Waiter Confidential: from Car Sales to Table Side

Tanya Cruise is a trickle-down casualty of our piss-poor economy. With her boom years in car sales gone bust, she's waiting tables, tending bar, and learning the tricks of a new trade.

"I was pulling down 7K a month," says Cruise, 26, shifting her career story in reverse while she and I idle in conversation prior to a recent lunch shift.

"Then, people started getting let go, left and right. By the time I left, I was upside-down on my monthly commission draws. I actually owed the dealership money. The last I heard, four of my former bosses were gone and facing foreclosures."

These days, Tanya's busy turning tables for a living. Watching her work at it, I can't help but feel a little professional pride. Despite low-brow perceptions of the job description, waiting tables isn't something any Displaced Someone from another corner of the working world can just show up and do. Even if you've worked in sales and/or customer service, there aren't too many jobs that involve tending to a dozen or more individuals at the same time. Factor in how many among them are inebriated to some degree, and add to that the number of water fills/refills, drink and plate deliveries and pick-ups, and check drops one party's points of service entail, and the layman's eye begins to open to the logistical realities of what we do to earn our keep.

Still, Cruise thinks she'll get everything under control.

"I do have experience," she lets me know.

Do tell, Tanya.

At the first joint, a small bistro in town, "I partied my ass off. The owner was always asking me to come in after-hours and pose for some 'press photos' he wanted to shoot. I kept putting him off, and playing the situation for what it was worth."

Attorneys for risk management at a certain large chain restaurant - Tanya's next stop -- might like to know no mention was ever made with regard to any of its supervisory staff casting libidinous nets in Cruise's direction during her tenure there. She escaped to car sales, set to live happily ever after - til recently.

Now, after a few weeks back in the restaurant world, Ms. Photogenic's re-learning the ropes, working through the typical new hire snags (small stations, crappy shifts, dreaded "doubles"), and tying herself up in knots over never knowing what one's fifteen percent fortunes will amount to, day-in and day-out.

"I need to make $750 dollars this week," she tells me. "Last week, I barely made $500." Despite the uncertainties, Cruise seems like she's emotionally severing ties to her old business.

"I worked six days a week, fourteen hours a day in a cut-throat industry," she consoles herself. A minute later, our manager walks in and tells Cruise she can have a sixth shift on the next week's schedule if she's still interested. She agrees to take it, and philosophically speaking, at least, comes across like an old restaurant pro.

"I'll just have to get all of my weekly drinking done in one day, I guess."


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