This will be my third year spending Thanksgiving with an apron on, all black, and nothing but Red Bull in my system. Spending Thanksgiving waiting tables has become my own personal tradition of the holiday season. At this point, it would almost feel wrong to not be there. How could I possibly spend it with my family when the restaurant needs me?
For anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant, and worked there for a long period of time, you will probably relate to the weird, co-dependent relationship that forms between you and your co-workers. There’s something addicting about the environment. The tips, the long hours, complaining about customers. Not to be confused with the actual addictions that plague restaurants; caffeine and nicotine. When I’m not there for a couple of days, a twisted part of me starts to miss the chaos. So where else would I want to spend my holiday?
The vibe on Thanksgiving is simply odd. Setting up the morning of, energy is high and we’re all trying to be as upbeat as possible. We’re preparing for what could potentially be a disaster but with the biggest of customer-service smiles. We pump each other up before the curtains open, reciting the special menu like a scene in a play. Through it all, there’s this underlying sense of dread and quiet sadness. None of us really want to be there, but we’re putting on a happy face for one another. We all know that we’re missing out on some kind of family or friends event, but the restaurant needs us, and we need money.
Drama aside, I don’t want anyone reading this to be thinking, “Oh, this poor sad girl!” The restaurant I work in does not own my soul, although it feels that way sometimes, and I can choose to not work Thanksgiving. However, I would be lying if I said it’s not worth it when I count my tips at the end of the day. But until my money is in my hand, I am questioning every life decision I’ve ever made that led me to that point.
The customers on Thanksgiving are a mixed bag. Some families are so grateful and so happy to be there, thanking you a million times and raving about the food. It’s usually paired with that sad, “You have to work Thanksgiving?” You can’t help but think “Yes ma’am, because of you.” Other families come in ready to be disappointed. It is clear that they put so much pressure on the day, and probably fought on the car ride over, and the mom is exhausted and just wanted one nice picture, and there is nothing you can do to meet their expectations. Something will be complained about and you will have to hear it. As servers it is essentially written in our job description to help customers like these, ensuring that they leave with full bellies and smiles on their faces, so they can fall into a deep food-induced coma: the universal Thanksgiving nap.
No matter the dynamics, there is something weirdly intimate about serving families on Thanksgiving. I am a stranger, getting a look directly into your dining room. And at the end of this strange relationship we’ve formed, you are going to pay me!
While this will be my third Thanksgiving working, it will also be my third Friendsgiving with my restaurant family. Plus, I work with my mom, so I can’t complain all that much. And there’s something to be said about being a small part of someone’s holiday. In a way, you get to touch a lot of people, and sometimes all they need is a smile and a friendly face.
If you’re going out to eat on Thanksgiving, kindly remember to take care of your servers, bartenders, etc. This is a holiday that we have to reschedule with our loved ones, or sometimes miss out on altogether, and watch others spend it with theirs. Working or not, the holiday season is hard for many people for a million and one reasons. Spread kindness to everyone you come across.
While eating your Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing at a restaurant, please spread kindness by leaving a generous tip.
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