Things I’ve Learned from Working in a Restaurant

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I’m a waitress on Friday nights.

I work at an adorable little restaurant in a tiny town in Western Kentucky that serves fried fish on Fridays and treats people like family (and looks nothing like the above stock photo). I’m pretty sure I got the job because I’m in there every Tuesday morning for Bible study with one of my small group babies and then also on the weekends and, you know, whenever else. What can I say? The food is good. Regardless, I love it and the people with whom I get the privilege of working.

While I hate running the cash register (it’s a terrifyingly pressurized responsibility to push the right buttons and handle people’s money [which is probably why God never let me experience my childhood dream of being a cashier at Kroger]), I love being a waitress. I love getting to talk to people and learn their names and tastes and I especially love to joke around and laugh with them.

In the short time I’ve worked there, I’ve learned more than which shoes to wear for a night of work (hello, blisters) and how to write a (somewhat) proper ticket; I’ve learned a lot about myself, the Gospel, and community.

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Top five lessons (mostly refresher courses):

  1. People are awesome.
  2. People are broken and, when operating out of that brokenness, can inflict significant damage to others.
  3. People are selfish.
  4. People are generous.
  5. People are beautiful.

Some of my favorite moments have come while watching people be themselves with each other. I love the random bursts of laughter, the serious listening faces, the engaged hearts, and the way a table of food effortlessly removes barriers and puts people on an equal playing field.

I’ve watched people welcome strangers to their table so no one has to sit alone.

I’ve been reminded of my need for the Gospel when people are having bad days (or years) and take it out on the staff.

I’ve seen some of the hardest faces, the ones etched with hardship and mishandled grief and soul-crushing sorrow, be softened by grace, kindness, and a touch of humor. (Laughter really is medicinal, isn’t it? It’s like God actually knows what He’s talking about. Weird.)

I’ve seen people anonymously pay for police officers’ meals and then, in turn, watched genuine surprise and gratitude play out on the officers’ faces when telling them their meals were taken care of.

I’ve witnessed walls around people’s hearts turn to dust simply because someone took the time and interest to ask their name.

I’ve seen my own brokenness burst forth a few times in disgusting vibrance, humbling my stinkin’ prideful heart and reminding me of my need for a Savior, whose goodness leads to confession and repentance (in front of Him and my coworkers).

I’ve learned I could joyfully spend hours putting silverware in the individual plastic silverware bags (am I the only one fully convinced that’s therapeutic? Probably. I don’t care).

I’ve experienced the power of kindness time and again. One kind word from someone can trump a million harsh ones, if you let it.

I’ve been re-taught, in a new dimension, that joy is a choice. Neither the actions of others nor your circumstances can dictate your attitude without your consent, and the glory of God shines in brilliant clarity when you love people genuinely and sacrificially despite what they do or say to you (I see you, Gospel).

I’ve learned that, as a member of a wait staff, you not only have the opportunity to serve the people who sit at your tables, but you also have an opportunity to serve those whom you work for and beside. Over the past several months “Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10) has taken on a much deeper meaning.

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The Biggest Lesson I’ve learned…

Restaurants prove our craving for community.

We long to belong. We ache for a table and community that is a safe enough space for us to share our souls. Research shows people don’t go to a restaurant solely for the food. They go for an experience. That’s why so many people spend thousands and thousands of dollars on aesthetics and making the atmosphere of a restaurant the best possible.

But, here’s the thing, people crave authenticity more than a well-styled room. We hate loneliness. We want to belong. We both need and want people, we’re just not sure how to get them because there’s a drastic absence in friendship order forms.

That’s why there are so many single individuals (mostly older men and women trying to navigate the harsh waters of widowhood) who come into the restaurant every Friday night. They need to eat but they’re tired of eating alone. So they come in and sit at the designated “family table,” the biggest table in the room where anyone can sit and others are free to join. There’s usually a tossed salad of people sitting around its inviting wooden surface including a cheerful jumble of singles, couples, a neighbor or two, maybe a waitress or the restaurant owner, and everyone is welcome.

This is what we were made for.

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We desperately desire to be fully known and fully loved by people who fight for our good above their own. For most, real community seems like a unicorn, we’ve heard about it but have never seen it for ourselves, and we’ve given up hoping for its existence.

But community does happen. It happens dysfunctionally in restaurants every day. What if we, as God’s people, redeemed that table time?

Working in a restaurant has served as a stunning reminder of the beauty of the table and its role in our relationships with others. A table is a place for nourishment of both heart and soul, a place for reconciliation, hope, listening, speaking truth, being present, and being like Jesus (who centered a majority of His ministry around a table).

Are we taking advantage of the table? Are we life-givers? Are we champions of others? Are we sacrificial around the table (with ourselves, our time, our resources, our finances)?

Let’s make our lives a family table.

“Can you see it? A table where people bring their wins, their losses, their burdens, their tears, their gifts, their questions, and their pains while serving others who bring their wins, their losses, their burdens, their tears, their gifts, their questions, and their pains. It’s a beautiful table to belong to and to give to. … The loneliness that runs rampant in the lives of millions can change—all because a grace-filled community lives beyond itself and points to the One who is greater. This is what God has called us to.” -Dustin Willis, Life in Community 

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One thought on “Things I’ve Learned from Working in a Restaurant

  1. […] It’s not enough for the girls or RTM or church or my family. I’m not enough for the restaurant or the community or my small […]

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