Spotlight On: Served

Once upon a time, before I became what some people would call "gainfully employed," I worked as a waitress. I wasn't sure what to think about it, because I'm not exaaactly a people person, I'm not toootally graceful, and I'd been cautioned against it by friends who complained loudly and often about sore feet, abusive customers, and irate managers. But, despite my initial misgivings, surprisingly, delightfully, I loved it. I'm not sure what was so fun about it. Partly, I think, it had to do with working in a college pub right around its much-anticipated debut, but I was also pleasantly pleased to discover that I really enjoyed talking with customers, giving great service, and forming bonds with my other servers, the kitchen staff, and the bartenders (I eventually got some experience with all three). While I love my job and realize that my parents would moider me if I went back to waitressing (an occupation in which I could repay my college bill in, likely, 15 years), I often rhapsodize about my time in the restaurant biz and miss it with astonishing ferocity (some day I will have to devote a whole post to the lessons I learned there).

Perhaps for this reason I am completely hooked on "Served," a weekly column by food writer and waitress Hannah Howard. When most waiters write--especially if they live in New York--they tend to focus on the juicy gossip: the celebrity sitings, the incompetent rookies, the drunks and bad tippers. While there's a time and a place for the juicy stuff (I had flashes of empathy while reading Steve Dublanica's Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip), part of what's so appealing about Hannah's column is her earnest and straightforward assessment of her waiting life.

She deals with all the normal things, the weird customers (like the the guy who asked to take her picture and mentioned he had an apartment above her restaurant and she should check it out), the awkward tip moment (I too have experienced the heartbreaking wonder of whether my customers had purposely tipped me 2%), and the requirement to be friendly and chipper despite throbbing feet and general abuse. But she also muses on her future in the business, whether she should take the financial risks of running her own place and how the industry is weathering the current economic crisis. In a world where most people rarely think about their servers, except in terms of how fast they refill water glasses, she offers a refreshing point of view on the complex life of a waiter.

In her most recent post, one of the commenters said "I like your stories. I like that things just happen without a neat little resolution. Kinda like life," and it's true! While other bloggers try to punch up their lives with gratuitous Sex and the City-style confessions (see: 95% of women's "lifestyle" blogs), Served takes a more thoughtful, diary-like perspective. I think it works. The content is so interesting--to me, a former waitress, anyway--that she doesn't really need to lay on the intrigue.

Now that New York restaurants are reeling from the financial collapse, which effectively emptied the pockets of some of their best and most lucrative customers, it's interesting to see how a young waitress with aspirations of staying in the industry navigates this new landscape. Hannah, a brand-new college graduate, is, like many college graduates, still looking for a job, hopefully as a waitress. Even if she's forced to find something else, I've got to think, as I reminisce about fantastic tips and my hilarious fellow servers, that she'll come to find once a waitress, always a waitress.

Some posts to check out:
New York Is Not the Only Place for a Restaurant -- Hannah travels to her parents' house in the country, sees pretty restaurants
The Ballsy Waitress -- what to do when a table leaves a suspiciously low tip
Recession Waitressing -- how the recession is affecting waitressing
The Perfect Waiter -- tips learned from waiting tables
Front of the House vs. Back of the House -- the positives and negatives of working the tables or the kitchen

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