I know that sounds crazy, because the word "waiter" for many people conjures images of some ragged half person/half zombie that served them Moons Over My-Hammy at Denny's a few years ago. It also sounds crazy because all I've ever wanted to be in life was a filmmaker (I still have fantasies of being an evolutionary biologist, though).
It sounds crazy because it means staking your livelihood on the kindness of strangers, sometimes based on factors that are completely out of your control. It means every table is your boss, re-evaluating your performance every 20 seconds, and they get to determine how much your time is worth. Your income is dependent on whether or not they happen to like your haircut, or the way you describe the flourless chocolate cake, or whether the cook fucked up their egg-white frittata. If you can remember 99 things on a list of 100, they will penalize you for the 100th thing every single time. It sounds crazy because even in this day and age, in this economy, no one knows how to fucking tip.
It's not that crazy, though. It's going to take me years to become a working director. Or to be more specific: more years than the many years I've already spent trying. The reality is that I have a small mortgage's worth of student loan debt, and yet it's very likely that my first "big" project will somehow have to come out of my pocket. I need a day job. The reality is that I need to both work as a full-time filmmaker and a full-time something else at the same time. So why waiting tables?
To become a great director, I must direct films. There is no ladder to climb, so to speak, because there's only ever one director on a film. Sure, other roles can lead to valuable experience, but I've performed those roles for ten years now. I've held nearly every possible position on something like 130+ projects: short films, commercials, TV shows, and even a feature or two. What I need is time, money, flexibility, and practice, so that I can spend the rest of my time actually doing what I should be doing.
Waiting tables means I can work 30 hours a week, feel like I just worked 60, but make 60+ hours of worth of money. It requires saintly levels of patience and fortitude, but the payoff is worth it. I don't have to take any work home with me. I'm an ordinary citizen the moment I clock out each day.
Waiting tables means I am even more flexible than my poor, starving freelance-dependent friends. I always have work, my industry is recession proof, and I work as much or as little as I like. I can do this job in almost any city in the world, though Chicago just happens to be food-obsessed and therefore particularly worthwhile.
Waiting tables means I get paid in cash, instantly. At my particular restaurant I also get a reliable schedule, retirement benefits, health insurance, and vacation pay.
Waiting tables means I meet 60+ strangers a day, and have to convince them to like and/or respect me in seconds, even if they don't like my haircut. In fact, they are disinclined to like me, because liking me means they feel obligated to pay me more money. This is all more like directing than anything a grip, assistant director, or production designer does.
Waiting tables at this particular place means that nearly every customer walking through the door makes more money than my parents ever did. They probably don't give a shit about art. It means they are rich, with rich friends, and are the exact sort of person with enough disposable income that I will hope either A) pay to see my movies, or B) give me lots and lots of money, as a risky investment into one of my movies. I need to learn what makes people like this tick.
(Though, I encounter far more interesting, nice, and cool people than I would have guessed originally)
After a year, I've also come to terms with the fact that I like waiting tables. I like meeting people every day. I like talking to strangers. I like it because I think I'm good at it, and I can't honestly say I'm good at lots of things. With any luck, that bodes well for my career in film. If nothing else, it's more interesting than retail?