Things I learnt about work and life from waiting tables in college

Lesli Woodruff
The Startup
Published in
8 min readJul 27, 2019

Postcard from Kenmore Square…

In the late 80’s, I was on the opening crew of the Pizzeria Uno in Kenmore Square, 2 blocks from Fenway Park. It was a college student’s dream job — if that dream includes coming home at 2am smelling like a deep-dish pizza and beer and sometimes tequila; sometimes elated and excited, sometimes questioning the future of humanity, sometimes wondering what $2.15 an hour and tips plus a business degree from BU was going to get me.

We graduated in the middle of a recession, so it took a bit of effort to get a job, and I ended up waiting tables after college for a year or so, first full-time, then part-time after I had my first real job with a real company. All the complaining about tips and customers and creepy managers and lazy co-workers were offset by the camaraderie, teamwork, celeb encounters, after-hours commiseration sessions at Cornwall’s, parties, and of course unexpected bonuses.

Not altogether that different from working in the corporate world, if you think about it…and it was that job, I’d realise only much later on, that gave me some foundation for some core precepts I follow every day.

Carry the right amount.

Last weekend was the hottest of the summer so far. I had just gotten home from the beach, salty and overheated. Although it was Saturday, my mind was already spinning about The Project that was eating my soul, the other Projects that were being neglected because of this Thing; and nagging behind that: was all the stress to Get. It. Done. Fast. even worth it? I walked into my flat, shagged out*, knackered by the heat, arms and head laden with stuff, missed a step and landed squarely (on my stuff) on my leg and ribs. Nothing broken, luckily, save my pride (the bruise, however, is one for the annals).

You were carrying too much, my yoga teacher reminded me this morning. And, as usual, I’m a walking metaphor for my own awkward breed of humanness.

We carried these massive trays at Uno’s. Simple rules: Balance the pilsners opposite the hefty dinner plates; place the heaviest items in the center. Use a smaller tray for smaller items. One too many things on the tray, and it’s going over — most likely on the district manager’s wife’s lap (Luckily, this never happened to me during…

Lesli Woodruff
The Startup

Instructional Designer, writer, photographer, wanderer, reluctant but sometimes sparkly introvert, curious one, believer in magic.