Service with a smile

People tell me serving is an easy job – the kind of job you do while you’re waiting around for a good job to come your way. I do not agree. I have enormous admiration for our servers. Without them, we would be out of business.

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A great server makes the difference between an okay meal and a great experience. Servers have to prioritize on the fly, keep a thousand things in their heads, smile at strangers when they feel like hiding in their rooms, problem solve, compromise, get along with their teammates and boss, and the list goes on. Surviving a busy service takes stamina, good humour, intelligence, and a commitment to great customer service beyond all else.

And on top of that, servers have to know the menu inside-out, negotiate with the cooks when something out of the ordinary is needed, listen to customer stories, and balance their tills. A server has to show up on time, ready to work with the public and ready to deal graciously with kudos and complaints. It is a very tough job. It’s also a portable job, where you can travel all over the world while you make money.

I once knew a man who had been a server all his life in Vancouver and area. He owned a lovely home in West Vancouver, drove a Mercedes, and eventually ended up as director of food services in a prestigious hotel. When I was visiting him, I asked him why he chose food service as a career when he had a business degree and could have chosen something more traditional. He spread his arms wide and simply said, “It’s a great job with great rewards.” He truly loved people and food. The money wasn’t bad either.

Serving was one of the first jobs I ever did. In those days we called it waitressing, and I think I made $1.25 an hour. I worked at a busy truck stop and ice cream stand, and couldn’t wait to get on with my life, into a “real” job. But the lessons I learned slinging BLTs and ice cream sodas stood me in good stead when I finally got that real job my mother wanted me to get (at which I lasted three and a half years before chucking the white collar world).

I learned that while the customer isn’t necessarily always right, the customer is always right. I learned to clean up my own messes. I learned accuracy (or the cook would yell at me), and I learned not to panic when a busload of retirees stops for breakfast and I’m the only one in the building. (Call someone and ask for help. It works better than panicking.) And now I’m back serving good food to interesting people.

I guess the point I am trying to make is that we should all choose careers that makes our souls happy, regardless of our education or the expectations other people have for us. Whether you’re a carpenter or a CEO, whether you have Grade 12 or a graduate degree, if you don’t have a job that rewards you and makes you want to go to work every day, you should rethink your career path.

For many people, creating an atmosphere where people can enjoy good food and drink is a great way to spend their lives. And we love them for it.