So! I’ve just returned from an evening of serving our fellow citizens. One thing I like to do is correctly “map out” my day, work shift included. This is a practice Marcus Aurelius refers to in his Meditations Book 2.1. Also Epictetus mentions the same in Chapter 4 of his handbook:
“Whenever planning an action, mentally rehearse what the plan entails. If you are heading out to bathe, picture to yourself the typical scene at the bathhouse – people splashing, pushing, yelling and pinching your clothes.”
As is the case in the service industry. There are people who are mean, (often co-workers), demanding, rude, etc. So when this happens, I’ve already prepared myself for it.
My first table came in and ordered two beers. I put in the order and waited. The bartender wasn’t busy, and was casually talking with another employee enjoying a shift drink. I continued to wait, thinking that if it takes much longer, my guests would grow impatient. This situation involved some discretion, for if I were to remind the bartender, then she would’ve likely snapped back at me with a sharp tone. That’s one thing I’ve found in this industry, that you must have a decent amount of emotional intelligence and ability to read other people and discern the best way to navigate each situation, so that everything flows, so to ensure my tip. The beer was delivered within five minutes and my guests were happy.
Later on into the shift a drunk street bum was causing a ruckus and another employee was trying to get him to leave. Now, one of the Stoic’s four cardinal virtues is Justice. This guy was bad for business and posing a threat to the decency of the restaurant. I stepped in and asked him to leave. He began to curse and increasingly become belligerently defiant. At that point I went to the phone to call the police. He left cursing, so I didn’t have to actually call the cops, but was ready to do the right thing in the interests of the restaurant as a whole.
At five o’clock a party of 15 came in that I was assigned to. After delivering 14 out of the 15 drinks, I went down to the bar to retrieve the last drink. At that moment, a throng of christmas sweater wearing, mildly intoxicated sports fans came in flooding the bar with orders. Uh oh, I thought to myself, this is going to interfere with the timing of me getting my last drink to my party, and continue with their entree orders. I asked the bartender for the mimosa, and he snapped at me saying, “I KNOW.” At that moment, I realized the nature of what was going on, remained calm, and realized that I’ve done everything I could do in this situation. The drink eventually came, and I apologized to the lady at the party for it’s delayed delivery. She took it and looked mildly agitated.
Throughout the rest of my party’s stay, they were barking orders and running me around. “This is the nature of this industry,” I kept telling myself. Between retrieving items for my demanding party, I would be interrupted by other tasks, such as running food for other tables, or other servers asking me to do side work, all of which, in the heightened flow I was in, challenged me to remain CALM and PATIENT regarding things within and without my control.
Epictetus tells us, “For every challenge, remember the resources you have within you to cope with it.” Patience is one vital attribute I have found to deal with the hustle and bustle of this industry. Also, the ability to see through the initial difficult impressions posed by fellow employees and demanding guests. Most of the time there is a justified reason people act in a offensive way.
The goal of the Stoic is not to be taken away by impressions, taking offense, or taking it personally, but instead to deconstruct each impression as it arises and doing ones best to maintain their proper good in relation to it, and realizing what’s in and not in ones control. My duty as a server is to do my best serving my guests, but as a student of Stoic philosophy, to navigate each difficult situation therein with a coolness, maintaining a tranquil air. It takes practice, though. 😉