As the old joke goes, two people meet at a party. Guest 1 asks Guest 2 what he does for a living. "I'm an actor," he answers. "Ah," Guest 1 says, nodding. "What restaurant do you work at?"
Being a server has traditionally been the ideal job for aspiring actors, models and artists since well, forever. The flexible hours, social interaction and possibility of generous tips (especially if one is hot, according to a study by Cornell University), make it the perfect occupation for someone trying to make good money while aspiring to be something else.
But more and more servers are taking waiting tables more seriously, seeing it not as a side job, but as a full-fledged career. "It's not a particularly new phenomenon in Europe or in fine dining," says Philip Iordanu, general manager at the New York City restaurant Beaumarchais. "But I do think that both waiting and cooking are becoming more legitimate career choices with the glamorization of the restaurant industry in the media, which is a very positive shift."
Anthony Breyer, 28, started waiting tables to earn extra money while he was a college student—and soon found himself wanting more than just a job in restaurants. "During the daily pre-shift meetings, when we taste new dishes, learn about wines and service points, I began to develop a genuine enthusiasm for the job," he says. "I began seeking out further information and practice on my own time and that's when it began to evolve as a career for me."
He's now been a waiter for 9 years, and on staff at Beaumarchais for the past year. He supplements his service knowledge with wine classes and often attends the pairings and tastings held at the restaurant where he works. Breyer also goes to other well-regarded eateries to observe the staff's behavior and to try new dishes. "It's a rare thing these days for someone to spend the majority of their time doing something they love with people they enjoy," says Breyer, who cites Danny Meyer's Setting the Table as a must-read for anyone mulling over a waiting career. "And the service industry allows me to do just that."
CLARISSA CRUZ is the Fashion Features Editor of O, The Oprah Magazine. She is the former Style Editor of People magazine and has written for Entertainment Weekly, InStyle, Food & Wine, and Budget Travel. @clarissanyc1