Waiters don’t think it’s funny when you pronounce “We hated it!” facetiously when we clear your finished plates. Anyone who waits tables has already heard this joke over a million times since at least one third of the restaurant population uses it routinely. Even though we bear witness to the joke bombing at tables nightly, we’ll do our best to laugh along and patronize you–because that’s what we are paid to do–but mostly we just wish you’d thank us for clearing the plates. Most waitstaff appreciate having guests with a good sense of humor, just find something aside from the dirty plates we have to bus for you to joke about.
The archetype of the struggling actor/waiter has become almost obsolete. As waiters we still often struggle to excel outside of our hospitality jobs, but we’re not all actors anymore. The flexibility of restaurant work continues to attract artistic people, but, increasingly, the demographics within our ranks have changed and so has the nature of the job. We are now more educated; most of us have college degrees many on the graduate level or are post-baccalaureate candidates.
Today’s restaurant work is much more demanding than in eras past and hiring has become more rigorous. The level of knowledge and commitment that is expected of you in fine-dining restaurants makes it difficult for transients to make the cut. There was a time that you could get by on good looks and competent presentation skills. Now, you’re expected to master wine like a sommelier and menu with the expertise of a chef.
Part time restaurant work is less prevalent. Restauranteurs prefer hiring candidates with more stability, making the actor-types less attractive. Some restaurant jobs require even entry-level staff to work over 50 hours a week. In exchange for this commitment, salaries and benefits for tipped employees are becoming more prevalent in fine-dining as restaurateurs work to counteract turnover and encourage a more stable workforce. The result is that the hospitality industry is becoming more and more legitimate as a career and less the gypsy-like existence that has defined it in the past. The service sector is one of the largest growing segments in an otherwise sluggish economy and, particularly in fine-dining, there often aren’t enough qualified applicants to fill the demand for skilled labor.
Respect for our line of work, however, has a long way to go to catch up. There will always be a prejudice against those of us who don aprons—that our decision to serve others is borne out of desperation or short-term opportunism rather than long-term vision or career-mindedness. Does anyone ever ask you at your office job what else you do on the side? That’s funny because we probably make more money than you and people ask us that all the time.