My First & Worst Job (and One of the Best Things That Ever Happened to Me)

The summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college, I was the world’s worst restaurant hostess.

No, really. You laugh, but consider this: I was a ridiculously shy 19-year-old who thought it’d be fun to work at Steak n’ Ale. It was my job to greet guests and seat them, but every time people walked into the restaurant, I’d be struck with fear.

Why do more people keep coming in??? I’d think to myself. Then I’d dash off to the back of the restaurant to grab a handful of peppermints to refill the peppermint bowl.

There was the time I triple-sat several servers because guests kept requesting certain tables (and isn’t the customer always right)?

The time I told a very irritated guest that their table would be ready in 10 minutes even though that was really wishful thinking on my part.

The time I handed a menu to a guest who was blind.

The time I spent my entire day off at the beach and forgot to wear sunblock. When I showed up to work the next day, I was so sunburned that my manager sent me home. She didn’t want me ruining people’s appetites.

And let’s not mention the potato count. As hostess, I was in charge of letting the cooks know how many people were in the restaurant every 15 minutes so they could have a baked potato (included in every meal) ready for them. I never remembered to do the potato count.

I don’t know why they didn’t fire me. Instead, they did the next best thing: after two weeks of working at the restaurant, I noticed my schedule—once a mixture of night, weekend, and weekday shifts—had changed. I now worked only daytime shifts and only on weekdays: the least busy time for the restaurant.

I wish I could say I wrote stories upon stories while I stood for hours behind the hostess stand, waiting for guests to trickle in. But really, I mostly doodled. And daydreamed. A  lot. About a boy.

Because the thing is, the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college, I was the world’s worst hostess at a restaurant where there also worked a waiter who insisted on introducing me to his best friend.

And his best friend soon became my best friend. And we spent day after day after day together, thanks to my now very predictable work schedule, until we realized at the end of the summer that we should be more than friends.

Fast-forward to nearly eleven years later. I’m happy to say that while I’m still a bit of an introvert, I’ve learned that shyness can be shed and confidence can be grown into with time and experience. I never go to the beach without sunblock, and I reapply constantly. And, while this job could not have been a more terrible fit for me at the time, I often think of it when I’m scared of something. I remind myself that great, unexpected things happen when we push ourselves out of our comfort zone.

Oh, and that boy, you ask?

Reader, I married him.



Author: Natalia Sylvester

Natalia Sylvester is the author of the novel CHASING THE SUN (Lake Union/New Harvest, June 2014), about a frail marriage tested to the extreme by the wife's kidnapping in Lima, Peru. A former magazine editor, she now works as a freelance writer in Texas. Visit her online at

20 Replies to “My First & Worst Job (and One of the Best Things That Ever Happened to Me)”

  1. Natalia, you really need to get the potato counting into a book. I can totally see a flustered hostess who’s constantly messing up the potato count, being counseled and lectured on the importance of said count, etc. Like the Jennifer Aniston character and the “flare” in that movie — was it Office Space?

  2. What a great story! There’s a saying in Spanish that my grandmother always says, “No ay mal, que por bien no venga” (something good always comes out of the bad…or every dark cloud has a silver lining). Your story is a perfect example of that!

    1. The potato count’s been the hit of the day, I guess. Even my husband, who read this post, was like, “You never told me about the potato count. That’s hilarious!” Who would’ve thunk it?

  3. I agree with the others. The potato count is book-worthy. I love your little love story (and can commiserate — end of my freshman year summer, I, too, was thrust into a hostess position on THE busiest night. Then I moved to waitressing). Unlike you, though, I loved being social with customers. Even the grumpy ones. But, then again, I didn’t have to keep track of potatoes in my head, which I imagine could make any writer tense (Math?! What?)!

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