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#67 Confessions of a College Waitress

March 8, 2010

I could have been paid $50 for two hours’ of teaching some kid how to solve mathematical equations or how to write a high school essay. Instead, I took a plunge into the deep end of the intense working life by signing myself up to be a part-time waitress, for nearly the same wage but a whole day of hard labour. And boy, just two weeks on, and I am already having mixed feelings about my job.

When’s the last time you were served by a waitress? Does her job seem effortless to you? After a few days on the job, I have newfound admiration for these people (waiters too) who slough day and night at the restaurant. Being a college student, I understand and regularly suffer the stress and hard work of having to juggle many activities and assignments at once, but nothing prepared me for the mental and physical exertion that being a part-time waitress entails…

You probably think that a college student wouldn’t have to resort to “this kind” of work with a plethora of office sit-down admin work such as transcribing, typing and cold-calling to earn spare cash, or for some, essential bling to pay tuition fees. You also probably think that only someone really bimbotic who can’t find other kinds of “higher-level” 9-to-5 or less taxing/menial job would work as a waitress. Now, let me tell you, even though I risk sounding absolutely obnoxious (but it has to be said and I’m speaking for all the people who find this politically incorrect and difficult to stomach), but after looking at my co-workers, some of whom have been waitresses for years (but never managed a tertiary education for financial or other reasons), I am really blown away by the sheer amount of intelligence, hand-eye coordination, productivity and motivation required for a waitress to get through her day.

At this point you’re probably not convinced (and never will), especially if you’ve never worked as a server before, and scoffing “How hard could it be?”. If you’ve never experienced it firsthand and see how it’s like, you have no right to argue here. But for the uninitiated and eternally sheltered, I would advise against it unless you are a super trooper or, like me, you just want the once-in-a-lifetime experience of what it feels like to be a blue-collar worker.

Just imagine having to stand at least eight hours a day, if you’re lucky you get one hour’s break, being yelled at/ordered around by usually a few people at the same time, having to remember who wanted what, which table requested for this or that, what your manager/boss asked you to do… Which could be anything and everything that could be done in a restaurant really. Your mind is making and remaking to-do lists and prioritize your tasks every second, your legs feel like lead close to the end of a shift but you just need to keep going because you hear the chef calling you/ringing the bell. In other words, once your shift begins, you are in a circus. You better pray that the day will be okay, because more often than not, customers from the depths of hell await you round every other table.

A few days at work, and I feel like the restaurant is one of the forefronts to witness the social divide, and the binary relations between the patron and the server. You WILL be disgusted by how customers treat service staff, especially in a restaurant where the clientele is relatively, ahem, bourgeois/middle to upper class.

It is also painfully obvious that some of the customers were probably born with a silver spoon up their ass in their mouths and never had to work for a penny. I’d think with all the money and education (optional) they might be more civilised and sympathetic, but I was in for a rude shock (no pun intended).

I’m starting to think that it should be a university requirement for everyone to work in service to appreciate the realities of life and learn to treat a fellow human being with respect. You might become a professeur, a UN goodwill ambassador, a rock star, a rich man’s wife or an investment banker (to me you are just another paying customer), but you shall never forget that the people who served you are earning the same honest living the same way you earn yours. And just because waitresses are service crew, doesn’t mean they are born to pander to the customers excessively. The colonial days, may I remind you in case you missed your grade school history lesson, are OVER.

I haven’t been a nasty customer and I never will. That said, I condemn all you hellish customers out there, but I do sincerely hope that you won’t ever know what waitresses CAN do to your food should you ever offend them. 😉

If you’re an American/European or from any other place where tipping is the cultural norm, you’ll think it’s not that bad to be a part-time college waitress while juggling studies and work in your busy schedule. Maybe the motivation of earning tips will drive you to be productive and happy for a while. But unfortunately Asian waitresses are a different story, at least where I come from, we don’t receive any tips — sorry, I needed to use that picture to get my point across but I’m Asian so I’m entitled to do this. Not that I’m complaining, I’m not paid minimum wage (though it feels like it for the amount of work expected to be done), but no tips could mean a whole world of difference when it comes to improving service quality.

And to the anonymous customer who left a $50 tip, I am deeply sorry that it’d never see the insides of the pockets of any of the waitresses here.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2010 2:47 PM

    Hey, I’m looking for a waitressing job in Amsterdam and I’ve never been a waitress before. Thanks, this really helped. I just started university (conservatory) and I really, really need to make some money. I don’t want to ask any more from my parents…


  1. Confessions of a Student Waitress, or a Waitress Student? | amandabrayblog

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