What Food Service Jobs Taught me about People, Life and Work

Tending bar taught me most of what I know about human behavior. Note: This is not a photo of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or me)

In 2018, before and after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman elected to the U.S. Congress, some journalists reported that, a year before her election, she served food and drinks in a New York bar.

The journos and pundits played down the fact that, as well as tending bar, Ocasio-Cortez, a Boston University graduate, worked for a nonprofit.

Also, these “former-bartender” reports posed an implied and very classist question: “How can a ‘mere’ bartender unseat a 10-term Democratic incumbent to become an effective, thoughtful U.S. congresswoman?”

Life as a Waitress and Bartender

I was in my 20s when I spent my days and nights serving up food and drinks to strangers or regulars. I worked in settings that ranged from fine-dining Italian to an Irish-American pub, to a counter-service place in a downtown shopping center — where, by the way, I was assigned to the stuffed potato bar “because you’re Irish.”

Among the three countries in which I fed the hungry, the U.S. was by far the best. In the U.K., I was simply a faceless, voiceless creature behind that potato bar or pint of beer. Ditto for my short stint in Dublin, Ireland where the restaurant chef was downright abusive.

As a food server, what I learned about human behavior has served (pun intended) me really well.

As a food server, here are 10 things I learned about work and people:

  1. Many folks are not as they appear. That guy in the designer suit with the patronizing voice? His credit card is as or more likely to be rejected than the other man at the end of the bar in the plaid shirt with the frayed cuffs. In fact, Mr. Plaid Shirt is fiscally smart enough to pay cash for his consumables, including his cold beer.

Irish author, workshop leader in Boston area. Fifth book, “Green and Other Essays” just released. More at www.ainegreaney.com