A few months back, as I was formulating my summer plans, I found myself dreaming up my perfect summer job. In an ideal world, I’d be spending my free time in a job that paid well, where I could exercise my creative side and serve as a mentor and maybe rack up a few bonuses along the way.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world, and this summer I’m working at an Italian restaurant in my town. It’s not a perfect gig, but an adventurer always looks on the bright side, in hopes of finding something interesting in the most banal situations. After further meditation and a lot of optimism, my waitressing job doesn’t seem too far from the perfect occupation I was dreaming of.
Let’s start with the money. I get paid hourly plus tips, which are split between the counter staff and kitchen staff. Depending on the night, we can each walk out with anywhere between five and twenty dollars in our pocket. (Hey Macklemore, wanna go thrift shopping?) I’ve devoted a great deal of time on the job to studying the psychology of the tip jar. People are more inclined to tip if the jar is already full, and less likely to do so if they get larger bills back in change.
The best way to get a good tip, of course, is to connect with the customer on a personal level. This requires a special type of adventuring—into their minds. This also requires an ungodly amount of cheerfulness. First, you find something in common; then, you comment on it in the most adorable way possible. “Is that a Shakespeare quote on your T-shirt? I love Othello!” “Is that Stephen with a P-H? And can I call you Stephe?” I’ve made silly faces at cute babies. I’ve shot the breeze with an old high school teacher about the Newton North High School baseball season. I have done shameless things, and they have all paid off handsomely.
Connecting with customers has a two-fold effect. As an aspiring writer, I have a dreadful affliction where everyone I meet has the potential to transform into a fictional character. (If you’ve met me and think this doesn’t apply to you, you are definitely wrong.) A lot of the people I meet on the job have inspired some great stories, and I’ve been known to wax poetic on the back of receipt paper, just like J.K. Rowling. It keeps my brain from rotting on slow nights, and the ideas that stem from work aren’t half bad. On another note, if anyone knows a literary agent looking for a breakthrough young adult novel about the menial life of suburban teenagers, please let me know.
Then there’s the mentorship side. Most of my coworkers are at least a year my junior, so I usually find myself working the counter with someone younger. Down time is the perfect time to chat and pass on advice to the young’uns. From pointers about the job to life lessons, I like to think of myself as a wealth of wisdom, even if my advice tends to be somewhat half-baked or potentially misguiding (on high school: “in two years, nobody is going to care, so it’s best to stop caring now”). To paraphrase a quote from Patrick Star, I am the best bad influence ever.
And as far as bonuses go, it doesn’t get much better than free garlic bread. That stuff is like the sweet ambrosia of the gods.
If you’re like me and your summer plans didn’t shake out quite like you planned, try to make the best of it. A wise man once said “All you have to do is look hard enough, and what might seem to be a series of unfortunate events may, in fact, be the first steps of a journey.”
And if it’s not, maybe you’ll get some free food out of it.