I hope you get ripped off, cussed out, and left to clean up the mess of others.
Dear Evan and Lulu,
I had many jobs before I became a librarian. All of them had value. All of them taught me lifelong lessons. That is why I don’t have many defined aspirations for you when it comes time for you to look for employment. I know you’ll have some jobs you hate, some you love, and some to just pay the bills. But there is one exception to my vast emptiness of desires for your work experience.
I hope you will wait tables.
At least once in your life, or maybe for years, I hope you will enter into the service industry.
I was shocked recently when I read something that described waiting tables as one of the worst jobs to have. I worked as a hostess, then a server, then a cocktail waitress, then a bartender for six years of my life. Although the profession has some challenges, it better prepared me for working with the public than any other experience I could imagine. Not to mention, I loved it.
Here is why I hope you will someday do the same.
People. There are not many jobs where you will avoid the interaction with people. It might be co-workers, it might be customers, it might even be remote. But somewhere, in some career, you will need to understand people. If your job is to approach strangers, 25 times a day, ask them questions about their life and then respond to those questions, you get a pretty large picture painted for you about people. It isn’t easy, it isn’t always fun, and sometimes you will learn to not like the people. But you will grow to understand them. Maybe you’ll only gain an understanding of their drink preference and attitude toward fried foods, but that, my dears, is a starting point. Iced tea and onion rings is information that lets you start a conversation that truly could go anywhere.
Experience. When you are waiting tables you don’t really have just one job. You don’t just take their order, hope it comes out how you punched it in, and say “see ya when it is time to pay!” (Well, at least you don’t if you want to make any money.) Your job is to guide someones experience and that means you oversee every detail of their time with you. From the refills, to the wait time, even the garnish becomes your concern. Experience is such a hard concept for people to learn and understand. I think those who have waited tables are much less likely to say “that is not in my job description” because their description is really to make people happy.
The WOW factor. When you work in the service industry your job review happens every single day, multiple times over and over. Each customer decides how you are doing at your job and compensates you based on your performance. It is true, that some people will tip lousy no matter what you do. It is true that sometimes you will be judged on things out of your control. But ultimately, you have the opportunity to WOW people several times a day. Wowing people does not come from taking orders and getting food out on time. It comes from going beyond what your job is and finding other ways to help. You WOW someone when you notice their child is fussy and you put together a special plate just for them. You WOW someone when you anticipate they are in a hurry so you speed every process up to get them where they are going on time. You learn that beyond the usual perks that come with waiting tables, tips and flexible schedules, WOWing people is what you remember when you think about your job each night.
Attitude. When you wait tables there is one thing that will ultimately decide how successful you are. I have found this to be true in most the professions I’ve had. Attitude. It is true that some states (ahem, Idaho) pay servers horribly low wages. It is true that some places don’t appreciate their staff or their customers. But what is the MOST true about waiting tables is that your attitude will define how successful you are. People who are positive, who work hard, who are flexible about picking up extra shifts, extra tables, and extra responsibility will love the profession because they have the attitude needed to excel at it. Others will complain, a lot, about the job and ultimately not be rewarded by customers or employers.
So as a parent I am telling you that I hope you get ripped off, cussed out, and left to clean up the mess of others. Those things are inevitable in the service industry. But I also hope you learn to talk to people, really talk to people. Even if it is about iced tea and onion rings. The world gets a lot brighter if we can even agree on things as small as those. I hope you will get to host some experiences for people. Some will be disastrous and you will have nightmares about them for weeks. Others will bring you happiness and reassure you that what you’re doing means something. Get out there and WOW some people. And what ever you are doing, cleaning up messes or preparing important documents, have the attitude that you want to succeed at it, because what you are doing is important.