. As a person who admires the work, I felt some small pride that I had just joined the ranks of the disgruntled, [at times] over-worked and underpaid folks who make a living feeding other people.
Tip your servers well. You can always tell the kind of folks who have worked for tips because they generally tip well. I can only assume that many believe the restaurant or café pays them well enough to make a living. This isn’t always true. In fact, it’s rarely true. We count on tips as major parts of our income, so we do appreciate it when you treat us well. And as the rule goes in our household, if we can’t afford to tip, we probably shouldn’t go out.
But, I’m only speaking upon myself because we all have our things and this just so happens to be important to me.
After all, in the bigger picture, we’re all equals. Let’s work on treating each other like human beings.
I mean after all, just look at our hands.