Authors always hear “write what you know” though the reality is we also do a lot of research and also write about things we only know because we looked them up. I’m fond of listening to people talk about their jobs, especially jobs I’ve never done and/or never will. It doesn’t matter if someone works for NASA or at the corner bar, everyone has stories and the little details can be fascinating, intriguing, or just downright funny. It’s like taking a step out of your own daily drudgery to experience someone else’s life.
That being said, I’m going to tell you what it’s like to be a server and bartender, which I’ve been for the past eight (nearly nine) years. I know, you guys thought I was living off the millions of dollars I make writing, but I’m not! Bonus: if you’re currently writing a story about the service industry, you can ask me questions. I see a lot of waitresses in books. Sookie Stackhouse, anyone? Maybe a lot of other authors have toiled in restaurants…
First of all, let me preface by saying I love my job. I work in a lounge now instead of a restaurant so I only bartend, but I served exclusively a lot. I know being a waitress is usually depicted as misery and being at the bottom of the food chain, but I enjoyed being a server (for some reason calling us ‘waiters’ and ‘waitresses’ is considered somewhat un-PC now, but I use the terms interchangeably). I love my coworkers because we’re like a family, I like what I do, I like (most) of my guests, and I like taking home money every night instead of waiting for a paycheck.
Here’s some things you might not know about working in a bar/restaurant:
– Servers have a unique set of slang that is potentially confusing for anyone who hasn’t been in a professional kitchen before. Terms like 86, all day, weeded, on the fly, being cut, sat, and wearing, mean different things than they do in everyday life (being cut is actually a good thing for a server). Also, each restaurant has additional slang for things that are specific to that place.
– You can never plan your life around your schedule when you work in the service industry. Most of us don’t have set times we get out of work. Additionally, some days we may work 2 hours and some days 12, without knowing ahead of time.
– You can’t budget either, because you have no set amount of money you make. You do a lot of instinctive budgeting and mostly, praying.
– No two days are the same. I always loved that about the job, though. Your station, work, customers, and level of business changes every single shift. It’s never boring.
– You have to grow a thick skin, and quick, or you won’t stay around long in a restaurant. Customers and even your coworkers can be volatile and unpredictable. Your coworkers most definitely will have filthy mouths and crude, potentially offensive, senses of humor. Eventually, you will turn into one of them.
– There are tons of creative people in the service industry, because of the flexible hours and potential for making money. There’s also lots of alcoholics and drug addicts. And gay people.
– Being a server teaches you some unexpected skills. After eight years I have a memory as sharp as a tack (I almost never write anything down), I’m a master multitask-er (you have to be when you’re waiting on 20 people at once), and I have amazing balance and can carry multiple plates and glasses in ways that defy physics. I also have arms of steel from lifting trays, buckets of ice, and chafing dishes filled with gallons of water. I have great legs too, because I do so much walking! It’s an extremely physical job.
– I also have lots of lulls and downtime to plot stories.
– Bar fights and rude customers aren’t as prevalent as fiction would have you believe. These things happen rarely (at least to me) and when you’ve been serving for a while, you even know how to handle it (or you call security).
Does this mean I’m going to write a novel about a waitress because I know the industry inside and out? Well….maybe.
What about you? What’s your job like and would you ever create a character that has it (or you already have)?