Childhood Food

Food, glorious, food (service)

My kids have now fulfilled one of their requirements of being my kid: You have to work food service at some point in your life.

I don’t have a lot of big requirements for my kids. I’d like them to be decent people, to try and make society better by giving back, and to return their shopping carts. Pretty small asks. But I also told both of them since they were little that at some point, they need to work in a restaurant.

My daughter worked at a restaurant during one of her years in college. My son has just started a job at a burger joint, thus checking that box.

My son is finding what his sister did – that working at a restaurant can be hectic, chaotic and taxing. And that’s why I wanted them to work that job.

Food jobs have never been more difficult than they are right now, as the pandemic has thrown a curveball into everything we do. But what my son is learning – and what my daughter learned during her time as a server – is that working in a restaurant teaches you a lot of things.

I worked at a buffet restaurant after my freshman year of college. I started as a host, but graduated after a few weeks to server. I was a good server, because when you are making $2.13/hour and only can grow that by giving out solid service to your customers, you up your game immediately.

When my son comes home at night, exhausted and smelling like a giant french fry, I know he has had a good solid day of working. Your feet hurt. You’re exhausted. And you’ve hardly had a moment to Snapchat. Good for the soul.

But I also know that my kids, having worked in that industry, know to appreciate the folks who also work that on a daily basis. My daughter plans to be a psychologist, and my son a biologist. They will most likely not work in restaurants beyond the fairly near future. But they have experienced what I did, and they learned this:

  • When you work in restaurants, you serve a cross section of humanity. Some treat you well. Some treat you like garbage. But mostly, it’s the prior. Folks just want a decent meal, and if you are decent to them, they will be decent to you. 
  • That said, some people are just not decent. They treat wait staff like they are in a station below them. And you remember never to treat people like that. No one is above you, and no one is below you. Treating others with respect costs us nothing in life.
  • Tip. Always. I am sure someone has a story that can tell me why there are times you feel you shouldn’t tip. And to that I say this: Tipping is an awful practice, and we should do away with it entirely as a means for restaurant workers to make a living wage. Pay them. Don’t leave it up to the customers to vet their performance and see if they are worthy of a decent pay day. And before you tell me that the menu prices would go up, I say, yeah, I know. I’m already tacking on 20 percent or so to my bill. Why not let me pay it up front and let everyone else also pay the staff what they are worth? Besides, nothing is stopping me from tipping on top of the bill, right?
  • Preparing your food and getting it to you is hard work. Never forget that. Even if you are just grabbing a burger, it takes a lot of coordination to get it all just right. And if someone forgets to take the pickles off your burger, remember – it wasn’t personal. It was someone busting their hump trying to move 100 custom-made burgers out the door in an hour. It’s not a vendetta against you. It’s the margin of error.

I’m proud of my kids for working in restaurants. And while they have other careers set in their future sights, if they ever decide they want a career in restaurants, I’d be 100 percent OK with that, too. It’s an honorable profession and one all of us rely on. I’d be happy to visit them at their restaurant. And if they are still living at home, I’ll remind them their tip is room and board. (OK, and at least 20 percent of the bill.)

Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.


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