My parents started narrowing their eyes at me as soon as I turned 15, wondering what I was doing to deserve my 20-dollar/week allowance. Before high school, I did a lot around the house. It wasn't until I began going to shows and stepping up my extra-curricular game for college that I started to drop the ball on chores. Not stoked on working at the local grocery store or babysitting, I began taking the mail inside every day after school, before my parents got home, as my chore. Obvy, this was not worth 20 bucks, and after only a week of entertaining my charade, I was told to get a job. Thus began my on-again/off-again relationship in the serving industry. I've got over 10 years of experience handling drunk assholes, stuck-up wine connoisseurs, and keeping my own style in the confines of the dress code.
Usually, with each new restaurant owner comes a new uniform. Sometimes, it's a three piece suit equipped with pieces of flair or advertisements that just further objectify you as a servant. Sometimes, it's the all-black, anything-goes uniform that inevitably gets disgusting unidentifiable stains on it after each shift. Regardless of the uniform or lack of uniform, just because you are serving the public on their time off as they throw money at you, doesn't mean you need to look like...well, a servant.
For the past 10 years, I had been waiting for another job where I could wear whatever I wanted. Since my first job at Dunkin Donuts, where I wore a maroon cotton/polyester blend with a tan collared shirt and khakis (not exactly my normal vibe), I longed to wear whatever I wanted. Since then, I've usually had to wear all black at my previous bartending gigs; as someone who wears all black 5 out of 7 days a week, I can't stand mixing my social clothes with my work clothes. When I received word that I'd been hired at my latest gig via e-mail, our owner stated that the dress code was "Brooklyn Hip." As I read the words over and over again, I realized that I needed an entire new wardrobe to separate my work BK hip clothes from my personal BK hip clothes.
Turns out, it's not very hard when you keep in mind these simple principles of staying fly on the job.
1. Comfortable Shoes
The first time I saw a server wearing heals, I was beside myself. She told me that her feet were actually "very comfortable" when I questioned her decision. The next time I saw her, she was wearing flats. I couldn't help notice the inflammation around her ankles and blisters from where her boots hit the back of her foot. You may not be in pain now, but you certainly will have some not-so-pleasant repercussions after the fact. Not only are blisters not cute, they hurt like hell. The effects aren't just short-term either, varicose veins are more prevalent in folks that are on their feet with little to no support for their legs.
If you aren't about the Croc-life, wear comfortable, stylish sneakers to get you through those long hours on your feet. Don't get it twisted, Vans and Converse are definitely stylish, but since they are flat inside and have no support for your foot arches, your feet may start whining before you've finished your side work. Purchase shoe inserts to avoid long-term, irreversible foot pain. Personally? I'm a Ked Girl for life.
2. Stay breezy
Real Talk: You are working for tips, and while the feminist in me hopes you would get the same amount of tips in turtleneck as you would a crop-top, that just may not be the case. That certainly doesn't mean you should wear anything that makes you feel overexposed, it just means you should still look your best as you would any other job and not wear anything that will have your tables identifying you as "The Sweaty Waitress" to distinguish you from the rest of your team. My favorite look is to go for a cute tank top with shorts or a crop top with a long pencil skirt. My personal rule of thumb is if I'm going revealing on-top, I cover up my bottom half. Not only am I comfortable, but I also get the benefit of not being drenched in sweat. Let's face, whether it's winter or summer, running around serving hot food can get lead to some serious perspiration.
3. Be Smart About Jewelry
When I was told at a casual chain restaurant that I would need to take out my nose ring, my first reaction was, you don't own me, punk! Before the words launched out of my anti-authoritative mouth, I quickly realized that as my employer, they totally did. Sadly, many restaurants have strict policies about the amount of jewelry you can wear as a server or bartender. Fortunately, this rule isn't in affect at my new gig. That doesn't mean anything goes: Wearing clunky rings that you have to take off every time you wash your hands (hopefully, that's very often), or a dangly necklace that a baby is going to inevitably rip off is a rookie mistake. Basically, you want to protect your jewelry. I go subtle on my earrings with small studs and wear a simple necklace that isn't going to get in the way of good service or, just as importantly, get ruined.
4. The Simple Dress
Personally, my fave comfy outfits to serve in also give me the most compliments; the more customers are complimenting me, the more I'm raking in those tips. Wearing a simple light-weight, sleeve-less dress, purchased for super cheap at ASOS or that I've had for years from Beacon's Closet is a sure way to stay cool. It's a much more pleasant experience to be able to run around the restaurant without complaining my high-wasted jeans are too tight AND have me looking super classy. BONUS if your dress has pockets, that's precious storage for your wine key, lighter, and lip gloss.
5. No-Nonsense Hair
There is nothing worse than finding a hair in your food. Some restaurants will make you keep your hair tucked away and out of food or harm's way depending on how your kitchen is set up. Obvy, my 'fro is not even allowed near the kitchen. If you've got long hair, the last thing you want is your strand showing up in someone's Instagram post of their food. #Gross. Keep your hair neat and stylish with a simple up-do like the two-strand crown braid or use a scarf to keep it off your face. If you have to lock up your locks for each shift? Check out different ways to tie a head scarf! Trust me, customers will be dying to know how they can pull it off too!
Whether you are eating at a chain restaurant in the 'burbs, a fancy steak-house located uptown, or a hip pizzeria in Brooklyn, us servers and bartenders rely on those tips to keep our dreams alive. Wonder why no one is tipping YOU for hard work at your art gallery? It's because you probably make more than 3 dollars an hour. Check out how you can help us, HELP YOU, by these hilarious, yet oh-so-important tips from If You Can't Afford to Tip's website.
Image: Kristin Collins Jackson/mememaker.com