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Chronicles of a College Waitress: Navigating the Service Industry as a Student

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at FSU chapter.

If there’s anything I was told repeatedly throughout my upbringing, it’s that my dad wanted each of his children to work in the service industry for a year of our lives. He spun working in a restaurant in the most glamorous and parental way possible: It teaches valuable financial skills, how to work and communicate with customers — basically, everything a “young lady” must master to succeed in life.

I finally granted my father’s longstanding wish and got my first waitressing job a couple of months after I turned 18.

Now, little old me, fresh out of high school entering the service industry with the smile of Kimmy Schmidt and the naivety of Forrest Gump is a recipe for quite the learning curve. From showing up half an hour late to all of my shifts because I “didn’t think the online schedule was accurate” to accidentally spraying cleaner in a guest’s eye during a wild rush, I made a plethora of rookie mistakes. I had no choice but to learn and overcome.

Silly enough, my manager told me during my initial interview that “not everyone is cut out for this type of career.” However, despite being humbled by this and time and time after that (after three years, I still get humbled almost every shift!), I loved it. I loved my co-workers, as they were my friends and surrogate older siblings in one. I loved having access to cheap, delicious food during and after my shift. Most of all, I loved cultivating bonds with the customers, as no matter how difficult a guest may be, serving granted me a sense of control and adrenaline that was unequivocally unmatched.

Because of my passion and drive for this taxing yet rewarding hustle, I knew I wanted to support myself through college by serving. However, I was bluntly introduced to a whole different show, a strategic and unpredictable ballgame of balance and spontaneity on and off the clock. If you’re considering waitressing at any point in your college career, here are the veteran tips and advice you must internalize in order to reap success.



im ok im fine really, everything is ok, i dont have a caffiene addiction #server #education #college #educationmajor

♬ original sound – Tea Baggins

“Being a waitress in college is a juggling act of balancing classes, shifts, and social life,” testifies Lana, a waitress at Applebee’s. Similar to Lana and most working students, I entered my college career quite big for my britches. I was eager to work 4 to 5 shifts a week while slaying a packed class schedule. That plan didn’t prove successful.

Unless you take strictly online classes or take no more than two in-person, achieving a comfortable work-study balance will feel near impossible. A perfectionist will have to wither the uncomfortable storm of making sure you made enough tips for gas and groceries for the week and settle for turning assignments in relatively on time.

Especially as someone who thrives off of instant gratification, it was tough for me to strictly prioritize school over work. Fast cash feels amazing. It provides a sense of accomplishment that’s refreshing compared to grinding out an assignment that you may not get great feedback on. As Lana puts it, “Amidst the chaos, there’s a sense of independence and empowerment in earning [your] own income.”


“My biggest piece of advice to anyone looking to venture into the restaurant business, specifically serving, is to acknowledge that once you clock in, you’re an actress,” Harper, who served at the Tallahassee Olive Garden, confesses. “Many shifts were spent sobbing into a box of mints in the walk-in freezer. The dining room is your stage, and the act isn’t over until the curtains come down.”

Essentially, interacting with customers from various backgrounds fosters a plethora of important skills, including empathy and environmental adaptation. While worth mastering amidst your college years, it frequently becomes testing and disheartening. For example, if a table’s food is taking longer to arrive than expected, they’ll first become frustrated with their waitress, even though it’s the kitchen’s issue.

Sometimes, no matter how apologetic and understanding their waitress may be, they’ll still be just as upset, which reflects in a poor-quality tip. And, even if every table a server has during a shift tips 10 percent even though she busted her butt for their every bombarding request, she can’t represent herself like that on the restaurant floor. In the service industry, every waitress must arrive at their shift with goal and zero to low expectations, both socially and financially.


I got my bartending license last summer and landed my first bartending job shortly after I turned 20. I figured the position would come equipped with a whole new chapter of stories and experience, but I can now confirm that it isn’t a chapter; it’s rapidly becoming an encyclopedia!

Recounting each one of these stories would lead to Her Campus’ website breaking down due to the volumes of articles I’d have to publish. So, instead, I’ll reiterate the importance of safety for young women in the service industry.

One rainy morning, the restaurant was practically empty. One middle-aged man was sitting at the bar. I decided to make conversation with him. It was chill, he was friendly, and I had nothing else to do besides watch the rain splatter on the windows. As he exited the restaurant, he slipped me his phone number and told me to text him when I was working again. This is a common potential regular customer behavior, so I didn’t think much of it.

I told my coworker about it, and she instantly told me to stay away from him, saying that he did it often, and his intentions were quite suspicious. I threw the phone number away and went to pick up his receipt, only to find that he had tipped me over 100 percent of his tab.

Now, as a college kid mostly supporting themselves, the initial feeling of seeing that amount was exciting, but at what price did it come? If I hadn’t known about his discomforting behaviors, I could have been in danger. If I had stood too close to him, I don’t want to know what may have occurred.

Women working at any restaurant in any position have to withstand and protect themselves from this kind of behavior. Talking to coworkers about these types of interactions quickly becomes a lifeline, so it’s important to ensure trustworthiness amongst a crew.


Overall, beyond the mistakes, 0 percent tips, and overwhelming rushes that result in crying in the dry closet, I wouldn’t trade my waitressing experience for any other job in my pre-professional life. My dad was right: The “young lady” skills I’ve obtained over my three years and counting in this business are a part of my soul. That and the wonderful people I’ve worked with along the way make me grateful for the time I’ve served.

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Agatha (Aggy) Urbanski is a staff writer at the Her Campus at FSU chapter. She writes articles covering a variety of popular HC topics, such as pop-culture trends, local social experiences, and testimonials about navigating through college life as a woman. She believes her purpose as an HC staff writer is to promote small creators and business owners so they can garner more positive publicity and achieve their goals faster. In addition to Her Campus, Aggy is a member of the social service sorority Delta Nu Zeta, through which she practices her passion for community service around Tallahassee. She is in charge of new member recruitment and runs their social media accounts. Aggy is currently a sophomore at Florida State University majoring in English Editing, Writing, and Media and ICT (Information, Communication, and Technology). Aggy loves doing anything artistic; her favorite creative activities are singing and crafting with friends. She is a concert enthusiast and raging Swiftie. She is also an adventurous foodie; you're guaranteed to find her trying the most daunting maki at local sushi restaurants, and she aspires to dominate Hot Ones one day. Her hobbies support her core belief that besides being creative, humans were put on this earth to hang out, create memories, and have a good time.