Last night, my nonprofit hosted a happy hour fundraiser at a bar in SF. It was really fun, a lot of friends showed up, and we raised a decent amount money. They let us guest-bartend and all tips went to our nonprofit. I didn’t end up bartending (my choice), but I did stay for the tutorial and where they taught us how to make drinks. It kept giving me flashbacks to my summer as a waitress….I was so terrible at it, that years later, I still have so much respect for people who are good at it (like the bartenders who were giving us lessons last night). I’d never been terrible at a job before, so it remains such a humbling experience….and one that I’m glad I did if only for the lessons I learned.
One summer when I was home from college, I got a job at a local Italian restaurant. I had an internship that summer too at the local tv news station (which was not as fun and glamorous as I expected….I saw watching sports games all day and noting the times when anything big happened), but needed something that actually paid. So I thought I’d give waitressing a shot.
It was a cute, little cafe with an outdoor patio that was across the street from a huge office building, which made it a hot spot for the lunchtime crowd as well as the after-dinner family crowd. I started off as a hostess for a few weeks before I was “promoted” to waitressing.
OH MY GOSH, I was a horrible waitress. I had never been terrible at a job before, but I have absolutely no skills.
For one thing, the whole thing stressed me out like crazy. I would have no tables at 12:00noon, but at 12:05, I would have five tables, all who needed to eat and pay before their lunch hour ended at 1pm. I couldn’t keep track of who needed water or bread refilled, who had already ordered, or who needed to pay. I would leave the dinner shift around midnight, go home, pass out asleep and have nightmares/anxiety dreams about forgetting to refill water glasses for my tables.
I was jealous that everyone was out with their friends having fun and I was stuck working for them. I lost weight because I was working during meal times and never had a chance to eat.
I couldn’t hold the large tray either. That thing is heavy! You’re supposed to hold it at shoulder height and it carries ~5 big plates full of food. I don’t have much arm strength (can’t do a pull up…) and the tray was just way too big for me. Usually, I would have a good grasp for a few steps and then it would tilt slightly…..sometimes causing juices from one plate or another to drip onto another plate. NOT what anyone wanted in their food.
I was only 19 and very, very uneducated in fancy drinks (or any kind of drink/cockatil). I was a college kid– we drank beer or ordered long island ice teas or midori sours at the bars (yes, now that sounds so gross to me). If I drank wine, it was usually out of a box. So someone would order another more complex than a vodka soda, I would usually have to ask them to repeat themselves a few times and then wrote down what I thought I heard and gave it to the bartender figure it out. He’d usually have follow-up questions and I’d have to go back and ask the person again (aka, what kind of vodka do you want? do you want it on the rocks or straight up?). And, this is really embarrassing– I couldn’t open a bottle of wine with their fancy openers. After having the cork fall into the bottle TWICE, I finally started having the busboys open them for me. I tipped them out very well.
I’m not just being hard on myself. I got 12% tips, if that. My best friend got a job there too and was a great waitress. She averaged 25% tips. Haha!
But I learned a lot from myself that summer. I have a new appreciation for restaurant staff, especially the good ones. I still haven’t forgotten that and think about it every time I eat out.
The experience was humbling and made me focus on and think about the things that I was really good at career-wise.
I was extra proud of the money that I actually made because I worked hard for it.
And it was a new experience that taught me things my office internships never had.
The next few summers of college, I worked as a camp counselor (my favorite job ever), interned for elected officials, and babysat/nannyed. My best friend stayed and waitressed for a few years after that– she made way more money than I did as a camp counselor, but loved every minute of it. To each his own.
–Have you ever been bad at a job?
–Have you ever waitressed? Were you good at it?
– What’s a job you wish you could try out for a few months just to see if you like it?
– How did you spend your summers during high school or college?