#SQT: Lessons from Waiting Tables

IMG_0133Well, I decided that I should give a try to Seven Quick Takes again after a very long absence from it. Kelly Mantoan hosts SQT at her blog This Ain’t the Lyceum. You should definitely go over there and check out other Quick Takes.


Last June, I started waiting tables because we needed extra money and a new roof on our house. After more than a year of working again and giving up my weekends, we’ve paid off everything but our main mortgage, paid for plumbing ($3000 worth at Christmas last year!), car repairs, a trip to South Dakota for my husband’s grandmother’s 100th birthday, and (yes) a new roof for our home. I’ve learned some things from my stint working at what most people would call a pretty menial job, and I’m learning some things as I come off of the year-plus of working outside my home.


  1. There is a shocking lack of respect for hard work and the people who perform it. I met some truly sweet people while I was waiting tables, but I also met people who treated me as if I was some kind of peon who didn’t deserve to be treated with dignity. (The best was the person who whistled at me like I was a dog in order to get my attention.) One group I waited on was actually childhood friends with a coworker, and I told her what a jerk the one guy was being. “Funny, he doesn’t ever treat me that way,” she said. I answered, “That’s because to him, you’re a girl he knows, and I’m just a waitress.” There is real dignity in hard work, and the people who perform it are deserving of our respect.
  2. It’s a struggle to love people, especially when they’re different than you. I worked with a lot of different kinds of people: college students, single parents, moms making extra money on the side, professionals who were meeting a financial goal by waiting tables after they got off of work. There were people of various faiths – or none at all. There were people who were easy to get along with and those who seemed like nice people when you could ignore that they didn’t particularly like to work much. And as a Christian, I’m called to love every one of them. Let me tell you, loving the girl who refuses to do her side-work before she bolts out the door at the end of the shift is a lot harder than loving the people you choose to surround yourself with outside of work. Loving the customer who thinks you’re great and treats you like a human being is easier than loving the customer who bosses you around, makes unreasonable demands, and then tips you 5%. I truly struggled with loving people. I could talk a great game before that year of waitressing, but I hadn’t been tested much for a long time. Every shift brought new challenges to the goal of loving my neighbor.img_0247-2
  3. And that’s when you learn to befriend people who wouldn’t fit into your usual social circles. When I first started to work at the restaurant, I was distant. This was really due to several reasons. First, I’m pretty introverted; I have a hard time being friendly off the bat with strangers. (Let’s all bask in the glorious irony that I was waiting tables with this personality trait for a moment, please.) Second, I was thinking of the job as temporary, and I basically wanted to make the money I needed to pay things off and buy a roof and get back to the life I loved. Third, I was purposely not engaging with my coworkers very much because I was using those first two things as excuses. But once I got over myself, I started to befriend people at work and came to really care about them. I still keep them in my prayers, and I think about the things they shared with me and the good times we had at work together. I realized after a while that I had been pretty comfortable keeping to myself in my little bubble, when I am really called to get out of it sometimes and get to know (and love) the rest of the people around me.
  4. It’s harder to keep up your spiritual life when you’re out in the world so much. I have really struggled to keep up my duties as a Lay Dominican since last June. When I was working, my schedule was just off. I was trying to keep up with family life and caring for my family, and I let my prayer life get pushed aside. A lot. I’d miss one or both of Lauds or Vespers. I rarely made daily Mass. I’d miss my Rosary, though I tried to use rolling silverware as a time to pray. But even now, I’m so out of practice when it comes to the rhythm of liturgical life and prayer that I’m struggling to get back to where I was before working. The entire experience of trying to fit in my prayer life while I felt like life was spinning out of control has given me a better appreciation for working parents, and a tremendous respect for people who have the spiritual discipline to get both done.
  5. I actually turned out to be a good waitress. This was a huge surprise. In college, I was a pretty bad waitress. Maybe not bad, but definitely not top-notch. Once I got over the beginning jitters of learning a new menu and computer system, I settled into waiting tables, and I was really good at it. I mean, good enough that I wound up on a couple of weekend nights with a huge section (like 8 tables huge, all 4-tops and a 6-top) because my manager knew I would handle it. (I felt like I might die at times, but I did it. More than once.) I chalked this up to a couple of things. First, I was older. 25 years and two kids make a big difference when it comes to confidence, and I am way more confident than I was in my 20s. When you don’t know exactly who you are, you tend to be a little flaky on multiple levels. I know who I am, and not only that, I’m not really worried a ton about if Joe Shmoe thinks I’m awesome. (Trust me, I’m nice to Joe Shmoe and treat him with respect, but I’m not worried if he doesn’t like who I am.) This is a freeing state of mind, and it allowed me to just be me when I was at the table. I really wasn’t any different on the floor than I was off of it. Another big thing – and this was probably an even bigger factor – was that after homeschooling two kids for 15+ years, I knew how to juggle a bunch of stuff at once. I can multitask like a pro, and I can assess a situation much quicker than I could at 23, when I still struggled to think about glancing at a table to see what was needed when I walked by. Moms know to look at who needs what as you stroll by and just pick it up on the way back. That’s how I treated waiting tables.
  6. You don’t have to be afraid to wear your faith on your sleeve. I’m not talking about evangelizing your tables or coworkers by debating theology with them. I’m talking about just not hiding your faith. When I set up my availability, I made it clear that I couldn’t work Saturday mornings (because of Lay Dominican meetings) or Sunday mornings (because of Mass). I eventually did switch to Sunday lunch shifts, but only if I could come in at noon, giving me time to get to Mass before going to work. Missing church wasn’t an option. When I rolled silverware, I would count out knives in groups of ten, then use the time to pray a Rosary, mainly for my coworkers. When someone would ask what I was doing, I’d just tell them. If someone asked what that meant, I’d explain. I wished people Merry Christmas (and also Happy Hanukkah). I would still cross myself if I heard sirens. I was basically me, just in a restaurant. And no one was ever upset by it.
  7. It’s hard to get back to your old routine after being out of it for a year. I’ve been struggling with anxiety over money and with getting back into my old routine. I’m still struggling to pray morning and evening prayer. I’m struggling to get to my Rosary every day (though I did pretty well in October). And I have to get back to a habit of studying more often. But I’m confident that I’ll get into a routine again. I just keep trying to improve one part of it at a time. And God doesn’t expect me to do it all at once. It’s all about the baby steps.

Photo and text ©2019 Christine Johnson, all rights reserved

What do you have to say?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s