Food & Drink

9 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Server

server with a lot of arms
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Servers have tough jobs -- not as tough as being Ryan Lochte's spokesperson, but still pretty damn hard. The restaurant industry is rife with challenges most people aren't privy to until they hit the floor during their first dinner rush. For a little hindsight-based wisdom, we spoke with a guy who's been a server at high-end restaurants for the past eight years and has worked in restaurants for the last 15 to hear what he wishes he would've known when he began his career. We're not naming him because he said "his boss would prefer" that he stay anonymous -- you'll see why after reading what he has to say.

Whether you're currently a server, looking to become one, or you just like eating in restaurants, we think you'll learn a thing or two.

The money makes it nearly impossible to walk away from the job

"I wish I would've known the money was almost too good to quit and go do something else. The amount of money you make for the time spent is tremendous. Once you start to get it and it comes easily, it's pretty hard to move on. The industry calls it 'golden handcuffs.' Some people say they're going to work a 9-5, and then all of a sudden they're working twice as much and making 70% less than what they were making in service."

Score a gig at a higher-end place to bank more and work less

"You bust your ass to get into the places where you tend to work less. Because people are eating more slowly and there are less tables to deal with, but the money is better because the price point is higher."

Buy good shoes

"There's a variety of shoes on They're expensive, but you need good support and slip-resistant ones."


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Push yourself to eat and drink new things

"Now that I've been in restaurants for this long, I've drank a ton of whiskey and am well-versed in it. But knowing what I know now, I wouldn't have drank Jack every time I went to a bar. You're in a world where you get access to valuable knowledge that other people don't. A lot of people don't realize how many whiskeys are on a shelf. I wish I would've drank different things as opposed to the same thing. That applies to food, too."

Be generous with booze and you'll be rewarded

"I could never be a warrior like the line cooks. But they're never as rewarded [monetarily] as much as the front of the house. I don't get into conversations with the back of the house -- all I do is go to the bar and buy them drinks. That's my form of tip-out. Because tipping out the kitchen isn't a normal practice, buying the back of the house drinks has helped me out.

"Sometimes in the middle of service, tables will add on something or request something outrageous. And the last thing a server wants to do is modify dishes. People who come in that are picky are the worst people to deal with. The kitchen sees the tickets, and if you have a lot of modifications -- even if it's not your fault, since you're not suggesting them -- there's a stigma associated with that in the eye of the line cook. They're machines, and they have processes to follow. They put out every club sandwich the same way, and then if you have modifications, it messes up their flow. When those special orders come in, I know they're not going to be as mad at me because at least they know the night will end with me buying them a shot of whiskey."

Prioritize! And use checklists.

"It's just a matter of fulfilling your list of things to do. It became easy once you put that into perspective. The first chef I worked for insisted I write everything down. Sometimes things get in the way -- like not having enough POS stations, and you have to run around other people while you're trying to do the things you have to do. But it got easier when I started using checklists."


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Keep your cool

"I've seen co-workers cry at work. When you forget stuff, that's when there's emotional turmoil. And also when people are assholes. It gets easier over time. One of the most important things my manager told me early on was, 'You're not saving lives, you're serving food.' I've always been under the mentality of 'this is gonna be fine.' Sure, the job can be bothersome, but I don't mind being in the weeds because I know that service is going to be done eventually."

Practice acceptance… and a good poker face

"I can look assholes in the eye when they're being assholes. I can accept the treatment, but not project any anger or judgment. I can say, 'Yes. OK.' in that situation. 'Yes' is not the easiest thing to say when someone's being like that to you. And in my mind, I'm really angry, but it's not at all evident up front. There's a lot of acceptance in this position because we're at the mercy of stuff like Yelp and customers who don't even say anything while they're there. That's a skill that more recently has become more important -- you don't know when your actions can come back and hurt you."

If you're in a bad mood, work harder… or just drink

"I'm a gregarious guy. I can push my feelings down when I'm at work. I've had a couple of bad days, and it's better whenever you're busy because you get into character. You get into that flow. Hope that you're busy! Or find that place in the back of your head where you put everything away, and then sneak a nip of something and go about your day. That helps too."

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Lee Breslouer is a senior writer for Thrillist, and wonders how many servers drank this morning. Follow him to flasks @LeeBreslouer.