How to Be Happier: Lessons from a Cater Waiter

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

at your serviceA few months ago, I started working with a company that farms out cater waiters for local events. I hadn’t worked in the service industry for over a decade, but it seemed like a good way to make some extra money while I finished my book.

Truth be told, I was really nervous about this decision at first. I assumed I’d be the oldest woman there, because surely only college kids spend their evenings carrying trays between tables at charity dinners. I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to carry a tray – or work on my feet for several hours at a time.

But, I knew I needed to do something besides writing for money. There are only so many words a woman can conjure in a day, and I wanted to dedicate the bulk of mine to the book. I also wanted to hold on to the flexible lifestyle I’ve become hopelessly addicted to. Being able to take on as few or as many shifts as I wanted as a cater waiter seemed like the perfect fit.

Surprisingly, I’ve unearthed some new pockets of happiness in my black-and-white uniform.

How Working as a Cater Waiter Has Made Me Happier

I’ve learned new skills. Turns out my fears weren’t unfounded: I did not know how to carry a tray stacked with dinner plates and wine glasses. But I learned. The first night I was able to serve and clear my tables all by myself, I was pretty proud of myself. I came home and gushed to Jared about not needing a runner or team captain to help. I’ve also learned how to fold napkins into little tents, a talent I’m totally going to try out at home one of these nights.

I’m sure it sounds silly, but learning new skills is one of those things that just makes people happier. It doesn’t matter how valuable the task is; the accomplishment feels good.

It feels good to do a good job just for the sake of doing a good job. As a temp, I’m little more than a number to the people I work under during a shift. I’m not going to get a promotion or a raise, and even tips are rare at pre-paid events. I realized quickly that no one notices who works hard and who hides behind a rack of dishes while playing on a smartphone.

My smartphone is never on me during a shift, because the handbook says they aren’t allowed. This leaves me with little else to do but work, and I’ve found that it’s rewarding to do a good job that no one notices. This sounds like common sense, but I’m so accustomed to having my efforts monitored, recognized, and rewarded accordingly that I’d forgotten what it feels like to work in a vacuum of my own standards.

Opportunities for connection are everywhere. It was difficult at first to face a room full of strangers without the comfort of my iPhone, especially when I saw a lot of other people didn’t take the no-phone rule seriously. I’d spend the ample downtime sitting alone at a table or looking around for something to polish. Eventually, however, someone would grab a rag and start polishing with me or sit beside me at the table and ask how many tables I had.

Slowly but surely, the connections came. I haven’t made any new friendships, really, but I’ve exchanged smiles and laughter. I’ve formed quick partnerships in an effort to clear an area faster or clean up a mess. And of course, I’ve enjoyed mini-connections with the people I actually serve.

These aren’t the deep, lasting relationships that sustain us during hard times – but they are no less important. The kind words and helping hands that color our day-to-day lives are the constant reminder that we’re all connected, that we’re all tied to something big enough to keep us from spinning off into loneliness.

How do you find happiness at work?

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  1. Butterscotch says:

    How do I find happiness at work??

    Honestly, reading blogs. Sneaking a phone call to the spouse. Looking at facebook on my phone.

    This is really a eye opener question for me. I know I have been unhappy with my job, but I can not except happiness to fall in my lap sitting behind a desk and a wall of paper. I have to look for happiness in my job. I can do this, just have to try. Today I will try. :)

    Thanks for the question and making me think this morning. :)
    Butterscotch’s most recent post: Tired. oh & freak flag warning.

  2. I feel the same way now that I’m cleaning again. True, the client has final say over the quality of my job, but I find myself trying to make a bathroom sparkle because it pleases me to see a good job accomplished! I just wish the girls I work with were friendlier! Good for you!
    Blondefabulous’s most recent post: Weeping

    • Miss Britt says:

      Working with friendly people definitely makes it easier to find happiness on the job. When that’s not available, we have to push a little harder, don’t we?

  3. Megan says:

    My cousin’s wife does this too, and she loves it. (although she gets big tips)

    There is absolutely something to be said for a job well-done, even if you are the only one who knows it’s been well done.

    I find happiness at work by getting the job done and doing to the best of my ability. I do connect with my co-workers, but sometimes that’s more of a downer than a source of happiness. I’ve also been known to frequent Cute Overload, which I gladly share with my co-workers because we’re all animal lovers.
    Megan’s most recent post: After Boston

    • Miss Britt says:

      I’ve gotten a couple of good tips – which is super cool since it isn’t expected!

  4. Jacob says:

    I recently took a job that pays less, but frees up a lot of time for me to work on my new blog.

    “I do today what others won’t, so I can do tomorrow what others can’t”
    Jacob’s most recent post: HOW YOU WILL CHANGE THE WORLD TODAY

  5. natalie says:

    Such an important thing to learn early: finding happiness at work! I agree, there is nothing quite like the satisfaction and happiness that comes from when you know you are doing the best job you can do, even if the job isn’t necessarily what you want to be doing. I was a crossing guard for a couple of years and even though it was the lowest jobs on the schools roster, I took pride in what I did in keeping kids safe and doing the best job I could and no one was out there to watch me unless the principal happened to walk out there one day.
    natalie’s most recent post: Thoughts On Friendship

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