Ilana, mid 30s
What does a waiter do?
"A waiter is someone who works 'front of house' in a cafe or restaurant serving clientele," Ilana observes. There are several different styles of waiting from the luxury of silver service to concocting drinks behind the bar. Ilana works as a fine-dining waiter at one of Melbourne's more sophisticated restaurants.
As her restaurant is handy to theatres, actors and celebrities usually drift in at least once a shift. Ilana serves them all with the same cheerful professionalism that she would offer to any patrons. She aims to make everyone's meal special and it's always a highlight to "get lovely, friendly customers who are open to a great dining experience which a waiter becomes a part of."
How did you become a waiter?
Getting into waiting is often something people take on to suit other activities in their lives. As Ilana reflects, "I was a student at the time that I started and the hours suited me. I could study during the day and work at night. It was an easy industry to get into and I felt comfortable in the job. I had a good friend who worked at the same place and the environment was a lot of fun."
Since Ilana's first job doing functions at the Victorian Arts Centre, she's gained experience in some of Melbourne's top restaurants and developed a solid knowledge of food and wine. Ilana's experience and commitment to good service has allowed her to move through the competitive world of Melbourne's restaurant scene. "Anyone can become a waiter but being a good waiter is a different story. A good waiter is fast, doesn't make too many mistakes and looks after a large number of tables providing excellent service."
What does a typical working day involve?
Much of a waiter's day is about 'floor service' - taking orders, delivering meals and drinks, then bringing bills and clearing tables. Ilana also sees it as "generally seeing to any needs the customer may have" to make their dining experience better.
It's a tough job with little chance to rest. "A break is usually 15 minutes," Ilana sighs. "You're on your feet all day and often you are working at a fairly breakneck speed."
What are the people you work with like?
Often it's the "camaraderie that develops through working as a team" that gets waiters through their shifts. Having a joke with a fellow waiter or being able to vent to kitchenhands can be the only way to survive frantic shifts. Customers vary greatly from friendly regulars to "rude, demanding or unappreciative" so the most important skill in waiting is managing difficult people.
What are some of the pros and cons of the job?
Aside from flexible hours and a good sense of teamwork, Ilana sees the customers as a possible upside of her job. "You can develop a nice rapport with customers, particularly the regulars." Customers can be as rewarding as they are frustrating.
The worst thing about the job is the hours which are "often long and the work is almost always hard and tiring." Ilana likes to eat healthily, so meals can also be an issue. "You won't always be fed by your employers. If you are, you will almost never be eating the food that is served but more likely get something that is slap-dash and not necessarily healthy or nutritionally balanced."
Do you have any tips for getting a job as a waiter?
Obviously when working with food, presentation is important so Ilana recommends that potential waiters "present themselves neatly and professionally." Employers also look favourably on punctuality, but to progress in hospitality it's vital to have "a good food knowledge (of different dishes, ingredients, cooking terms and cooking styles) and in fine dining it's important to have knowledge of wines."
For Ilana, a waiter has to have a unique cocktail of skills. "Good service is about efficiency, attentiveness, being able to assess and anticipate customer's needs, the ability to work well as part of a team and a sense of humour for when the going gets stressful!"
Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).