Dishin' That: The money may be easy, but will it last?

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This time of year, topics of college graduations and part-time summer jobs are tossed about in the same conversations.

Even the smart/lucky/well-connected grads who were hired at campus job fairs, or recruited because of an occupational specialty, are hanging around and working locally. For many, it’s a last hurrah before tossing their red beret in the air on Monument Square and stepping into the real world.

Congratulations tassel turners, but here’s a word of caution: Those of you who also temporarily landed in the hospitality business need to keep your eyes on the prize.

While sitting outside at The North Point on Silver Street in Portland last week, I couldn’t avoid hearing (OK, I was eavesdropping) a tete-a-tete between two chic thirty-something women doing lunch.

“My brother graduated from college last month and just got a job bartending with a catering company,” said the blond with the giant Michael Kors sunglasses. “He made over $800 his first week and said he’ll make almost the same this week. He has a degree in political science and has never done anything around food except eat. It’s wild.”

“I get it,” her decked-in-yellow, monochromatic companion said. “I waitressed all through school. I hated it and really couldn’t wait until I graduated. Then, I found out I made more in two nights at this horrible pub place, working with losers, than I did all week at my first HR job in Nashua.”

Due to an efficient server offering to fill my water, I was unable to hear what she said next, but Yellow Girl’s experience about “easy” money right at the gate rang true.

To the unknowing, hospitality jobs – especially while ”working your way through college” – are considered a means to loftier, more well-respected, and presumably, more lucrative careers. Once you’re no longer “working your way through,” it becomes a Norman Rockwell-like nirvana to obtain a job in your field of study – a real job that not only pays rent and student loans, but yields more money than your pre-graduation restaurant job.

While I’m sure Rockwell meant well, he often make us feel somehow lacking and less-than-successful. The idyllic way situations of Americana were preserved seldom match up to the reality of today. Think of the 1943 “Freedom from Want” Thanksgiving Dinner image. Whose family gets along like that? Whose dinner is that perfect or that effortless? Whose ever really was?

As if reading my mind, Yellow Girl spoke up again. “It’s too bad because that’s a lot of money and he might not even like his real job as much. Maybe he should try and do both for a while.”

“My parents would freak out,” MK sunglasses said. ”It’s too bad because he does really like the work and is learning new stuff. I think a lot of people would keep their summer jobs if they could live off them. It just isn’t what we’re supposed to do.”

Sadly, I think Rockwell might have agreed with her. Or, at least he would have painted it that way.

Peas & Qs

Q: What do you think about places that give you the dinner specials, but not the prices? I always want to ask, but my partner says it’s tacky. — Mark F., Naples.

A: Ninety-nine percent of the time, I’m with you and think the prices should be transparent. It’s our right as customers to decide if a price tag fits within the zone of perceived value. After all, nothing can ruin a good meal like unexpected sticker shock.

If the specials are on a piece of paper or chalkboard, the prices should be there, too. If the specials are verbalized, the descriptions can get lengthy, so the server might end with, “I’ll be happy to repeat the specials, and share the prices if anything sounds intriguing.”

The other percentage of which I speak is the lovely, fine-dining occasion where a guest may receive a menu sans prices. The key here is someone in the party should be made aware of the costs.

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Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @natalieladd.