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6 Good Tips For Working In Restaurants and Bars

April 01, 2009 By Christy in Miami: Local News  | 5 Comments

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Ah, visions of the good life in Miami.  You’ve heard the stories.  Work as a bartender or server, wake up late, spend time on the beach, and make your monthly rent in a few nights tips. It may be no problem to walk up and down Lincoln Road, Collins Avenue, and Ocean Drive with your resume, fill out applications, and land a job in a good restaurant.  If only it were that easy!  I don’t want to crush anyone’s hopes of moving here and working in the service industry, but I do have a few words of advice.

Ask yourself, when is the last time I worked as a server?  Was it 5 years ago, working part time one summer while you lived with your family?  Or maybe you have never been a server, but think it would be the perfect job.  A friend of yours does it-how hard could it be?  Before you buy your plane ticket to Miami, try out a server job at home for one month.  Test out your body and determine if it’s something you can still do.  Or if you’ve never worked in the service industry, try it and see if you can rely on it for paying your rent.  Ok, so you’ve successfully completed the one month trial and now you are ready to support yourself solely on your ability to wait tables or mix drinks!

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1. Prepare To Stand On Your Feet All Day

Chances are your uniform will consist of a white button down shirt, black pants, and black sneakers, and throw in a tie for good measure.  If you’re working on the beach or at a hotel pool bar, you’ll be in all white.  If you followed my advice and practiced at home, chances are you will own the first outfit. Oh, what’s that I hear, you decided to skip my first piece of advice, and now you’re making a face because you have to wear black sneakers?  Comfortable, cushiony, and supportive sneakers are the key to a successful dinner shift.  Test out your sneakers at home to make sure they fit properly.  Your server sneakers are an investment in your career, so buy the best ones you can afford.  Just as you wrap your head around buying an ugly pair of black sneakers, I’m going to tell you to do it again. Your feet will not happy wearing the same shoes day after day-you need to alternate. If you have no idea where you’ll be working, hold off on the sneaker purchases, but allow yourself a $200 budget to buy footwear later.  Oh, and please be realistic about how much money you expect to make waiting tables or bartending.  If you think you’ll be making $300+ per night, that won’t happen at your first job. 

2. Start By Working Part Time

Now, you have waited tables for at least one month, own the perfect sneakers, and secured your first job in Miami.  Congratulations!  I recommend, if at all possible, to ease into your new job by starting off part time, and just working 3-4 days per week to give yourself a chance to adjust to your new job that relies so heavily on your body.  You don’t want to burn out! I really hope you don’t plan on picking up other people’s shifts in the beginning, to make friends!  Working too hard, too long, too soon, will force you to either quit or call in sick.  Either road you choose leads to the same end-no job. 

With your first week’s tips, you may want to splurge on a few items to give back to your body. Consider treating yourself to a professional massage every month.  A foot massager or foot-spa, and ice-packs will help relieve pain after a long and draining shift.  Speaking of long shifts….

3. The Truth About Drugs In The Service Industry

You really did a great job working the 5pm-10pm dinner shift that month at your local neighborhood bar and grill. Be warned, Miami’s restaurant hours can be particularly cruel.  While most places in the US close the kitchen at 10pm, Miami’s stay open until midnight and later. If you are a bartender, be prepared to last until 5 am.  Unfortunately, some servers rely on cocaine to get them through their long shift. The server who lasts all night full of energy and goes out afterwards?  A peek into his pant pocket would reveal a collar stay and a $40 bag of cocaine.  If you are at all susceptible to picking up a drug habit or reviving an old one, be very cautious, because unfortunately cocaine is part of the service industry. I say, skip the blow and head for the espresso machine your restaurant for a pick-me-up.  Drinking cappuccinos really helped me last the night during my brief stint as a hostess.  But be sure to cut the caffeine 2 hours before your shift is over or you won’t be able to fall asleep when you get home.  If you find yourself feeling the need to do cocaine to help you work through the night, why not give the day shift a try?

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4. How To Unwind After A Long Day

So you stood on your feet mixing cosmos and muddling mint for the late night crowd, and now it’s time to head home.  You need to develop a routine to help you relax and ease back into home life.  When you come home and feel like watching TV, but nothing’s on except Last Call with Carson (if you got out early), or infomercials (if you stayed late), it’s time to do the Tivo thing.  This way you can watch the final Top Chef episode that everyone else just saw while you were busy working.  Make yourself a relaxing cup of Sleepy Time tea or for added help, Sleepy Time tea with valerian root.  Do a few simple stretches and ice your knees, or any other part of you that feels sore.  Have a little snack, take a nice bath, and enjoy your TV show or book, to help you unwind after a long night.  It’s not widely known, but taking Benadryl to fall asleep is fairly safe, but please talk to your doctor.  Before you know it you’ll be fast asleep and ready for a new day. 

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5. Don’t Turn Into A Zombie

Some nights you won’t want to head home to your boring apartment when your co-workers are heading out for some food, drinks, and partying.  Be warned, if this becomes a habit, you will turn into a waiter I know who had to be at his restaurant at 4pm for the dinner shift.  He told me he woke up at 2:40pm, and took a taxi to work so he could sleep in an extra ten minutes.  He worked his shift until 1:30 am, then headed out afterwards to eat, came home and slept until 2:40pm the next day and repeated the process.  You need to have a life too!
If you wake up at noon, and need to report for your dinner shift at 4pm, you really only have about 3 hours to yourself. Try to wake up early enough to maybe get in a run along the boardwalk or go to the beach.  If you were formerly a 9-5er, be prepared for some big changes.  While everyone else is hitting the bar after work, enjoying a nice dinner in and a movie, you will be waiting tables.  Make sure you are OK with giving up your evenings.

6. Prepare for the Unexpected

Your body is your moneymaker in the service industry.  First of all, you want to make sure you have health insurance to cover any unforeseen medical expenses.  Since you won’t be getting insurance from your employer, you’ll need to shop around to find a policy that’s right for you.  Insureme.com is popular among the service industry crowd.  What would happen if you sprained your ankle or broke your arm?  How would you support yourself?  I’ve never seen a bartender on crutches or a server with a broken arm, but I have heard stories of people working through injuries like these, because they had no other way of supporting themselves.  Additional insurance, such as Aflac, promises to pay you while you’re injured and unable to work.  If you don’t want the added expense of supplemental insurance, then you should have additional skills to land yourself a sedentary job while your injury heals.
Unfortunately, I didn’t last in the service industry. Why? I spent money on hostess dresses instead of comfortable footwear, worked too much too soon,  had no idea how much I hated cigar smoke, standing on my feet in the same spot for eight hours, melting in the sun, and returning home with my ears ringing from loud techno music.  And if you ask the kitchen staff, servers, food runners, bartender, barback, and bus boys, I had the easy job.

Related Categories: Jobs Miami: Local News,

Christy offers a fresh perspective on life and style in Miami. You can reach her at Miami Beach 411.

See more articles by Christy.

See more articles by Christy

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5 Comments on

"6 Good Tips For Working In Restaurants and Bars"

Doug says:

Great article, sungal! Welcome to the fold! I’ve often thought about trying to go back to the service industry, but realize I’m completely inept in that department.  I’m a day dreamer, which is great for writing and the creative flow, but lousy when it comes to multi-tasking and thinking on your feet! Thanks for helping to reinforce my suspicions, ha ha!

Posted on 04/02/2009 at 10:59 AM

Maria de los Angeles says:

Welcome, Sungal! Great tips here for our readers. It’s a pleasure to know you and I’m so excited you are writing for 411 now!

Posted on 04/02/2009 at 1:23 PM

sungal says:

Thanks! It’s such an honor to write for this site and alongside all of you.

Posted on 04/02/2009 at 8:48 PM

Matt Meltzer says:

This is absolutely true about the injuries. I tore my meniscus while I was bartending and refused to take a day off, so I ended up taking large amounts of vicodin every shift to get through it. Fortunately, it did not lead to some kind of painkiller addiction, but it took taking a year off from bartending for that injury to even come close to healing.

Posted on 04/10/2009 at 4:25 PM

Annette Chavez says:

Thanks Sungal.  I already bought my ticket.  I have no experience in the Food Industry but the tips do intrigue me.  I work retail and I’ve been on my feet all day so I’m used to it.  Thanks for the advice.  You are absolutely right about the abuse of cocaine I lived there and it is everywhere not just in the food industry.  I love South Beach for some odd reason because I’m coming back to stay for awhile.  Thank you again, Christy.  The right article at the right time for me.

Posted on 05/06/2009 at 9:03 PM

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