In the Fray

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Family-Life Experiences

Posted: 10/29/2009

Walk a Mile in My Shoes
(Joe South and The Believers-1969)

If I could be you, if you could be me for just one hour
If we could find a way to get inside each other’s mind
If you could see you through my eyes instead of your ego
I believe you’d be surprised to see that you’ve been blind
Walk a mile in my shoes, walk a mile in my shoes
Yeah, before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Walk a mile in my shoes

If these lyrics resonate, you’ve been there. You know what slammed, swamped, in the weeds, drowning, and going down in flames mean. You’ve felt the rush, the anxiety, and the tension of having customers four-deep at a packed bar, staring at you, waving money and yelling for drinks while you run, work, and execute as fast as humanly possible.

I remember that feeling very well from my bartending days. I can still see several sets of eyes fixed on my every move, vying for my attention, as I ran up and down the bar trying to keep all the customers and servers happy. I can still feel the adrenaline, excitement and pressure to perform while my mind, eyes, hands, and legs were moving as quickly as possible.

Eastern Standard

Bartending, and all service industry jobs, can be unnerving. Working a double can include 16 hours of set-up, service and clean-up that is physically and emotionally exhausting. Some stretches can be so busy that you barely have time to use the bathroom, and if there’s time to eat, it’s on the fly, standing up, often over a barrel… I remember coming home after marathon shifts, when I was wiped out beyond delirium, fighting to keep my eyes open, and struggling to muster the strength to shower before crashing. (Forgoing a shower after a sweaty shift is done at your own peril.) I remember passing out on my couch feeling battered beyond sore, as if I had bounced around in an industrial clothes dryer, twitching, jerking, and being startled awake because I was over-tired. Unless you’ve worked as a server in any capacity, and felt the tension, pressure and exhilaration that goes along with being in the fray, you will never have a full appreciation for the intensity of the experience.

Yes, you can empathize, but you will never know what it really feels like. You never know what you’re going to experience from one customer to the next. Some people are refreshingly wonderful, but far too often they are unnecessarily cruel, condescending, and selfish. I remember thinking to myself on several occasions that people would never speak to me the way that they did if they spent one full shift working with me, my co-workers, or any worker who deals with customers.

Working in the service industries is an extremely humbling, sometimes humiliating, and always an eye-opening experience. You develop a lot of empathy and appreciation for everyone who serves you the rest of your life after you’ve ‘been there,’ and it changes your entire approach to ‘customer service’ forever. In fact, I’ve had several conversations with servers contemplating a world full of people who worked a mandatory six-month stint in customer service. If everyone spent a little bit of time on the receiving end of the general public’s wrath, the world would be a lot more gracious, patient, and humble place.

9 Responses to “In the Fray”

  1. Rachel says:

    Patrons at a bar are demanding; hence the reason I tip well on the first round. We have unrealistic expectations of our bartenders. You’re a magician, healer, mindreader, ballbuster, eyecandy…e) all of the above. Thank you for reminding us that you’re also human.

  2. Mac says:

    I think some of us in this world have a true desire to serve others; that in some way this fulfills us. It seems that there are a lot more people out there wanting to be served then serve!

  3. Michelle says:

    Yes, I agree “if everyone spent some time on the receiving end…” I think it would be a great idea if it was mandatory to get a degree, they must work as a food server for at least 6 months. I think, this alone, would change the face of the Earth!

  4. T Starr says:

    Thanks for this post – and nice choice of photo. Eastern Standard pre- or post- Red Sox game is the epitome of “in the weeds.” Those guys are nothing shy of super-human…

  5. Matty G says:

    Been following this for a little while……The only remedy for assholes is to get on the other end and there is no doubt you will see a change of heart. Come happy, and you will leave happy. Look for a reason and you will find one.

  6. Bob says:

    I worked full time as a part of a wait staff for four years when I was in school, so I get it. I understand people should be, as a rule, polite and respectful to each other no matter who they are, or what thier job or lot in life might be, but you’re a bit of a pompus ass if you think the customer is suppose supply you with an evening of shear bliss. Now quit your wining and please get me a beer or if that doesn’t suit you, another job.


  7. suburban mom says:


    Great book so far. I’m wondering, though, if you ever considered broadening the focus of your book to an “abuse of power theme.” I would think that with your background as both a stock broker and a mortgage broker you might have some interesting stories to tell.

    Good Luck

  8. Patti says:

    I have been there…..hopefully everyone who reads this will take it to heart. We all need to be more considerate of each other. Best Wishes to All.

  9. Diane Wolf says:

    Thank you for this post. And thank you for all the support and advocacy of our industry over the years. I’m glad to know you.

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