Over summer, I did a month long waitressing stint at a certain sweet and wild all-day breakfast place. These are just 7 lessons I learnt about life/myself while waitressing.
1. Always say sorry. Always.
And doing it with a pained-smile (there is a knack to achieving this ‘oh gosh I’m SO sorry’ while-still-being-friendly look) doesn’t hurt. Even if it’s not your fault (it probably wasn’t). Most times, people will become nicer about it when you say sorry. I learnt the hard way, from getting told off by my manager, not to argue with guests. Sometimes, you just have to swallow your pride and apologise.
Once someone asked me ‘do you serve anything for dinner?’ and I had to apologise and tell him no when really I meant ‘sorry we’re only like one of Singapore’s most famous All-Day Breakfast places, you don’t know how to research before you make a reservation?’
I had dinner with my parents’ friends during my time waitressing (one is a GP and the other an Orthopaedic Surgeon), and while sharing some traumatic/exhilarating stories from work, both told me that being able to say sorry was a very important skill for a doctor.
2. Fake it until you make it
Most of the wait-staff who greet you with a smile and a bright, cheerful voice are faking it. Let me assure you, we have been on our feet for the past 5 hours, only sitting when we go to the bathroom (or occasionally, fake the need to go just to have a breakdown in the cubicle), we’re starving, we’ve been carrying plates and wiping cutlery, rushing around. But, when guests respond in equally friendly tones, then it becomes that bit better. Seriously, especially for Singaporeans. I can’t stress this enough. Just smiling and being patient with your waitress makes her day that much better. I mean, you guys already don’t tip. I loved serving tables with friendly people, and would be much more inclined to go the extra mile for them.
I think even in my hospital attachments (gotta make this relevant to my blog theme, yknow), I saw how doctors need to always maintain the warmth in their tone for every patient. Just because they ended up coming in at the end of the day, they don’t deserve to be on the receiving end of you having had a stressful and hectic day.
3. People will look down on you because of your job
I’ve taken orders in which the guests didn’t look me once in the eye, where I was shouted at, where people don’t say thank you. Most times, people assume you’re doing the job because you’re broke/uneducated and have no other option. They talk down to you and treat you like dirt. I must admit this was a hard one to deal with, but for the wrong reasons. I resented how they perceived me because ‘hey I’m going to uni!! To medical school! In London!!!!’ but then I realised – I wanted to be perceived in a certain worldly ‘successful’ light. When it didn’t matter. These were people I would never see again. When these people are ignorant fool-of-a-Took’s who judge people based on their jobs.
Whenever a guest found out I was a soon-to-be-med-student you could see their opinion of me change just like that. I (this is hard/scary to admit on some place so public, possibly read by people I barely know) both loved and resented that. There’s a certain amount of validation, of being seen as ‘elite’. And I thank God that this an area He is pruning away at. Because we are all equal in His eyes. I am no better (intrinsically) than someone else just because I’m more educated or have more money, and if I ever ever think so, I’m just as ignorant as those Fool-of-a-Took’s.
I worked with a different bunch of people, who were all doing their job for various reasons. And they were amazing, fun, crazy, wonderful people. We were all in it together and sometimes a silly face or smile from them really made it all worthwhile.
Plato summed it best when he said “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
4. Once a waitress, always a waitress
My friend who waitressed for a few months after her A’s linked me to this thoughtcatalog article when I just started mine, and this point really stuck with me.
“5. The difference between the people who have never worked in food service, and the people who have, is always clearly visible. And a lot of time it has to do with the basic degree of respect they give to the people who are serving them.”
I only did it for a month, and I might not have loved it every single moment, but I still identify with waitresses/waiters. My friend C (also once a waitress but now a law student) and I tipped our waitress a huge tip the other day, just because she was running the whole floor practically by herself and was obviously tired and worn-out, but still was always (sincerely, I think) warm towards us, and went out of her way to give excellent service.
5. When you’re hungry, you’ll eat anything
There is absolutely NO shame in scoffing down whatever rejected perfectly-edible plate of food ends up at the back of the house and you stand there eating with your fingers, not even knowing which bites were taken by who. You just eat. And you’re secretly grateful you screwed up the order because now, there’s food.
6. There is such satisfaction to seeing things through and doing them well
Growing up, I never really stuck to anything and tended to quit halfway. Before I started waitressing, 3 of my closest friends (+ some family members, can i add!!!) told me they really didn’t think I would last long. WELL, IN YOUR FACE. I think I should have made a bet with them. And people who think ‘it’s just taking people’s food orders’ can go fly a kite. Don’t know, don’t talk.
I was talking to Nic the other day when she came down to London, and we both laughed at how much time we spent just talking about our days at the same restaurant, and how we shared the same favourite colleagues. I think she said something like ‘I know it’s ‘just waitressing’ but I just really hated working with people who didn’t take their job seriously.’
I used to dream about working and having table after table shouting at me and that I was spilling things on people, and screwing up orders. I think it made me a bit mental. Just a bit!
Do the little things well 🙂 Like folding 50000000000 napkins and wiping never ending boxes of cutlery.
7. People can be really dumb. I mean really really dumb.
see above video
-shows me small picture of sandwich with the fillings barely visible which her friend ate when we have 8 different kinds of sandwiches-
‘what’s this? I want this one’
‘do you know what’s in it?’
‘no, that’s why I’m asking you? Shouldn’t you know?’
-bartender gives me two lattes and says ‘two lattes for table 14’-
me: hello, I have two lattes for you here!
girl: but mine is skinny! It’s very very important I get the skinny one. Can you go back and ask please?
-bartender randomly picks one and tells me to tell them that’s the skinny one-
‘I’m having a headache because it’s too dark, can you please turn up the lights?’
“sorry miss, we can’t turn up the lights here without turning up the rest, so unfortunately we can’t make your area brighter”
-her friend offers to exchange seats with her but nope she chooses to sulk-
‘can we have this table instead’
‘alright, let me just check with the hostess first because we may have reservations…’
-turns around and those people have moved by themselves already-
I could go on and on….
But the worst are people who come in 5 minutes before the kitchen closes and promise they’ll eat really quickly but NO, THEY DON’T. THEY SIT THERE EVEN WHEN ALL THE LIGHTS ARE ON AND THE CLOSING SONG HAS PLAYED. Be kind to your servers, we still have to clean your table, mop up and sweep the place and every minute you stay is a minute later we go home.
I guess I really still am passionate about waitressing.
(add that to my list of alternative jobs if this whole being a doctor thing doesn’t work out :D)
I hope to be back with a good fat update on school so far, soon!