Sometimes I think to myself "How did I get here and why did I decide this path in life?" This is probably something that many people ask themselves at some point in their lifetime. Unlike other kids, who wanted to be astronauts or doctors, I never really had a clear idea of what I wanted to be when I got older. As a child I remember seeing pan-handlers in Atlantic City playing their harmonicas and guitars, and being a naïve four year old I thought this was a profession. From then on I would proudly announce "I want to be a harmonica player!" when any adult would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. My parents would just laugh and give a warm smile, not wanting to discourage my silly dreams.
Flash forward a decade to when I got my first job at the local Dunkin Donuts & Baskin Robbins (combo store with a drive-thru). I was a freshman in high school and only really got the job there because my sister had already been working there for a few years. I will never forget I used to make minimum wage back then which was $5.25/hour plus a few bucks in tips each night if we were lucky. My paycheck every two weeks was a measly $100 or less but when you are living at home any amount of money seems like a lot! This is where I got my start in the food service industry I guess you could say.
I worked at the donut/ice cream shop for just under a year when I decided I wanted to try something different. I ended up quitting and just coasting for a few month when I found myself broke! Going from having a nice couple hundred bucks a month to nothing is a real shock to a teenager so eventually I took up my second job at the fabulous Bed Bath and Beyond :-D I was hired at the age of 15 for $8.25 an hour to be a cashier. I quickly moved up the ranks and was promoted to a front end (cashier) supervisor within a year, which also came with a nice little pay raise ($12/hour). So at the age of 16 I was making almost double what my friends were making at their hourly jobs. I ended up staying with the company for around 4 1/2 years and even transferred to a different store when I went off to college.
While attending Arizona State University I worked part time at BBB for a couple of years and eventually quit for a few personal reasons. Hours were being cut and I wasn't really getting along with a few of my managers for some reason. I eventually moved back into food service by becoming a delivery driver for a very popular sandwich shop named Silvermine Subs in downtown Tempe, AZ right next to campus. I loved the freedom that being a delivery driver offered, as well as the quick cash on top of a steady paycheck. The money wasn't AMAZING by any means, I think I was making something like $7.25 an hour plus tips, but the freedom and excitement you get from the job is what drew me in. This was the first time that I was making substantial cash tips and I was hooked. After that delivery job I worked at very tiny Italian restaurant where I got my first experiences as a server. That didn't last for long because of poor location and no customers so I moved on to another sandwich shop called Mr. Goodcents. I was part of their opening crew and came in as a part-time delivery driver and part-time manager.
I eventually moved back to Virginia from Arizona for a short time to be with my family again. I didn't complete my microbiology degree at ASU partly due to the recession in 2008 and due to my inability to get any more student loans. I worked home construction and remodeling for a few months once back in VA and really enjoyed it, however the job started at 8am and I would often have to work in rain or snow and I was only making $12/hour. My girlfriend at the time was working as a server at a nice steak restaurant and asked why I didn't just apply there as a server. I said why not and gave it a shot- next thing I knew I was working at Longhorn Steakhouse making $2.13/hour plus tips. On a typical busy night I would walk with $80-120 in tips in 4-6 hours which was fantastic and definitely the most money I had ever made up to that point. I was 24 and having a blast, going out with friends partying, just living the server life. When you are making cash every night its very easy to blow it all shopping, eating out and drinking all the time which is what a bunch of my friends were doing (and still do).
After enduring a solid year and a half of being back in Virginia I decided it was time to head back out west and moved to California with the gf at the time. I transferred jobs to Olive Garden, of all places, since they are owned by the same company that owns Longhorn Steakhouse and were the only location that was reasonably close. In CA they also pay minimum wage to servers so I was making $9/hour plus tips at the time. Olive Garden was a great stepping stone for me to get to where I am now because it sharpened my serving skills in a larger busier restaurant and gave me a solid foundation to build on. I ended up staying with Darden (the parent company) for over 3 years combined and my time with them was invaluable. When I got the chance to apply for my current restaurant I jumped at the opportunity and was rewarded greatly.
Many of my coworkers take their jobs for granted seeing it simply as another serving job, but when you work in fine dining all of the stakes are bigger. Everything must be held to a higher standard and I mean EVERYTHING. It can be nerve-racking for people who aren't used to the pressure of opening a ten year old bottle of wine that is worth several hundred dollars for example. This is what I decided to do with my life so I take it a little more seriously than others. This isn't just a job for me, its a profession, and I love every minute of it!