For Life

Not too long ago at a modest dinner restaurant in a small coastal town, I encountered a waitress named Shelly. Full of energy and a desire to provide quality customer service, Shelly was friendly but completely professional from the first interaction to last. It was apparent that she took her job seriously and was dedicated to her employer and the needs of her customers. She knew the daily specials – a rather lengthy list of them, I might add – by heart, and was able to answer questions unhesitatingly about how the various selections were prepared. This gal was clearly on top of her game.


As is often the case in restaurants, you can tell a lot about your wait-person by the way they interact with all of their customers; not just you and your guests but those at other tables as well. Shelly had the disposition of a person who had been doing this job for a long time, but as she appeared to be only of college age, her approach to the job was clearly that of someone with much more experience than she could possibly have had.


Late into our meal, as I often do, I asked Shelly what would she be doing if she wasn’t working at this restaurant. Most often to this inquiry, I usually get responses about the individual working their way through college, saving for a new car, or other long-term goal. Upon hearing my query, without missing a beat, she said, “I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing, and plan on being here for a very long time.” This caught me a bit off guard as it is not the usual response. Seeing my reaction, Shelly added: “I’m a ‘lifer” and I believe this is my calling.”


Impressed with her forthrightness, I respectfully asked if she was related to the owners or management, thinking that maybe her working this job might be, at least in-part, a familial commitment. With a polite smile, Shelly told us that she had no nepotistic relations with the owners or management. She said she loved working with customers, that she really believed this is where she belonged, and looked forward to a life of serving others. She clearly enjoyed what she was doing.


In her youthfulness, it certainly remains within the realm of possibility that six months or even a few years down the road she may change her mind and pursue some other avenue of gainful employment. But it was a treat hearing from someone so young who believed they knew their calling and was committed to it wholeheartedly. By this point in our dining experience the restaurant wasn’t too busy and I didn’t feel guilty taking an extra couple of minutes engaging Shelly in conversation.


Shelly conveyed that her work hours are consistent and her scheduled reliable, so she can easily make plans for her off hours without concerns of them interfering with her job. She also told me that her boss is flexible enough with scheduling that if she needs to switch shifts because of a personal obligation, there is never an issue. And in the time that she’s been working at this restaurant – about 7 months, she said – management has shifted to a substantial hourly pay structure that doesn’t force her to be dependent on tips to make ends meet. Shelly told me that even though she was making good money before this change in pay, most of it was tips and she is very thankful for a more dependable income, appreciates the value her employer has placed on her work and returns that trust by being the best she can be at her job.


Before leaving, Shelly said she recognizes that her situation is somewhat unique in the restaurant business, as most are surviving mostly on tips. She knows the industry has had a tough time since the Covid Pandemic, and she is very glad to have a job at all, let alone one that provides her a good income and the time she needs to pursue her own interests and activities outside of work. She said she understands that this kind of work isn’t for everyone, that not all those who work in the food service industry have the same level of dedication and commitment that she has and she is grateful for having a strong work ethic and faith in own abilities to accel at her chosen profession.


Without question, I applaud Shelly’s dedication and commitment. Her employer is lucky to have her, as are the customers on whom she waits. I hope Shelly’s employer continues to recognize her loyalty, what she brings to their establishment and the employee culture, and that they reward her with the best salary and benefits they can offer. If Shelly is there for life, may it continue to be fulfilling.


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