Restaurants and Peace Corps

Alternative title: “How my shitty job prepared me for my not so shitty job”

Hi, I’m Shannon. I’m in the Peace Corps. Before that I was in charge of maintaining health and safety standards, ensuring sales of quality products, I was a consumer to provider liaison, I was often in charge of organizing a team to open and shut down an establishment, and finally I was in charge of representing a company and it’s intercultural family focused image.

I was a waiter and a bartender in a Mexican franchise restaurant. Now I am in the Peace Corps and everyone in my cohort has spent their years doing impressive things and kudos to them. But I was in the restaurant industry and that gave me a set of skills that sets me apart from my group. Here they are:

  1. Pressure:

“My food still hasn’t come out and my family is eating before me” “Can we get more salsa?” “I ordered Grey Goose this is obviously Absolut, don’t try to trick me, go get your manager” “I know your section is full, but can you take a nine top with a baby?” and “I NEED RUNNERS AND TABLE 42 HAS A BIRTHDAY” This would all happen in mere seconds at my old job and it would last until whatever rush you had was over, and god help you if you’re short-staffed. I’ve seen that pressure make people drink until 2am and cry. I’ve seen that pressure make people cry on the spot. I’ve been that person crying on the spot. But you get over it. Suddenly you either adjust to the pressure or you just stop caring, either or. So now when I hear 15 first graders all wanting my undivided attention at the same time. No sweat, and no lie sometimes I do what I did with Mr. Extra Salsa, and pretend not to hear them.

2. Time management and multi-tasking:

Welcome to Thailand. The country where time management has been 86’ed and will be 86’ed until further notice. Everything is laid back and sabai sabai. Oh, but your director wants you to tutor the students going to an academic competition that’s happening in 3 days. Well time to manage that time. Restaurant Industry Shannon knows how we are going to play this game, consolidation is key. Carrying 2 plates on one arm, with a dessert in hand, and another plate in the other hand. Those kids are about to get tutored while Teacher Shannon makes materials, lesson plans, and grades papers. The Lord gave us two eyes, two ears, and two hands for a reason. (Not to be ableist)

3. Fake it till you make it:

I received and share lessons that I learned in restaurants surprisingly frequently. The first one is “Don’t let them see you struggle.” The next one is “Don’t let them affect you. In an hour they will be gone and you’ll likely never see them again.” Now both of these bits of info are based on when the customer is on a REAL power trip, and that’s an essay for another day. But for me there’s truth in it all. Don’t let them see you struggle, dude that’s classic fake it till you make it. If they don’t know that the walls are falling down on a project or a class then it’s okay. It gives you the time to rework it and play with whatever ideas you have until you can fix it, but if they see you losing faith in your own project then why would they cosign on it? And don’t let people affect you. This turns into a situational. Whatever situation you have won’t last forever, there’s always a new day. There’s always another perspective. There’re always other options.

Now never trust crocodiles’ tears and never trust a waiter’s smile.

“Oh, you’re telling me now half way your meal that you are lactose intolerant even though you got the queso, and extra sour cream? And now you want me to return it and take it off the bill? Right, of course, I am so sorry, it must not have been properly communicated and I’ll go get you my manager. Can I interest you in another Margarita while you wait?” Waiters can say all of this with a smile. And yeah this happens regularly. So now when I’m in school and these words happen “So all of the classes are cancelled today and tomorrow but the test still has to be next week, will the students be ready? Also, the students don’t have time for English club or extracurricular activities this week.” I smile. Because what else are you supposed to do. Cry? Probably, but do it in private so no one sees you struggling. (kidding that’s not great for the mental health. PSDN is there for that)

4. Unwanted touches and comments:

Hi, welcome to Mar******* Grille, my name is Shannon and I’ll be serving you tonight; can I get you started with some……why are you touching my arm sir?”

“Sa wa dii ka, di chan chuu Shannon……” And Yai (old lady/grandma) went in for the butt grab. Okay. “Ka”

Guess what, when you’re a foreigner with a crazy different body, expect some grabs. Expect some comments. It’s part of the game. Set some boundaries and you’ll be fine. But waitressing taught me how to call that out immediately. Why? Because it’s my body and last time I checked I wasn’t doing some all you can grab performance art. But as it goes, remember that smile. In all honesty what I have experienced here in terms of inappropriate grabs and comments is nothing compared to the states.

5. Health, safety and commiseration:

Know your allergies. Let people know your allergies. Know your emotions. Find people you can express your emotions with. Know your limits. Know your body. The more you have an understanding of your body and emotions the more it’ll help you in Peace Corps. How does this fall into the restaurant industry? Because I have seen people eat food off of dirty tables and blame the cooks for them getting sick. I have seen people with allergies order things they are allergic to without giving the server a warning then going into shock. Because I have seen people so down in a funk that they drink until they are not responsive anymore. Because I have seen people smoke away and snort away their pain until there is nothing left to feel. Know yourself. Find solace in your group and take care of one another.

There is no bond like that of a restaurant family. The dynamics are always the same.

There is no bond like that of a Peace Corps Group. The dynamics change. But the bond is there.

(Also remember to First in, First out your food. It’ll help save you money and time)

And finally, for all the couples out there. Tell your partner they are beautiful every day, or else the kitchen staff will.

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