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The path to success among the new generation of foodies is being led to the table by a waiter. In a throwback to their grandparents’ time, many who consider themselves young professionals are choosing a career path as servers.
Far from biding time before the next acting audition, many of the newest generation of servers at the nation’s top restaurants are waiting tables as a way to hone their chops for a career in restaurant management. They are coming out of top culinary and Ivy League schools, and they consider themselves professionals.
To get a foot in the door at legendary establishments, many food-obsessed 20-somethings are busing tables. One Chicago waitress told an industry trade publication she is asked constantly, “What do you really plan to do for a living?”
She is already doing it, as a server at restaurant L20 in Chicago. She learns about foods and dishes like velvet crab and matsutake mushrooms. The server, named Leah Beach, actually moved to Chicago from Minneapolis in 2011 to pursue her food career.
I spoke to two such professionals who are both successful waiters at one of Providence’s leading fine-dining restaurants.
Jennifer Madden and Jason Andrade have each been servers for 13 years at CAV in Providence’s Knowledge District. Neither had added up their shared experience of more than a quarter of a century.
“It’s a little scary to think of it like that,” said Madden.
Andrade recalled when he started at CAV he was working at a drugstore and then part time at a hairstyling salon, but found that was not a match for him. He began work as a waiter on the recommendation of a friend and “fell in love with the restaurant, the food, [Sylvia Moubayed, the proprietor] and the guests.”
In the business and outside as well, the job of server is perceived as a step along the career path rather than a destination. In both cases, they were encouraged by Moubayed to pursue their goals outside the restaurant.
“I am an artist part time [visual, photography, décor],” said Andrade, who credited Moubayed for her support.
Madden has a Ph.D., which she earned during her tenure at CAV. She made the decision to stay while teaching part time rather than to take what she calls the “tenure track” and stay in academia. She also has praise for Moubayed, who she describes as “very European” in outlook.