Side Hustle Series: I’m a Restaurant Server

life list
My name is Clare and I’m hustling as a restaurant server on the side.

I’m 27 years old and work an awesome full time job in professional development at a university in Colorado. I love my current position and employer but it took me a long time to get to where I am now. My side hustle is serving tables at a restaurant downtown one to two shifts per week.

Let’s back up a little…

My first job was bussing tables at a historical hotel and restaurant in the tiny town in which I grew up. I was only 13 years old! I cringe when I think back to how young and naive I was. I remember drinking a lot of shirley temples and standing around, probably being useless. When I began high school, I grew up a bit and started serving tables at a local steakhouse. It was great money and far more than my peers were making at their retail and customer service jobs. Not to mention I was working half the hours that they were. By the time college rolled around, I had realized that making some hard cash in just a few hours was the kind of work I could fit into my demanding undergraduate schedule.

Serving tables (and a few student loans) paid for my undergraduate education. It was typical to earn more than $100 in any four hour shift and I worked three to five times per week. If I worked lunch and dinner, I would stroll out of the restaurant $200 wealthier. After I graduated, I worked a few desk jobs that I truly didn’t enjoy. I knew I wanted to work at the university but because it’s a government job with great benefits, the competition to get hired was was cut-throat. After working for a year in an administrative role for a psychotherapy company that was draining the life out of me, I quit and went back to serving tables. Two weeks after beginning this current restaurant job (almost two years ago), the heavens opened and I was finally hired by the university. I made one of the best financial choices I’ve ever made and stayed at the restaurant part-time.

The good:

  • The built-in social life of awesome co-workers.
  • Extra income to pad my savings accounts and unexpected expenses.
  • Exercise! On a busy night, I easily walk over 5 miles.
  • Serving so many different people in so many different moods over the years has given me an edge in reading people in various situations. I can tell how their day went and what I should say.

The bad:

  • A thick wad of cash is more difficult to get into the bank than a paycheck. The temptation to spend it is almost always there. Fifty $1 bills gives you a false sense of security because it’s so thick and I tend to think, “Why not?!” when I want a coffee / frozen yogurt / new shoes on the way to the bank.
  • Not depositing all of it makes it challenging to track. has never worked for me.
  • I miss out on social gatherings on a pretty regular basis because I’m at the part-time job.
  • Sometimes I work 60+ hour work weeks. Not pretty.

Is serving tables thankless work? Yes. Are customers sometimes unpleasant? Of course. But I’ve been working in restaurants for over ten years now and it doesn’t get to me anymore. Very few restaurants can boast this but I have great co-workers, understanding managers, and an agreeable, customer-oriented kitchen staff. Our company’s mission is to go out of our way to ensure the guest has the best possible experience. It’s literally a place I can earn some great money and alternately not think about when I’m not physically there. I don’t lose any sleep over it. In addition to my salaried university job, five to ten extra hours of work per week at the restaurant easily earns me $500 – $1000 extra income (depending on the season) per month.

Be nice to your server! He/she might have already worked an eight hour day at a “real” job.

Clare blogs over at Never Niche: a conglomeration of her interests (never having a niche) and her constant quest to do more with less. She can also be found on twitter @neverniche. Let’s give her some love everyone! :)

If you’d like to be featured in our Side Hustle Series, give me a shout and let me know what you’re up to! (j @ budgetsaresexy dot com)

(Photo by Serge Melki)

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  1. Arina October 28, 2010 at 8:45 AM

    This is a great post. I am doing my undergraduate degree currently and working part time at a pub. The pay is great – STILL (as in not in high school anymore) better than what a lot of my peers are making. But it has its’ down times. Business has been slower lately with more people around my area out of jobs and not willing to come in for a drink.

    Then again, education in Canada is a LOT cheaper than in the US, so I guess I shouldn’t be complaining.

  2. Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog October 28, 2010 at 9:06 AM

    This is a great post. I used to live in that town and I know that so many college kids are serving/bar tending/bussing tables and there is a lot of money to be made. The work is hard and it’s truly about the hustle, but its worth it!
    Good luck!

  3. Kevin @ October 28, 2010 at 9:18 AM

    Serviing definitely pays better than any retail jobs. However, you have to like it. I was making about $12/hr serving at Steak ‘n Shake through high school, but I absolutely hated it. I was so much happier working for $7 in the kitchen somewhere. Congrats on being able to handle the demands of that job.

  4. too funny October 28, 2010 at 9:39 AM

    I’ve got reservations to Komi (DC) coming up. It’s a great way to blow some hustle money and put in into the pockets of someone else.

  5. Rebekah October 28, 2010 at 9:44 AM

    I was a server through most of college, and really loved it. I made around $17/hour (10 years ago at Red Robin), and really enjoyed the work. It’s definitely always remained my fall back plan, and every once in awhile I do think about turning it into “side hustle.”

  6. Jill October 28, 2010 at 10:06 AM

    I COMPLETETLY hear this…. I used to be a server too and there was such an allure to it- quick money and the day/night goes by so fast. But for me, the ultimate dealbreakers were: crazy chefs. (not kidding, one threatened me with a knife for forgetting to send a french onion soup.) stupid managers.(they were just stupid) and heinously arrogant guests. I couldnt take it anymore. but if all of those things weren’t there… i think i’d have been much happier… SOOO MUCH LUCK to you hustling!!!!!!:)

  7. Clare October 28, 2010 at 10:46 AM

    Thanks, everyone! I’m so glad the general consensus is that it’s a tough, rewarding job. It’s the truth!

  8. Ef Rodriguez October 28, 2010 at 11:30 AM

    I deeply admire folks with this much drive and discipline. Incredible.

  9. Em October 28, 2010 at 12:38 PM

    This is me! I have a real job which I love and I’m a bartender on the weekends. I work 2 days a week at a beer hall and I make just under $20K a year. The money alone is great but bartending at a beer place is fantastic. No crazy drinks, no customer food issues, and my coworkers are fun. Its great to be able to go from a quiet office job to a talkative bar job. It’s my stress relief. I love both jobs!

  10. Drew October 28, 2010 at 3:21 PM

    Great post. I’ve never worked in the service industry personally but it’s cool to hear that there are those out there that love it so much they’re willing to keep at it on top of 40 hours a week.

  11. BruceBucks October 28, 2010 at 6:40 PM

    Good post! Serving is great money. I was able to work part time and paying for all my living expenses because of how much i made serving. It can be a full time job, but in half the hours. The only part that sucks is that you are working when everyone else is off. I can’t imagine working an 8 hour day and then heading to work for another 4 hours. Your Awesome to be able to do that. Is the reason for your “Side Hussle” to pay off debt? Or do you rely on this part time job to make ends meet? Just curious to know your motivation, because i find it inspiring? Thanks for the post.

  12. Clare October 28, 2010 at 6:49 PM

    Bruce – I haven’t always been able to say this but my only debt is my school loan. I do pay more than the minimum on the loan payments and I don’t “need” the restaurant job but it helps me save a lot more money per month than I would be able to without it. I’m financially independent, have been since I was 18, and there’s a lot I want to do (travel and furnish my place, for example) that the restaurant income streamlines.

  13. Edward - Entry Level Dilemma October 28, 2010 at 7:25 PM

    I have a lot of respect for servers; I know how much they work. That’s why I always leave a good tip – figure 20% and then round up to the nearest $5 (nearest $1 if it was a small bill). That said, I know that I wouldn’t be able to hack it – among other things, I’m too much of an introvert to have to deal with people for that long.

  14. J. Money October 29, 2010 at 10:19 AM

    YUP! Me too. I’m still following my 20% All The Time, Every Time “Tipping Rule”. It hooks up all the servers and allows me not to think about it anymore. As long as you don’t F us over, you’re getting 20%. More when I’ve been drinking ;)

  15. Evan October 29, 2010 at 4:16 PM

    Her domain name is one of the best I have heard in a long time!

  16. J. Money October 30, 2010 at 11:11 PM

    haha yeah, it’s clever.

  17. Serenity November 1, 2010 at 9:45 PM

    Fabulous post, Clare. I also have a lot of respect for people in service jobs. Waitressing is just one of a long list of thankless part-time jobs I had over the years to help me get by. I still got into debt, but it could have been much worse if I hadn’t take initiative and gotten jobs.

    I’m thinking about posting about my brief stint as a night security person in the dorms when I was a busy undergrad who didn’t have time for any other job … given me food for thought, J Money. Thanks!

  18. J. Money November 1, 2010 at 9:59 PM

    oooh that should be interesting! if you want to share it with us, would love to feature it as one of the next side hustles :) just shoot me an email and we’ll make it happen! (j at budgets are sexy dot com). Or just let us now the link if you end up posting it on your site – thanks!

  19. Tim April 10, 2011 at 7:38 AM

    I started bartending at a restaurant a couple of weeks into my first job because my job was so boring. In high school I worked at a pizza place pouring beer and wine. Even though I didn’t know alot about bartending the owner hired me because I was honest. There were no blenders behind the bar so it was only beer, wine and mixed drinks. The hours were great since the full time bartender required both Friday and Saturday nights plus one other each week. I had the weekends off to visit my girlfriend who was still in college in a different state. I watched the waitstaff to see how they worked. Some were good some were very bad. I was actually allowed to wait tables if they needed someone on the weekend. Waiting tables and bartending is hard work if done right. My girlfriend, now wife, would check the list to see who was up next to see if we were ready to sit. I tip very well if you are good because of all the work/personality that goes into it. Clare, you sound like a person I would tip 20 – 25 – 30% depending on the event. (Valentines Day, Birthday)

  20. Clare - Never Niche April 10, 2011 at 10:11 AM

    Thank you, Tim! That comment made my day.

  21. J. Money April 10, 2011 at 4:46 PM

    I still wanna bartend pretty badly. I don’t care if it’s at a bingo night – just seems like so much fun :) and I like tips… never worked anywhere where I got tips before.

  22. RAQUEL DELOS SANTOS June 26, 2016 at 3:29 AM

    Hi I am freelancer waiting for a job and reading for this nice story of her and I am proud she is very industrious woman. I wish to become a waitress too but I am not experience,I am hard worker woman and I know I can do same as her, I am dreaming to become millionaire at the right time comes…