To be totally honest, I was a server for way too long.
A tray was a staple accessory long after I wrote my last undergrad exam in university, and after my sorority sisters started killing it in their “real jobs.” It made sense as I was trying to make it as a full-time actor, and then endure a gruelling post-grad program at 26-years-old. And I absolutely hated it by the last few years, bitterly sucking it up, unwilling to walk away from the hundreds of dollars cold hard cash I was making (and spending) each weekend.
What I didn’t realize through my misery at the time was the toolbox of transferrable skills I was building that would end up helping out enormously in my career in media. Really, they come in handy for many careers. Here’s how…
Working under pressure became the norm.
You don’t know pressure until you’re short-staffed because two servers called in sick, have a full section of hangry customers, a backed-up bar and kitchen, and a walk-in of eight VIPs who must be accommodated (in your section) ASAP. To be honest, through all the public speaking opportunities, tight deadlines, and make-or-break meetings of my media career, nothing was more chaotic and stressful than serving on a busy Friday night when the lineup of customers was out the door (it actually gives me a little bit of anxiety when I think about it).
I became a multitasking pro.
Being a server on one of the busiest and largest patios in Toronto offered a crash course in multitasking that I didn’t realize I had signed up for until I was deep “in the weeds,” as the server slang goes. In one run, you could easily have to deliver a tray of drinks (without any spillage), take another table’s order, drop off another table’s bill, grab ketchup for a different table, deliver napkins to another, and clear a few plates while you’re at it. Now, I think like a multitasking expert in both my career and personal life – precious time can’t be wasted.
It made me a better people person
When you’re a server, you have no choice but to be a people person and practice that “service with a smile” expected by customers. Even if you’re working a brunch and couldn’t be more hungover from the night before if you tried. Even if you’ve just had a massive fight with your boyfriend. Even if you’re dealing with a customer so rude you have visions of “accidentally” dropping a steaming plate of spaghetti Bolognese on his shiny bald head. Naturally, these people skills came in handy years later when it came to making small talk with strangers at events, wining and dining with clients, and killing job interviews.
I learned to deal with awkward situations.
There are few things more embarrassing and awkward than having to serve people you would rather pay not to serve. Exes, family members of exes, crushes, frenemies, and teachers – I have been forced to serve them all (and yes, it felt like I was reliving a nightmare). But – whether in networking events or in the boardroom – you inevitably deal with no shortage of painfully awkward situations in your career, especially when you’re a greener than green entry-level employee. Frankly, you humiliate yourself so many times as a server that very few awkward situations really phase you moving forward.
It thickened my skin.
Between rude and obnoxious customers, a few catty coworkers, rampant objectification by wasted men (this was, unfortunately, before hashtags were a thing, let alone the #MeToo movement), and the aforementioned crazy pressure, working as a server adds layers to your skin. You immediately learn that you can’t be too “precious” and meek, and that subsequent thick skin comes in handy in the workplace, when everything isn’t always exactly easy breezy 24/7, and where nobody is immune to criticism.
I learned how to handle teamwork.
Like in the workplace, a successful night in a restaurant involves the harmonious synchronization of all parties involved – from the hostess, server, and busser, to the chef and food runners. Once bad move can make or break your night (and shrink your tip). In most professions – especially collaborative creative ones like mine – teamwork is obviously a central component.
I learned how to sell.
Naturally, being a server also helps your skills in the sales department – always an essential tool no matter your field (after all, you have to sell yourself at job interviews from the get-go). As a server, you have to memorize every talking point of every dish on the menu, describing it as though it’s the best thing ever, even though you may just vomit if you had to look at another one (naturally, then, it also helps the acting skills).
It helped me define my career path.
My years spent chatting up customers of all varieties who graced my workplace throughout the years ultimately resulted in me finally figuring out what I wanted to do in life. For all the jerks you serve, you definitely meet people who will offer seasoned insight into their careers – and life in general – offering a free life coach session (thanks, in part, to that fake smile you’ve perfected).
So, while I hated it while I was doing it, I can’t say that being a waitress for years didn’t add incredible value to my life once words like tipping out, double shifts, and auto grat were no longer staples in my vocabulary. And, if I’m being honest, there are some days I even miss it (and the cash).