Friday, October 31, 2014


Lately I’ve noticed our lunch-time servers in various corporate restaurants are older. They look to be about 50 or higher. Yesterday’s Red Robin waitress was certainly a grandmother.

I’m sure there are employment trends tracked on sites like and LinkedIn to suggest that mid-career workers are more likely to have been laid off in the financial crisis in 2008. Many were probably unable to take early retirement and therefore found alternative employment.

Mid-career workers are the ones whose tenure and experience make them expensive. But the ranks narrow at the top of the company. Ambition is what would keep them in the organization, the desire to achieve leadership heights. And the willingness to put in whatever hours, travel, and sacrifice necessary to achieve those heights.

And maybe they didn’t want to sacrifice family or free time to climb the ladder. Maybe they found meaning and purpose at church or in a civic organization. Maybe they need more time to raise money for cancer research or animal shelters.

A lot of Gen Xers were tossed out with the layoffs in 2008. Though not quite as expensive as our middle-management, mid-career supervisors, we also didn’t have the chance to lay bare our ambition. We were too busy climbing to look up and see opportunity.

But we’re not waiting tables.

Many of us have started our own companies, become consultants, become independent contractors, worked from home in start-ups. Many of us have shifted careers to those occupations that are hiring like nursing, education, and technology.

Again, there are probably statistics demonstrating how many people in which age brackets are working in what types of jobs. And I remember when all of us Gen Xers were waiting tables because we couldn’t get entry-level jobs in the Bush economy. Remember that? Post-9/11? Nobody hired anyone for months.

Waiting tables is a hard job. It’s being your feet, carrying all kinds of stuff, responding politely to dickhead customers, and cleaning crust and crumbs out of vinyl seats. So why would grown-ups do that job?

Because it’s work. Because it pays. Because it’s something they can do.

And why would corporate restaurant managers hire them?

Because they’ll show up. 

They’ll be clean. They’ll be sober. They’ll be honest and polite. They’ll be professionals.

I’ve gone back to restaurants again and again while I was between jobs. After I finished my masters’ degree I swore I wouldn’t return to the service industry. The person bitching about the $1 upcharge for onion rings doesn’t care if I have more education than he does. He holds my salary in his wallet.

I never wanted to be at that much of a disadvantage again.

And yet I respect the fact that those mid-career workers found some source of income to satisfy their needs. I respect that they’re willing to take whatever job they can find at Red Robin or Cracker Barrel or Applebee’s so that they have some source of income.

They may not be in a position to risk starting their own business and failing, or being a consultant and traveling, or being contractors without benefits.

But they’re working. They work for lower wages, at menial jobs, where their customers don’t know everything they’re capable of. Where their experience doesn’t really matter if their service sucks.

I suspect a few of them like the flexibility of a wait staff job, the minimal hours for maximum pay. Some may like working side-by-side with the youngsters who typically fill the ranks. Others may genuinely enjoy greeting customers and making them smile.

I respect people who are willing to work.

Lately I’ve been working with a lot of people who have held the same job with the same company for more than 20 years. I respect their loyalty, certainly, but I also wonder what would have happened if an economic crisis had forced them to do something new.

I try to imagine them waiting tables.

Then I feel a renewed sense of respect for the Red Robin grandmother. And yes, my tips reflect that respect. #dontsayitpayit


  1. Interesting post. As long as I can recall, there have been older people doing those jobs. Since I'm older than you, I would guess this has been happening for a long, long time. Still I would be interested in discovering if the numbers have increased. I know when I faced this dilemma, I decided to work for myself. That was 14 years ago, and I'm still going strong. Many of my peers have done the same thing, too. Most of the people I've met who opted for the service industry are not the entrepreneurial type or lost a job in production.

    1. Hi, Barbara,

      Thanks for visiting Clemson Road and for your comment. I spent my 20s in restaurants and always assumed it was work for younger folks. Might have just been the places I worked!


  2. Hardest work I've ever done, for sure. I recall not being able to get a job at Friendly's when I was in my 20s because the manager only wanted to hire older women (all women in those days except for the really pricey restaurants). I was frustrated, but he explained that he found them to be more reliable. I do think that today there are some people who choose waiting for the reasons you cite (flexibility, etc.), but it sure is hard on the body.

    1. Hi, Barbara,

      To be sure it's physically grueling. I remember soreness in legs, back, feet, and being in my 20s and in pretty good shape. Can't imagine doing it now.



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