Full-Time Student, Part-Time Server

A server working at a diner in Chelsea.

George Campbell is a CAS sophomore studying Journalism and Psychology. He’s worked in many restaurants and shares what he’s learned at each.

When you sit down to order food at a restaurant, an invisible machine fires up. Waiters exchange pleasantries and relay your order to the cooks, cooks add your order to their to-do list, bussers run your food to you and clean up when you leave, and hosts keep track of who is sitting where. Multiply that by, say, 20 tables in a restaurant and repeat the process for eight hours straight without making a mistake. Sound stressful?

Life in the restaurant industry is unpredictable. Sometimes customers are rude, sometimes coworkers don’t do their jobs and sometimes the restaurant just breaks down. Regardless, I love the industry and it has shaped me into the person I am today.

The first restaurant job I got was working as a cook making salads and appetizers. About two months in during a busy Saturday night, I completely ran out of lettuce. Since more than half of my job revolved around manipulating and dressing lettuce, I freaked out. I went to the general manager with my tail between my legs to deliver the news, expecting to be fired on the spot. Instead, he laughed, assured me it wasn’t my fault, and instructed the wait staff to “86 lettuce,” that is, declare that an item is out of stock for the night.

Enter life lesson number one: ask for help when you need to.

While my first main lesson came from a place of love, my second did not. In June 2017, I walked into a job interview at an upscale restaurant on the coast of Lake Washington. Within the first 10 minutes, I knew something was off about the place. My soon-to-be-boss, when asked about what my tip payout was going to be, responded with something along the lines of: “whatever those money-grubbing whores will leave you,” referring to his own waitstaff, which was comprised entirely of women. I should have walked out right then, but I stayed. I stayed through taunts, I stayed though 14-hour shifts that were supposed to be six and I stayed even when I and everyone else in that restaurant was miserable. Finally, a few months in, I’d had enough and quit in the middle of my shift.

Enter life lesson number two: don’t stay at a job you hate. It’s not worth being miserable and a bad boss doesn’t deserve your loyalty.

Surprisingly, despite the high-stress reputation of New York City restaurants, I’ve had a fun time working in the city, at least for the most part. Last semester I worked as a server at a new burger bar in the East Village, and it was great. My coworkers were nice, the money was good and most importantly, I’d learned when to say no to a shift when I didn’t have the time. I no longer work there, but I still check in on the place when I pass by.

Enter my final life lesson: life is chaotic, plain and simple.

An organized chaos maybe, but chaos nonetheless and if there’s one thing that the restaurant industry has taught me, it’s how to work within chaos. I’ll never forget those lessons, no matter how far I stray from serving food.

If you’re ever looking for some extra income, I highly recommend considering a restaurant job. It’ll be stressful, but you’ll meet interesting people and come out of it with some great stories. If you don’t end up working in the industry, at least tip your server.

Nowadays when I’m eating in a restaurant, I can’t help spying on the staff and seeing what kind of madness they’re dealing with that night. Like Pavlov’s dog, I too subconsciously respond to the calls of the kitchen before realizing that I’m not on the clock and that I should probably pay attention to my friends, rather than the customers.

Read more from Washington Square News’ “Food Consumes Us.” Email George Campbell at [email protected]

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1 COMMENT

  1. This article is amazing! I really like how you delved into the life lessons that come out of working in a restaurant! Most people believe that it’s just any other kind of job, but although this job can be extremely unpredictable and chaotic, I truly do believe the experiences that come out of it are one of a kind. Thanks for letting me remind myself this, although there are tough shifts!

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