A Full Plate: Working in the Service Industry Through College

By: Izabelle Bradley

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (mocsnews.com) — When you ask a college student what they do for work, a common answer is serve or bartend in a restaurant. Students are often told before they even begin college about the luxury of making fast money waiting tables.

Nearly 70% of full-time college students must take on a job alongside their academics in order to provide for themselves. A typical full-time college student spends anywhere between 12-19 hours per week attending classes — this is not accounting for time spent on assignments outside of class and extracurriculars.

“Mentally, serving has prepared me for real life. Having to balance all these things at once helps you grow up.” Says Brandon Campbell. He has a full plate between being a UTC student, member of Greek life, and server at The Feed Co.

Campbell says his biggest challenge is finding the balance of working enough to pay for rent and his fraternity dues and events, while also having enough time to focus on his schoolwork and personal obligations.

“When an event is several hundred dollars I have to find time to work more shifts while still planning around assignments, mandatory meetings, and the event itself”

Brandon Campbell with his Sigma Chi brothers from left to right Gage Thigpen, Logan Coleman, and Gustavo Miranda on campus.

While balancing all the responsibilities of student life, one often cannot survive on a minimum wage job when they do not have time to work countless hours a week. In order to cover rent, groceries, and other expenses, students often accept the allure of quick money and minimum hours offered in the food service industry.

Another major appeal of the industry is that many restaurants are extremely accommodating to a student’s schedule.

Anna Kate Bacon, a student at UTC and server at Big River Grill says, “My managers have always stressed that my schoolwork comes first. However, it is sometimes difficult to know the schedule of future assignments while also trying to find time for myself.”

A major obstacle presented in the industry is one shift could easily last until the early morning hours, and there is no way to know beforehand. The service industry is wildly unpredictable, and that is either a server’s favorite part or downfall. Bacon emphasizes that each shift she never knows what she may face.

It is also important to note that servers rely on their income from tips, not a consistent hourly wage. The average hourly pay for a server in Chattanooga, Tennessee is $2.44 per hour.

With this in mind, consider the unpredictability of the service industry again. One could go into a wildly busy shift and make their rent in one night, or they could go into a slow shift and make enough for their lunch that day.

However, most students still are adamant the risk is typically worth the reward.

Emma Covington, bartender at The Flying Squirrel and student at UTC, would not advise any other job while in college. Covington loves the diversity and excitement of the industry. “Working in a restaurant introduces you to such a wide variety of people. Your job in many ways is to build connections with each other, and I really enjoy that aspect.”

Emma Covington making drinks at the Flying Squirrel.

The serving industry brings people together that would otherwise never meet. Bacon and Campbell both cited the most valuable benefit from working in the industry to be the people they have met.

“The service industry gets your name out there.” Campbell says, “My biggest reward serving is I get to meet so many people. People that have offered me jobs and internships that go along with my major.”

While it is true that there is opportunity to meet wonderful people while serving, it is also true that servers encounter extremely difficult customers. Serving is a great job to teach patience and problem solving. Before accepting a service industry job, be prepared to deal with mean, needy, and disrespectful customers.

However, these types of customers are going to appear in almost any workplace dealing with the public. The reoccurring theme stays true- serving is worth it.

Bacon offered this advice to those on the fence of starting a serving job, “I would definitely recommend to any college student that enjoys being social and needs a flexible schedule. The service industry could be for you.”

About Izabelle Bradley

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