Now that you’re released from the overbearing clutches of Uncles Sam’s war machine, you’re completely free to conquer the world with nothing to hold you back. Well, there is one thing: money. It’s not like you were a baller in the service. Unfortunately, jumping out of airplanes and killing people isn’t highly sought after skill set in the job market. While there are a host of different job options, very few give a veteran the flexibility and ability to improve themselves as the restaurant industry does.
It Will Renormalize Your Human Interaction
Even though your Dysfunctional Veteran shirt states otherwise, you’re going to have to learn to interact with other people in a socially acceptable manner. That filthy mouth you’ve acquired while serving in the military has got to be tamed. Being forced to interact with customers who are spending their hard earned money in order to have a pleasant dining experience will help you curb those speaking patterns. It will also get you honed at another essential social skill set: pretending to like people.
Your work shift is steadily approaching. You’re mentally preparing yourself. Taking in the tranquility and ambiance of your apartment filled with emo rock. You take a toke, knock out a few push ups, then switch the music over to some gangster rap to get motivated. You head into the shower to freshen up and make yourself presentable. You never know what you’re going to be running into when you walk through those doors.
While most customers are great and enjoyable to be around, it’s the 5% of them that will grind you down. The inquisitorial customers who bombard you with reasonable and unreasonable questions about the food items. “Sorry, ma’am, I’m not sure if the eggs are locally sourced or if the vinegar contains sulphites”. The drinker who reaches his limits and begins showing disrespect to the establishment. “Sir, be nice or leave.” The nit-picky snob who makes it known she is a Yelper and who thinks having the TV on while it happens to be playing Rambo ruins the atmosphere. “Sorry ma’am, the boss insists on having it on.”
These little interactions will help you learn how to navigate gray areas between the customer always being right and the customer being a space cadet.
You Get Exposed To A New Culture While Making Money
If you’re a few years out of the service, you can go back to your old company or platoon and see one or two familiar faces, tops. Like the military, the restaurant industry is a big shuffle of humanity, where only a few grizzled lifers stick around for long. It’s a job field that caters to people who are in the building stages of their lives or fixing up their fucked one. You’ll encounter a swath of students, immigrants, corporate America refugee’s, lost-twenties-somethings, artists, and unique characters from all walks of life.
Not everyone will be your best friend and shouldn’t be, but you’ll find the one or two people who you can connect with. On one of my bartending jobs, I became good friends with a young cook. After I did my beginning of shift prep work and made sure the bar was stocked, I would head over to the kitchen to see if he could get away for a few minutes. We’d then go into his car and smoked a bowl as we talked to each other about our lives. I tried to convince him to join the Army, he couldn’t because he didn’t have papers. Whenever there was a lull in the work, we’d sneak out to smoke another bowl.
While it’s not the most prestigious career path, it’s not exactly a dead-end career. I’ve met staff members of all ranks who raised entire families and paid for their kids educations on their restaurant work wages. Each having their own style and flair as they flowed seamlessly through the floor taking orders, delivering drinks and food, and picking up dishware with utmost efficiency. Some were masters of the up-sell and had the ability to steer the customer to finer food items in order to increase their tip bottom line.
Since staff members are joining and leaving all the time, you’re not the new guy for too long. In fact, you’ll be able to prove your worth to the team in a quick manner if you’re on top of your game and are willing to be a sponge for knowledge and tips of the trade. You’re only as good as the last customer you served. Each new table an opportunity to correct any deficiencies you had the previous time, even if it was only you who noticed. Slowly, building your competence to move around and get tasks done at the restaurant with military precision and skill.
You Can Rebalance Your Chi
You’re at the cutting station in the kitchen. You’re preparing a huge batch of limes for the bar’s upcoming shift. Slice the lime in half lengthwise, make a horizontal cut through the belly, and then slice each of the halves into four wedges.
Repeat a few dozen times.
Get lost in your thoughts. Think about what’s going on in your life right now. What problems you have to tackle. What is under your control and what is out of it. Are you moving ahead in life at a steady pace? Is that chick you’re currently texting going to blossom into something real?
The beer coolers are half empty. A good variety of beer is held in each. You analyze the contents and make an mental estimation of how many boxes you’ll need. You walk to the fridge and pick up a couple of 24 packs and carry them to the cooler. Utilizing the bar key, with a swift and violent motion, you pierce through top of the cardboard and drag it to open the flaps. With three bottles in each hand, you pull out the beers and neatly place them on top of each other in the cooler.
Repeat a couple dozen times.
Get lost in your thoughts. Think about your past. The events that lead you to the place you are in today. The places you traveled and experiences you’ve had. The people you encountered along the way. The women: the ones you forgot about, the ones you almost loved, and the ones who left a mark on your heart.
The glassware has piled up in the bar sink. You’ve developed your own system for keeping the glassware in a steady rotation. You stand over the sink in an athletic position. You grasp a glass in each hand, emptying out the dregs of it into the waste bin. Fiercely scrubbing its insides with the brushes, then dunking them into the sanitized water to rinse out the soap suds. Each distinct piece organized so it can be transported to its designated place. Neatness and order radiates out of a properly prepped bar.
Focus on what’s ahead. Confidence settles within because you’ve done all that is needed to have a successful night, where hordes of thirsty clientele will pine for you attention in order to quench their need for booze. You’re in control. You’re ready. You’re able to handle whatever comes through those doors. You’ve got this.
You Get Thrown Into The Fray Of Controlled Chaos
You walk into work. It’s a complete shit show. It’s Friday night and the popular local band is having their end of the school year bash. It’s a pandemonium of customers wrestling with one another to catch the attention of a bartender. The bar staff is losing.
The beer bottles are running low, two of the kegs have just popped. You hear one of the bartenders curse. Make that three kegs. The glassware has piled up so high on the sink that they’ve begun to use the bar counter-top as overflow. There are only a few scoops of ice left in the ice machine. The three other bartenders are losing their patience with the customers and one another as they each fight for access to the lone cash register and key in the tabs.
You analyze the situation and make a plan of action. You run down to the basement, squeezing through the crowd. You change out the kegs, replenishing the stream of booze to the taps. You pick up two 24 packs and a bag of ice carry it up the stairs. In a firm, but respectful tone yelling out “Excuse me! Beer coming through! Excuse me! Beer coming through!” as a rift appears before you and you carry your burden to its destination. You quickly unload the beers and run down for more, prioritizing the beers which are lowest, until you’ve restocked it all.
A customer taps you on the shoulder trying to get your attention. He is not your focus right now. “Get one of the other bartenders, I’m barbacking!” You put your head down, avoiding eye contact with any other patron as you work through the stack of glassware. With sheer focus you grind it out, giving the bar the much needed ammo it needs in order to put it back on equal footing. You were the missing piece that was needed in order to give it a fighting chance. Now it’s time to get to the real work, you yell out “Who needs a drink!” and serve the first person who raises their hand.
The night is over. The last remnants of customers have left the establishment. The staff is cleaning up, counting the money, conducting a casual after action review of the night, and indulging in a victory drink.
“Whoa, that was a crazy night,” says one of the bartenders, “You saved our ass. Great job tonight, man.”
“Of course, I’m here for you,” you respond with a smirk.