I Used to be a Journalist, Now I’m a Waitress. Here’s what I learned

I remember it was 8th grade when I knew I wanted to be a journalist. Inspired by Harriet the Spy, Rory Gilmore, and a longing to go to NYU, I decided that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I already had a love for writing, and continued down the “right path,” joining my high school’s student newspaper and then earning my Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Ithaca College (Park School of Communications). During my collegiate time, I interned at various media outlets including GRIT TV with Laura Flanders and Style Caster, both in NYC. After graduating, I moved back home and in a few months got a job at the local community newspaper.

Then I was there for 5 years. In this day and age, that’s a pretty long time to stay at the same job, especially at my young age. So I made the decision: I wanted change.

Where I live, a small rural town, it’s not like there’s a multitude of other media options. There are two or three other local newspapers, but it felt weird to go to one of them, like changing schools and playing for their football team and then playing against your old school. Team spirit and all. There aren’t any local TV stations or magazines; there are a few radio stations, but they have small news programs.

Then I thought about journalism’s cousin, or perhaps best friend: PR (public relations). I knew of someone who has his own PR company so I reached out to him and he offered me a job! Stay tuned for “I Used to be a Journalist and Now I’m in PR.”

But, it’s only a part-time job, and I still need to make ends meet. So I got a job as a server at a restaurant. Working in a restaurant is not easy. Most people think that to be a server you just need to be friendly with the customers. But it’s soooo much more than that. I truly believe that everyone should work in a restaurant at some point in their lives. Well, without further ado, here’s what I learned (so far):

  1. You have to be fast on your feet

Both literally and figuratively. In a restaurant you have to move fast: hand out menus, enter orders, make drinks, run food, clear plates, clean tables, set tables. All of these tasks have to be done as quickly as humanly possible. There is no time for idling. If you’re going out to eat, nobody likes to wait. So your job as a server is to make sure the customer is satisfied. Getting hot food out is paramount, but all tasks should be done quickly.

2. You also have to think on your feet…

meaning improvise, problem solve, and make decisions on the spot. In a restaurant, there are so many things that can go wrong. Glasses breaking, food spilling, orders put in wrong, etc. It’s your job to react effectively and efficiently, all while keeping your cool so the customers don’t even realize anything is wrong.

3. Communication is key

Not only do servers have to worry about how they interact with their customers, what you might not realize is communication behind closed doors is just as important. Communicating clearly and efficiently with the cooks, managers, bar tenders, dish washers, and other servers is crucial. And when you’re in a fast-paced setting where tensions are high, this can be extremely difficult. You have to pass on a message as quickly as you are thinking it, while still making sense. And if someone is passing on a message to you, you have to really listen and make sure you understand. It feels kind of scary to ask follow up questions because everyone is so busy and you don’t want to bother them, but if you don’t understand, asking questions is necessary. I also like to follow up and make sure I did something correctly by asking “is this ok?”

4. Eyes on the prize

One of the hardest parts of serving, and something that may not be a skill you can learn, is being ultra observant. That means having your eyes on all the tables, all the time, which is of course impossible, as we only have two eyes, and there are many times where you have to be doing something else and the tables are out of sight. But, you have to try your best. Always check that customers have everything they need. Do they have menus, are they ready to order, do their plates need to be cleared, do they need another drink, do they need a check, do they need to pay, do they need change. It’s near impossible to be on top of it at all times, but luckily most people are ok with waiting a little bit for their needs to be met.

5. Lend a helping hand

One thing you may not realize is servers’ duties aren’t just taking orders and running food. In many kitchens, everyone helps out each other. You might be asked to make a drink, or squeeze some lemons, or water the plants, etc. Maybe it’s just because I work in a small restaurant, but that’s how it works there. You have to be ready and willing to lend a hand and help someone out, from the owners to the dish washers.

6. Put on a happy face

Every servers nightmare is, well, nightmare customers. The good news is most customers are nice and considerate. Sure, you get some weirdos or picky people, but the worst without a doubt is people who are rude. I truly don’t understand how people can treat servers poorly, but they do. They seem to lack any empathy or understanding. So far I haven’t had anyone terrible, but I know I just need to give it time. The worst so far is this older couple who came in and sat inside. Then they said it was too hot and they wanted to move outside. Not only is this an inconvenience to us, but they didn’t even ask nicely or show any remorse, they just did it. Then, they said it was too chilly outside and moved back inside. What they don’t realize is this requires us to set their table THREE times (inside, outside, inside). I get it, sometimes you want to change tables, and that’s fine. But at least ask nicely and be considerate. As a server, all you can do is smile and accommodate.

7. Growing pains

Working in a restaurant hurts. Like, literally it’s painful. After a day of work my entire body hurts and my feet are killing me, throbbing in pain. A comfortable pair of shoes is essential, but even that won’t save your dogs from barking. When you’re working there’s no time to sit down, meaning you’re on your feet for a long time. And you’re running back and forth, back and forth, the entire time. In addition, you also have to lift heavy things, and bend over or crouch down for various reasons. By the end of the night, your knees feel like their going to give, and all you want to do is lay down. Oh, but then you have sweep and help clean up :)

Conclusion: I just realized this post may sound whiny but that’s not my intention at all. I think we all could just take a little time to think about how hard those in the restaurant business work, and all the things you don’t see. Now, I just started working as a server, so I’m sure I’ll keep learning things along the way! Is there anything I missed?

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