The Real Poop
It's doubtful that anyone dreams about becoming a professional waiter. You won't find many moms bragging about their son's or daughter's table service abilities or fancy new job at the diner downtown. Some people even think this is a profession for people who can't get a real job—but these people are what you'd call horribly mistaken.
In reality, waiting tables is one of the most important jobs in America. This country runs on its stomach, and food service professionals are the ones who make sure those stomachs get filled.
Preferably with poutine, if you're lucky enough to carry it.
It's true that plenty of people use this job to make ends meet, either as a temporary stop on the way to something better or a way to close gaps in income. At $19,000 on average per year, though, it's definitely more of a means to an end rather than a career (source).
Literally half of all servers work part-time, so that stereotype's very much a reality. But that doesn't mean being a server's a terrible life; in fact, it can be quite rewarding.
Because it usually serves as a transitional job rather than something to which people assign serious career aspirations, those who work in table or counter service restaurants often get an undeserved bad rap. It's a job that builds character and broadens experience, and is a great place to learn the kinds of skills that make you attractive to other kinds of employers.
If you're looking to improve your hospitality, culinary, management, or even performance and math skills, then this is a job for you.
Of course, there's the half of restaurant servers that carry food around on a full-time basis. There are lifers and quasi-lifers who see no reason to do anything besides work at a restaurant, and for many it's a great choice.
The reasons are varied, but it's possible to do. It doesn't pay well and you're probably going to be tired a lot, but if this is your career goal, then one thing's clear: if you're going to wait forever, you better be good at waiting.
The job requires people to be masters of multi-tasking, like managing several orders across several tables at once. You'll need to become knowledgeable about different types of food and beverages—surprisingly, not everyone just serves burgers with Coke—and be able to accurately handle numbers and money.
People skills are even more important than the food skills. Communication's the biggest part of the job, as you'll have to talk (and listen) to customers, kitchen staff, and other servers throughout your shift.
You'll need to be patient and diplomatic, which means smiling and nodding at screaming children (and occasionally adults). Reliability means more than just showing up when you feel like it—miss your shift more than once and you may be off the schedule the next time you look.
Also, you're taking orders all day. It's fairly important you take them correctly. Again, that "listening" thing.
Many of those who work as waiters and waitresses are highly talented, educated, charismatic, and otherwise successful individuals. Circumstances may have brought them to this profession, but they might just keep at it, because it's hard but typically satisfying work.
The money can be really good, jobs are usually plentiful, free food can be a part of the gig, scheduling's more flexible than most places of work, and socializing while working might even be encouraged.
So long as it's not socializing with your BFF via text during an elongated coffee break. People are hungry, please get back to work.
As for the customers, they can be the highlight of your day and the bane of your existence—sometimes in the same person. The hardest part of the job's dealing with snide guests who expect everything as soon as they want it, and as a bonus don't know how to tip.
"The customer's always right" is one of the pillars of food service, but some customers really know how to stretch the definition.
The easiest part of the job? That thick wad of dollar bills making a bulge in your back pocket. This instant cash gratification may be a major reason why this job's so popular—getting less money up front might actually be better than having to wait for your paycheck, especially when the paycheck itself will be rather tiny.
When you've had a good table and they leave a really generous tip, absolutely nothing feels better.
Well, maybe soaking yourself in a tub full of hot water and Epsom salts after a long shift. It's close though.