Searching for a “big kid” job is no joke. As an ambitious twenty-something finishing my BA in Fashion Studies, I’m faced with a myriad of options that leave my head spinning. Do I go into sales because I’m good at it, although it drains my energy? Do I try marketing because I find it interesting, although I have no experience? Am I more concerned with my salary, or my company’s values? Can I get my freelance business off the ground? Or do I just move home and become a nanny for my niece?
Currently I’m a server and bartender. At 15, my first job was to portion frozen appetizers in a restaurant. I worked there for four years, doing everything from food prep and dish-washing, to hosting and serving. I averaged 20-30 hours a week, and loved almost every minute. I didn’t leave until entering my sophomore year of college, when I started to climb the retail ladder at a corporate flagship on Michigan Avenue. I joined retail because I knew I’d need the experience, but my commitment to work was distracting me from studying. With a few months of undergrad left, I decided to go back to restaurants until I found that “big kid” job.
I’ve been serving again for almost ten months now, and three years away had felt like three weeks. I’m so happy in this environment. I can leave work at work, and my schedule is flexible as can be. I walk away with cash every day, and I get free or discounted food and drink. There’s a camaraderie in the service industry that I don’t think exists of this caliber in other fields. We work our asses off, yet the only competition is who gets the best section on a busy night. And when I clock out, I can immediately sit down and have a beer. What could be better?
I’ve had coworkers with college degrees who chose to become “lifers” instead. I’ve thought about it – but then my stepdad’s voice pops into my head. He was a longtime bartender and loved the industry just as much as I do. Growing up, he always told me, “Don’t get caught up in the tips. You will no doubt make more serving your first few years out of college, but you can’t give up on what you really want”. That’s stuck with me, and I know he’s right.
As I establish my career, I still won’t leave my restaurant. I’ll go down to one shift a week, but I love it and it keeps me humbled. That first job is where I really came into my own and learned a lot about myself. It’s set the stage for the rest of my work. Serving has helped me with everything from building clientel and event planning, to negotiation, and even sales projection. Maybe it’s the nostalgia that gets me, or maybe it’s the cash… Either way, I will probably always spend my Saturday nights asking, “What can I get you to drink?”