I don’t eat burgers, but this summer I am working at a burger joint. The irony of this is a small price to pay for the sake of earning my own money and having the experience of being a waitress, which thus far has taught me how to deal with frustrated customers, split tips and mop a floor — and, ultimately, how to be an adult.
This is my first job, and so far I feel as though I’ve made more mistakes at work than I have doing anything else in life. The other day a customer asked me if we had a “white Russian,” and I looked at him, confused, wondering if he was referring to one of the beautifully blond waitresses I work with.
The first time I was responsible for calculating our tips at the end of the night, I ended up over-counting by about $100, a mathematical feat I am unsure how I finessed.
My first night as a hostess, a girl who was maybe 6 years old came in with her family and asked how long the wait would be. I told her I didn’t know, but added, “I think they’ll probably eat more quickly if you go over there and tell them to hurry up.” She actually did this, and her parents had to carry her out of the restaurant.
When I was younger, I wanted to be either a chipmunk or a waitress when I grew up. Either would lead to the life of glamour and excitement I wanted. By the time I applied for my job as a waitress, my aspirations had shifted from chipmunk and waitress to other, less exciting professions (writer or professor, for example). Because I need the money and because I wanted to know what would be like to be the waitress begrudgingly serving late-night customers last drinks three minutes before closing time, I applied for the job.
I was so excited about coming in for an interview, I forgot to ask how much money I would be making. By my second night of training, I had gotten an answer from my manager. I spent that evening in the basement, washing dishes and listening to bad oldies music for hours. As I washed, I calculated how much money I was making for every dish I washed (less than a dollar each). I reflected on how hard I had to work to earn just a little bit of money. Every time I have gone out to eat since that night, I have sent a silent “thank you” to the people behind the scenes, washing the dishes and sweeping the floors. My empathy, respect and admiration for them have all increased tremendously now that I understand what it takes to do what they do.
I don’t plan to waitress forever — a fate I wouldn’t wish upon anyone’s back and heels — but even these three months are changing my understanding of the value of things. When I have to work so very hard for every $3 tip, my time (both working and not working), my money and whatever I buy with it all take on more value.
The first time I closed the restaurant at night, it was my job to mop the floors. I told my manager I had never mopped before, and he must have thought I was kidding. He caught me staring at the complicated-looking mop in confusion a few minutes later, and exclaimed, “Dear God, Hannah, you really mean you’ve never mopped.” He looked at me the way 5-year-olds look at some zoo animals, with both wonderment and disgust.
After this summer, I hope to be less deserving of that look — a little more mop-proficient and better versed in alcoholic beverages, with a better understanding of how hard it can be to make a living.
Hannah Joo is an Inglemoor High graduate.