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Balancing Plates & Patience: What I’ve Learned as a First-Time Waitress

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UFL chapter.

I’ve had a handful of jobs since I first started working back in high school. I started out as a barista, moved onto lifeguarding in my senior year and then went back to being a barista. After some management issues with my previous job, I decided it was time to move on. I knew at this point I wanted to wait tables; so many people had told me the money was good and that I would do great. I’m definitely a social butterfly so I’ve done well in my previous customer service jobs and made pretty good tips for only being a barista. The potential for me to do well as a server was absolutely there, and I got lucky enough to get my first serving job.

Right off the bat, the key thing for anyone looking to get into waiting tables is to go in-person and ask about the job. It shows that you are social and not afraid to ask for what you want. Along with that, it allows them to see past a resume and see you for a big smile and a bright personality. If all they know is that you have “x” amount of experience, you might not stand out. But if they immediately correlate you with being personable and friendly, they’re going to want you on their team for sure.

If you’re not even there yet and still wondering if serving is for you, asking if the above scenario would be easy or not will tell you. Those who are a bit more introverted or shy probably won’t end up liking the job very much since a lot of it is small talk. There are also days where you don’t feel like smiling or being friendly, but you can’t let that override. Imagine you’re feeling sick, waiting to get the green light to go home early and you have a table of customers that are all rude and short with you. If you can’t picture yourself being to, at very least, be cordial with them, serving might not be for you. It really does require the ability to put on a smile and try to be nice even when the customers suck, or you don’t feel well. At the end of the day, your customers don’t know you aren’t feeling well, and being rude to rude customers will only make them worse. I think the main reason I’ve done well so far is because I’ve always been a very smiley person and our customers notice that. Pretty much every day I get pulled aside by at least one person to get told I have a great smile and they love and appreciate seeing a smiling face every morning. A big smile and friendly attitude can make up for a lot.

Once you’re hired, prepare to get tested! This differs depending on where you get employed, but at my brunch restaurant, we had to take a menu test as well as a serving test. The menu test was honestly pretty difficult, especially considering I had to study for it on top of my schoolwork and the hours I was working in training. Luckily, they helped me out and gave me some leeway even though I didn’t do great on it my first time. A lot of it was memorizing topics like what soft drinks we offer, what are the ingredients in x menu item, which of our items from this category include bacon, list “x” number of ways you can cook an egg and so on and so forth. There was a ton of information, so it was a challenge. The serving test was marginally easier but most of the questions came from the menu test, so it was still tough. Like I said, not all restaurants are equal, though, so some may have an easy test, a super hard test or none at all.

The area I work in is snuggled in between several retirement and 55+ communities, so the majority of our clientele are older couples. Many of them don’t have much to do other than come to our restaurant and chat. For the most part, they’re all very sweet and we do build personal bonds with our regulars since many of them come in literally every morning and sometimes multiple times a day. That being said, though, not all of them are awesome.

On my third day of training, I was walking past our counter area (which looks like any diner counter in a movie) to get drinks for my table. It wasn’t my assigned section of the restaurant to serve so when the man sitting there pulled me aside, I expected he was just going to ask for a straw or a refill. Oh boy, was I in for a treat! He glanced around a few times to see if anyone was within earshot, so I knew he was about to say something out of pocket before he even opened his mouth. “This is just for your information,” he began. “You have the sexiest butt I have ever seen in my life.” I was just trying to get a Diet Coke for table four, dude. I honestly have never been approached like that before and frankly just froze up, so I said thank you and proceeded to tell my manager what happened. I’m grateful to have a manager who is very understanding and has daughters of his own, so he went into the parking lot to talk to the guy and there hasn’t been an issue since. That 30 seconds it took for the soda machine to fill up the cup, where I had to stand with my back facing this creepy dude, was probably the most uncomfortable 30 seconds of my life.

So, there’s the creeps and then there’s the rude customers. In general, most people who aren’t nice are just a bit short or not super friendly. It’s uncommon for people to be outright rude. I try to remember customers are people, too; they might be going through a rough day, a certain joke might just land poorly, or they just aren’t naturally friendly people. With that being said, customers can definitely push your buttons. We have one family of regulars that comes in almost every day. It’s an older couple and their adult daughter and not a single one of them is very nice. The first time I served them, they seemed irritated that I didn’t know what their regular order was and the daughter gave me a serious attitude for pouring hot coffee into her ‘cold’ coffee. The cold coffee in question was a cup of hot coffee that I was refilling. I also think some people forget I have other tables and can’t always remember who is drinking decaf or regular. Just this week I offered a guy some more coffee. I had the regular pot in my hand already but couldn’t remember if he was drinking decaf or regular, so I wasn’t anywhere near pouring yet since the follow-up question was going to be decaf or regular. Instead of just saying, “Sorry, I’m drinking decaf!” he held his hand up in my face and said, “Nope, nope,” until I realized he was drinking decaf. For the record, he did want more decaf.

Oddballs and attitudes aside, I have loved the job so far. There have been some uncomfortable and frustrating moments, for sure, but I love the fast-paced and high energy environment. The days go by fast because we’re busy most of the day, and all of us waitresses make good money. The sweet older people genuinely do love us and make an effort to get to know us and be good to us. We know each other by name, and they appreciate having people to talk to. It’s just a job waiting tables, but at the end of the day, I feel good knowing these older people really do appreciate seeing me have a big smile on my face when I walk up to their table. Much of this job requires patience, and a lot of it requires the love of people.

Riley is a second-year advertising major. She is passionate about entrepreneurship and the world of business, as well as public speaking. In her free time, she can be found at the local race track, volunteering at her church, and watching horror movies.