October 13, 2016

What Being a Server has Taught Me: 5 Lessons in Hospitality.

ElephantJournal-Maria Ermides


When I completed a journalism degree, most folks naturally assumed I’d pursue a career in journalism. I did things a little differently and opened up a café with my brother.

As most hopeful post-grads, I told myself that the whole hospitality thing was temporary, and that I was just helping out for a while. Four years later, I’m still at the café and even though it’s not the career I dreamed of, it has taught me a lot about people and a lot about myself.

So I write this article, my first in many years, in hope that I can inspire others in a similar place to look beyond their surroundings.

For a long time, I resented working for my brother and working in hospitality. When my dad later joined in, we became the “cute” Greek family café, and there was little separating me and the character Toula in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

There were many days when, like Toula, I would look out into suburbia and wonder to myself if this was really all that there was for me.

There were many days when I felt like I was supporting someone else’s dream, and not actively pursuing my own.

There were many days when, dealing with my own mental health issues, I would struggle to perform the simple act of smiling and asking, “Hi, what can get I you.”

The older I got and the less relevant job experience I had in journalism, the further away the possibility of moving away from the café seemed. I had gotten so comfortable serving, cooking, cleaning and making coffee that I forgot I liked to write. And working six days a week, seeing similar faces almost every day, I began to fear that I was being type-casted. I wondered, “Do they think that this is all I do?”

Many personal break downs later, two big trips overseas, I still returned to the café. I even swore to myself that I wouldn’t be back after my most recent stint, but yet again I found myself in that comfortable nook. Regular customers asked me questions about my future plans, and I winced while forcing myself to come up with illusive answers, as though I knew where this was all going. I dreaded being judged, or having regular customers mirror what I was already feeling—that, yes, I was still here.

Before you assume my brother’s café is hell on earth, and I’m merely a dish wench who slaves for her family’s dream, I’ll set the record straight. I work in a lovely area, where aside from the occasional customer who will complain about coffee temperature, the people are extremely friendly. I get along with my brother ridiculously well, and he’s the only boss, I”m sure, who would let me take time off to figure out the angst in my endless millennial struggle. If this article is starting to sound moslty positive, it’s because I’ve come to realise a few things that I hope to pass on to my fellow hospitality workers with a side hustle. 

1) No one is judging you. 

Everything you feel about yourself reflects outwardly, so be calm and confident in your situation and you won’t feel the need to get defensive about it. And If ever you feel judged, remember that it’s fleeting and that customers are more likely to care about their coffee order than what you plan to do with the rest of your life. Don’t take it all so seriously and remember that nothing is personal.

2) Be interested.

I’ve had many off days where I simply couldn’t be bothered having a conversation until someone would catch me off guard and I would forget why I was even in a bad mood. You may wonder if they even care about the person you are, but do you care enough to know about them? Ask questions and you will be amazed about how someone seemingly ordinary could have lived an extraordinary life. Plus, if you’re a creative person, then you may find an interesting subject for an article or screen play.

3) Respect the work.

Sure, you may be cleaning up after people, but how you do even a menial task says a lot about your character. If you allow yourself to be consumed by negativity, you will project that on to everyone else around you, who. for the most part, are just trying to get on with their day. Maybe your aspiration in life isn’t to be the best wiper of tables, but you will be amazed by how memorable you can be by simply having a good attitude.

4) Work after work.

The willingness you have to move into your desired profession will show in the hours after you finish work and are too tired to even stand. If you can spend even half an hour each day doing something that inspires and interests you, then hospitality will feel a whole lot less stifling. True passion isn’t something you find the time to do, it’s something you make the time for.

5) Let you define you.

I don’t know about you, but the most memorable people for me are the ones who are totally confident in themselves. These are the kinds of people who can do their job well, but are so clearly not defined by what they do. This type of self-assurance stems from a place of knowing that even though your job title is server, you are by no means any one’s servant. It isn’t an easy task, but it’s important to change our perception of ourselves first, so we can decide how others will perceive us.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times where I don’t love to see the same people and do the same tasks day after day. But if I allow myself to stay grounded and look at my surroundings as just my present situation, and not agonise about what my future will look like, then that’s all I ever have to really do.

Realise, fellow hospitality buddy, that you are doing the best you can with what you have. Perhaps it doesn’t look like you thought it would, but I promise if you have a little faith then one day it will. And for those of you that have never served a plate of food or a drink in your life, pay attention to your server for one day—they may be the author of your favourite best-selling book.




Author: Maria Ermides

Images: Author’s Own, Video Still

Editor: Travis May

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