I worked as a waitress the summer after my freshman year of college. It was an easy way to earn a little cash before going back to student loans in the fall. Being a waitress isn’t for everyone, and when you tell people you’re a waitress, oftentimes people feel obligated to tell you, “I could never do that job.”
Maybe it’s the idea of serving another person with a smile no matter what rude comment they just said to you, maybe it’s walking 10 miles a day in circles or it could be the unappetizing idea of scraping leftover food off of other people’s plates, but some people just aren’t cut out for the job.
I, on the other hand, was good at being a waitress. Not to sound too high and mighty, but I owned that restaurant floor in Minnesota. I strutted around with pride, knowing that all my tables were happy and no one needed their drink refilled.
There was a shared joke amongst the staff that by the time one of my tables paid their tab, I would know their cat’s name. I love talking to people, getting to know their life story and waitressing was pretty much the perfect avenue for getting to know a stranger in a normal-human-interaction-I’m-not-creepy sort of way.
After a summer of serving, I was ready to go back to college and start dreaming of bigger and better life goals. I ended up working as a corporate finance intern with Nestle the next summer, held an investment internship at UBS Financial the following summer and by the time I graduated college, I had earned a position working in J.P. Morgan’s prestigious Private Bank. All was going right in the world, I was working my way up the corporate ladder of life with a smile on my face and cash in my pocket.
Until, I wasn’t. Until, I stopped believing in a corporate ladder and started caring more about my own happiness than being a cog in an economic system that would happily keep churning with or without me.
I have now been traveling, volunteering, and working my way across the world for over two years. And guess where I am working now? I am a waitress once again, this time in New Zealand.
Serving in New Zealand is a whole different experience than in the United States. The U.S. federal minimum wage for workers earning tips is a whopping $2.13 an hour. Which means, a server’s livelihood depends on tips. In the U.S,. it is customary to tip anywhere between 18%-25% of the total bill. Traditionally, New Zealanders do not tip servers. There is a deep seeded belief that tipping reduces a person’s self worth and results in an unfair balance of power between the server and the customer. That said, New Zealand does pay servers a living wage of $16 / hour.
I still don’t know what I’m going to do with myself when the traveling ends and I find myself “settling down” but I do know it will have something to do with food. I’ve spent most of the past two years working alongside farmers, experiencing first hand the blood, sweat and tears that go into each perfectly prepared meal that I am now serving customers. Food not only sustains our body, but it sustains our soul – it brings us together to laugh, love and eat!