4 Scientific Reasons Why Waiting Tables Is the Most Stressful Job Out There

Most of the folks who have held a food server job during their lives will tell you that it can be a very stressful line of work. In fact, anyone who’s ever worked with the general public, whether it be in a restaurant, a retail store, etc., will likely say the same. It’s tough dealing with people, right? Well, yes, that’s true. But, waiting tables comes with a lot of stresses that go far beyond just dealing with rude customers.

waiting tables

(Photo Credit: Andrew Stawarz/Flickr)

1. Let’s start by talking about the pay.

When the results of a study conducted by scientists from the Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China on the link between stroke and work stress found that waitressing is the most stressful job, some were surprised that other more high-stakes professions, like doctors and lawyers, weren’t ranked as more stressful. One reason for this, but certainly not the only one, is pay.

First of all, it’s true that some servers make pretty good money. It all comes down to the establishment where they work, the busyness of the shift, etc. But, the median annual salary for a server is just $24,325. Plus most of that money is from tips, which are unreliable at best and part of a terribly flawed system.

Here’s the thing: a low-paying job that comes with terribly high stress is an awful combination. Struggling financially is stressful all on its own. Add a tense, physically demanding, emotionally exhausting job to the mix and, well, you’ve compounded that stress. Pay is certainly part of the reason why waitressing has been found to be one of the most stressful jobs for more than 20 years. Yes, even when it’s compared with more high-stakes professions.

2. Getting yelled at for things you can’t control is miserable.

When considering the results of this study, it’s important not to underestimate the level of tension that happens in a restaurant. And, so much of the stress (and the complaints) come from sources that the waitstaff have no control over. Complaints about food, timing, seating, etc., from customers seem endless, not to mention the special requests.

The kitchen staff and host/hostess and managers are also under a lot of pressure, so servers are getting hit from every direction. Especially when things get busy, the directions and complaints start to fly, and they often come aimed right at the waitstaff. Being yelled at for things you can’t control is absolutely miserable. And, having to be the face of calm and control in such a tense environment also contributes to the stressful nature of the work.

3. Because, yeah, people are jerks.

The lack of respect shown to food servers is almost shocking. Through actions and words, difficult customers can make a stressful job even worse. A pervasive lack of consideration for a server’s time combined with impatience is particularly offensive and difficult to manage.

Rude behavior extends beyond asking waitstaff to run back and forth getting additional items, checking drink prices, etc.; sometimes servers are downright ignored. If you’ve never waited tables, imagine standing there, waiting to take an order, while customers gab away as if you’re invisible. You ask if they are ready to order: still nothing. But, food servers have to just smile and keep going. Dealing with jerks is pretty stressful stuff.

4. It’s physically challenging, but there’s more to it than just that.

The study from the Southern Medical University in China found a link between low-paying jobs with a high workload and incidents of heart problems and stroke. One potential reason for this is that high-stress jobs sometimes lead to unhealthy behaviors like smoking, drinking, etc. Perhaps people working these jobs are also less likely to receive adequate medical attention due to lack of funds, and that also has long-term health consequences.

There’s also the fact that keeping an ever-changing schedule impacts sleep patterns, which could also affect health. Plus, the job is incredibly physically demanding. You’re on your feet, often running, for hours upon hours. And, anyone that’s ever worked in a restaurant can tell you that there is one accident after another – tripping on slippery floors, burns, cuts, etc., they all come with the territory. Food servers’ work is physically demanding and taxing, to say the least.

So, let’s show a little more appreciation and kindness toward the waiters and waitresses of the world. Be kind, patient, and respectful with your food servers. And, for goodness sake, tip 20 percent if you feel your server has adequately done their job. It’s pretty clear that they’ve more than earned it.

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