Although not everyone considers the service to be a legitimate profession, the money that can be earned is very real. When Saeed Tokhi's father saw him cleaning up after a party the family had organized, he later told Saeed, “It made me cry.”. It made him cry, he said, because he couldn't bear to think of his son, who is a waiter at the Centro restaurant, doing these small-time things for a career. In Egypt, where Tokhi's parents are from and where they retired, jobs in the service industry are not admired.
This attitude may have an especially strong presence in Des Moines, according to Paul Rottenberg, CEO of Orchestrate Hospitality, which oversees some of the area's most successful restaurants. Rottenberg began his hospitality career at age 14 as a dishwasher and worked his way up. While Tokhi, 29, doesn't have a four-year college degree, he has a two-year associate's degree under his belt, as well as some false starts in other degrees: teaching, culinary school, hairdressing. He also has a hard-earned self-awareness.
Throughout his various attempts to find his way, Tokhi worked in restaurants, but he would be the first to admit that it was just a job. I was young, didn't take anything seriously, I lived at home. That's not the reality. Between concerts in restaurants, Tokhi had a couple of real jobs, but those, and some restaurant jobs, ended up some because he quit and others because he was fired, but all because I had a bad attitude,” he said.
And each failure added to the growing list of reasons to be ashamed of Tokhi. However, instead of moving on to something better or easier, he held on. It was like my first “achievement,” Tokhi said. And the more I got involved, the better I felt and the more I took advantage of it.
If you smile at people, they smile back. He's been at the Center for three years. Jessica Dunker, president and CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association, says serving is one of the latest jobs that actually pay for performance. The restaurant industry employs about 10 percent of Iowa's total workforce, second only to the healthcare industry, and is forecast to grow by about 1,000 more per year over the next 10 years.
Rottenberg, from Orchestrate, agreed and said that one of the answers to that is better communication. Both Dunker and Rottenberg noted that the restaurant industry is not only a great place for entrepreneurs, but it has almost limitless opportunities to move forward, if that's the goal. It may be people like Tokhi who explain the discrepancy. Every day someone asks me: “Are you in school?” Or, “What else do you do?” Tokhi said.
Although he considers being a server to be his career, he said he still has moments when he feels uncomfortable answering those kinds of questions. He admitted to being nervous about meeting his girlfriend's parents and facing those inevitable questions. Despite all that, his passion for the profession is clear. It's really the best thing that ever happened to me.
It gives me a purpose, and everyone needs it, right? It's amazing how happy it makes you feel to make someone else happy. If you go to Jesse's Embers regularly, you've met or at least seen Monna Greer in action. She's the tiny woman who runs in circles around the place and everyone in it. Or the day shift at Latin King, which he just gave up and who also loves.
This is the first time in my life that I only have one job. Yes, I have bills to pay, but it's not all about money. I think if I couldn't work at Embers, I'd be lost. I would retire.
For Greer, it's all about people. And the people he served at Dominic's, including a long list of who's who from Des Moines, come to Jesse's and Greer's famous annual Christmas parties. Ken Grandquist wrote Greer a letter of recommendation when he went through the adoption process for his daughter. Leonard Boswell (I've known him for 45 years) recently invited Greer and his daughter to spend a week in Washington, DC, C.
“A lot of people have done a lot of good things for me,” Greer said. Ness said he's had a lot of other jobs: insurance, business brokerage, dry cleaning, but the food industry must be in my blood. I've gone and done a lot of other things, but I always came back (to the restaurant business). Ness says he doesn't understand why people might consider service work humble.
Maybe people think that's “all” I can do. But I really don't like that attitude very much. If I do, it's younger people, Des Moines can be quite a friendly city. And probably (I speak with contempt) more to myself (than others); and my mother was thrilled when she was finally able to tell people that I was in management.
It's like I'm 42 years old, Mom; it's not a temporary thing. I think it's because people think that serving is on the same page as working in retail, that is, something you do because you have to, not because you want to. Just let them know how much you love the job, and even if you have the education to go somewhere else, this is what you like to do and you make a lot of money doing it. A job is a job, whether you're trying to develop technology to improve the planet or you're serving a hot plate of food to a hungry paying customer.
As a waiter for many years in the restaurant business, I've put together a very real list of reasons why serving is, in fact, a real job. To say that serving isn't a real job means implying that service desks are so easy or useless that they don't equal a place in your employment spectrum. This makes the work they do much more serious, since not caring for a person properly can have serious implications in court. .