This month marks the approximate one year anniversary since I started waiting tables in Dallas. I had never done serving before (even though I had done some customer service and retail work), and to be honest, I’m surprised I made it this long. I think some of my past coworkers would be surprised to know that I made it this long. The turnover rate (for a number of reasons) is very, very high. My job gets intense. My job can get ugly. I think I gained all three of my white hairs since starting this serving job.
Serving is one of those experiences (like college or war) that is hard to describe to people who haven’t experienced it. But there is a mystical comradery among everyone who has worked in a restaurant.
I know the job has affected me (for better or for worse), and I trust that I have affected my work environment and co-workers for good.
Serving has affected me in some very subtle ways. I say “absolutely” so much at work that it becomes natural everywhere else. I have started saying “ya’ll” regularly even though I had held out against that southern convention for some 15 years of living in the south. “Ya’ll” is just the most efficient way to address a group. You cut out a whole syllable of a sentence while still communicating exactly what you need to communicate. And hey, when I’m in a hurry at work, syllables are precious.
Speaking of being in a hurry (and of new language conventions), I have learned a nuanced term that you will probably only know if you work in a restaurant or peruse the urban dictionary just for fun. The term is the word “weeded.” Since I don’t necessarily recommend that you work in a restaurant or peruse the urban dictionary for fun, let me define and describe. Being “weeded” is not referring to drug use in this sense (although that sense is true for some servers). Being “weeded” means you are “in the weeds.” You seem to be in a field full of tall weeds and you can’t really see a way out. The analogy is that sometimes on the serving floor when the restaurant is busy you seem to be overrun with tasks to do and don’t know when it will let up. You hardly have a chance to think because so many things are coming at you and you have so many things to think and do at once. Being weeded stinks. But I think I’ve learned that the way to get yourself out of the weeds is to stay calm, communicate, and keep working. Its when you freak out or shut up that the weeds get the best of you. But when I take a deep breath and ask for help and do the next logical thing for my tables, I can get through the weeds.
Its crazy how its hard to leave work at work, even unconsciously or subconsciously. If I work a lunch shift I will probably be pretty tired when I get home in the late afternoon. My wife has to be patient and let me unwind a little and wake back up. If I work a dinner shift and its relatively busy, I will probably get home at 11 or midnight and lie in bed for an hour unwinding. And then when I fall asleep, I’ll dream work all night. And the next morning I’ll wake up at home feeling weeded. Kinda crazy.
This job has definitely taught me perseverance. I have stuck with a job that can be intense and challenging and does not necessarily match my personality. I think I’ve stuck with it because overall its been the best opportunity and the best situation for my wife and I at this time in life.
How have I affected my work environment and my co-workers? I trust that I’ve modeled a good work ethic (thank you Dad for taking me to work with you when I was a kid) and a positive attitude toward my coworkers and the guests. I always aim to treat my coworkers and guests with respect, and that goes back to my faith in Jesus. As a Christian, I have every reason to be respectful and kind to everyone. I believe that Jesus did a lot of work for me, and I want to imitate His sacrificial work in my day to day work.
This mindset comes in handy when dealing with all kinds of people. We servers like to assume that our guests are going to exemplify what is good in human nature: respect and kindness and generosity. But we don’t always find that. Sometimes we find the bad in human nature: pride and greed and disrespect. And so then we servers (and anyone who deals with people) are supposed to show the good of human nature towards those who are showing the bad of human nature.
That’s a tall order. And there’s always the temptation to give the bad right back to the guest. Sometimes we give in to that temptation. But sometimes we overcome and give good even when we receive bad.
That is the tension of working with people. And is that not the everyday tension of unconditional love? The essence of love is giving good even when bad is deserved.
And come to think of it, I could hardly have spent a year learning anything better.