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Can I work in the service industry and still be working a ‘real job’?

‘I just thought it was time I left the restaurant and got a real job’

In my mid 20’s I often find myself in the unfortunate situation of having to justify my career choices to an estranged family member, a friend I haven’t seen since leavers prom or that girl that is into ‘good vibes’ you accidentally swiped right on because you weren’t paying attention. Whilst I’m sure they all mean well and are just trying to take an interest in my working life, it is always with a shuffle of my feet and a poorly explained justification that I tell them I am a manager in the service industry.

In the UK especially, service industry jobs have long blurred the white collar/ blue-collar line, often being considered in-between work, evening work or even worse ‘my first job before I got a ‘real’ job’. When confronted with the ‘real job’ phenomenon I find myself asking the same question ‘would attaining a job that gave me money to burn, that my friends would respect, my parents would be proud of and the good vibes girl would swoon over, really make me happier than managing my restaurant’?

It would be great if that was an easy no, but these things are important to me for some reason, as I’m sure they are to most other people. The one late night after service, whilst browsing the deep depths of Reddit, I discovered this venn diagram explaining the Japanese idea of Ikigai.

I looked into Ikigaia little more and found an English translation that roughly translated to ‘the reason I wake up in the morning’ and when I tried to translate my own feelings towards my working life on the Ikigai diagram, it switched the light on for me as to why I felt such a strong affinity for the service industry. I was good at this job and loved spending my time in the service environment with customers and staff. I got a great deal of satisfaction from providing the experience of eating out at a restaurant and the pay is enough to sustain my modest lifestyle. On the Ikigai chart, I was 3 for 4.

Which left me with ‘satisfaction but a feeling of uselessness’. What does that mean and how do I find the solution to this feeling in a job where I take someone’s money for something as basic and necessary as food and drink? It’s a difficult concept, how does what I do benefit the whole world, and can I really believe that justification? To me, this turned out to be a situation where I couldn’t see the forest through the trees. When I stepped back and looked at this question through the lens of the industry as a whole, the answer was clear to me, in the service industry, we provide a service.

It’s like I tell the Front of House staff that I train, I believe restaurants are important. I believe restaurants are facilitators for so many of the important social aspects of society. People come to restaurants to fall in love, they come here to celebrate birthdays or anniversaries, they come to catch up with loved ones or reminisce about loved ones lost. Restaurants are an extension of our lives where our basic needs are taken care of and we can focus on more important emotional & spiritual connections.

Personally, I recall childhood memories of going to restaurants with my family and learning how I was expected to act around others, how to talk to people that weren’t part of my immediate family and being told not to eat sugar cubes directly out of the bowl. I remember my family being together, laughing, arguing, crying, scolding (usually when I ate those sugar cubes regardless) and ultimately bonding. The layouts of the restaurant and the faces that we met have disappeared from memory, but the restaurant facilitated that bonding and in some sense played a part in forming me into what I am today.

So why is this important? I believe that this is important to combat ‘real job’ culture. In our lives technology is increasingly making our basic needs easier and easier to fulfil, I believe that society will be looking to have our needs met further up the hierarchy of needs pyramid. I believe that the service industry is a great facilitator for that in our working lives and if those working in the industry can hold their head high and be proud of their decision, we can attract more young bright minds to an important industry.

I’m proud that I have made the choice to make this my career, and I hope this gives at least one other person the courage to take pride in their ‘real’ restaurant job too.

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