Hi, it’s me again with the final installment of “Confessions of a Career Changer” for the fall term. Last time, my tour of Superfudge the Musical was coming to a close in the middle of 2002, and I was left wondering what might be next for my work life. The job climate in New York City was very different than before 9/11; things had slowed and were slowing even more, including theatre work. I had to find something to do in this environment, and although I was not excited about fulfilling the cliché of the actress/waitress, one of my best friends was working at a great restaurant in midtown Manhattan. She told me they needed someone new, and I went in to talk to the manager and got the job.
So, waiting tables at a fancy restaurant in New York City was both a good and bad experience. I learned a ton about food, about wine, and about the “correct” way to serve, a job that I would return to many times over the course of my life. The chef at this restaurant was an amazing chef and a nice guy who really cared about the food and service at his restaurant. So, he trained us well and allowed us to taste specials and the menu items for a reduced price. He also fed us a “family meal” every night that was healthy and tasty. The manager of the restaurant was pretty hands-off, trusting that the servers were doing their jobs well and not micro-managing our performance.
But I also learned that being a server means that some people believe they have the right to treat you poorly or disrespect you by tipping badly. At the time, I made less than $3 an hour through the restaurant, so practically all my money came from my tips. The restaurant was quite small and the prices quite high, so I could feel a significant chunk taken out of my nightly pay if even one table tipped poorly. For some people, this discrepancy was because of their culture or nationality. But for others, I believe it was simply the result of disrespect, a sense that servers aren’t worthy of making a decent living.
However, another great result of my experience at this restaurant was meeting the diverse group of employees who worked there. Anwar was a busboy from Bangladesh; there were cooks from Mexico and servers from Tennessee. Learning about their cultures and getting to know them was a really great opportunity for me, and because of the friends I made at this restaurant, I was encouraged to stay for a fairly long time. I stayed at this job for 18 months while I auditioned and did as much theatre as possible during my off time. Unfortunately, when the management changed, 1 year after I started, so did the climate at work. As the last person hired, I was the first let go when the new management began to make some cuts. It was better for me in the long run; I got to focus on my auditions and took some much needed down time. I’ll be continuing my story in the winter term. Hope you are enjoying hearing about my wavy career path. Have a great winter break!!!
Jessica Baron is currently a Graduate Assistant in Career Services at OSU and a full time student in the College Student Services Administration Program. Before making her way to Oregon State, Jessica worked as an actor, waiter, online tutor, receptionist, college composition instructor, creative writer, gas station attendant, nonprofit program director, writing workshop leader, high school drama coach, Hallmark card straightener, substitute teacher, real estate office manager, and SAT tutor, not necessarily in that order. Her “Confessions of a Career Changer” will focus on her wavy career path and the challenges and joys of wanting to do everything.