What waitressing taught me that college didn’t

For six years, I served, hosted, and day-managed a corporate restaurant that came to be less like work and just like home. All of us, from hosts to line cooks to servers, shared our food and our lives with one another. After I finally graduated college, I sadly quit my favorite job in February 2015 and moved to the other side of the planet to begin teaching at a Chinese pre-school for the most precious babies you’ve ever seen. Despite my new job requirements, my server’s approach to the workday has yet to fade. What I learned during my six-year stint as a slave to the front-of-house has only proven to be a priceless set of life-skills I didn’t have to pay for (unlike my English degree). I now know how best to interact with exhausted parents, crying children, and self-important older women, and I know how to better encourage the invisible, invaluable people that make a business into a bonafide machine. This is my earned wisdom, and I have no doubt that it will help me live and work a little better. Maybe one day, if I’m lucky, it’ll even earn me a promotion – which is why I’m now sharing it with you.

Always remember that it takes hourly workers AND servers to make the business run smoothly

Whether it’s your early-morning prep cooks, your dishwasher, or even the guy who comes in once a month to fix the ice machine, say hello to them every day, learn what they like for snacks, and listen to their stories. They’re living in the same world as you, but they have different life experiences to share. Bring them their favorite treat every once in a while and spend some downtime together, learning from their wisdom.

Whenever possible, share your food with your coworkers

You never know whose mood might improve just because they were “hangry,” and it will win you some workplace gossip and a loyal confidante in the process. Not to mention, their tables might want to thank you for their server’s sudden change in attitude.

Bosses will almost always be good to you if you’re good to them

How do you convince your boss to join your team? No, not with butt kissing – that’ll only hurt your chances. What you can do is practice common decency: be on time, clean up your messes, and help your teammates with the heavy lifting.

On the other hand, every boss has a bad side on an ugly day

It is never your responsibility to fix someone else’s crappy day, so instead, tell them their hair looks good, lay low, and steer clear. If at all possible, subtly play them their favorite song at the rolling station after you close the shift.

Every day, exercise your right to imagination

Decorate your server book, wear your hair the way you want it, make your approach your own. Not only will this make you feel more comfortable and fulfilled, but others – customers and coworkers alike – will take notice. Some will take a cue from you. Some will request you, or leave you a wad of cash. Whatever the outcome, your actions will soon earn you a more appreciative, vibrant crew, and all will be happier for it.

The more regulars you have, the higher your quality of life

Whether you give out free chips or leave thank you notes on your receipts, your random acts of kindness could not only earn you perks like free smoothies, movie passes, and oil changes, but can gently incite more reciprocal goodness in the world.

No matter what anyone says, the customer isn’t always right

But if they think you think they’re right, you ain’t gonna have as many problems. Bitch in the back to coworkers who know what’s up, and only ever smile out front. Smile even if it hurts, because in the end, customers are the ones who can make or break the place. On the other hand, only keep smiling unless someone is trying to belittle you. If you feel as if the customer, a coworker, or anyone is trying to demean your self-worth, talk back. A burned bun is no reason to insult someone. Take up for yourself, and exercise classy cool. If you don’t, or if you approach the situation in unleashed anger, you’ll regret it for way longer than it took to happen.

When you’re in the weeds, never be afraid to ask for help

A little help goes a long way in all areas, especially stress management, and asking for it both humanizes you and makes you accessible.

Remember, you’ve gotta shovel some dirt before you find the gold

Whether it’s getting to know a new colleague over rolling silverware, totally geeking out over the new “Game of Thrones” with your boss after offering to stay until close, or discovering the serenity after the dinner rush on a Sunday night shift pick-up, take a chance on the bad stuff every once in a while. Sometimes it leads to rare character-building moments or, better yet, free shift drinks.

And last, but certainly not least, tip well

No kidding. It will make the world of difference to people who depend on it to pay their bills.

Edy Dingus is a proud big sister from the American South living and teaching in China. While abroad, she and her boyfriend spend too much on cheese and travel accessories and discuss what their family, friends, and two dogs might be doing back in the States. You can read more about her journey at thiszhonguolife.wordpress.com.

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