I started working at Chili's in September 2000. I had just moved to a little town in Texas called Kerrville. I had planned on getting a job waiting tables at a privately owned restaurant because I figured the money would be better, but due to lack of options, I ended up applying at Chili's and getting hired on the spot. Little did I know when I got hired that I would end up working for Chili's for 6 years!
I overslept the day of orientation and was about 2 hours late. Even so, management still decided to keep me. I guess they saw something in me worth having around. Whatever the case, they worked my ass off for the 11 months I stayed at the Chili's in Kerrville. I often worked double shifts - sometimes with only a 5 minute break in between (and this is perfectly legal in Texas). I was hard up for money, so I would work whatever shift I could. I became a trainer and a bartender. And I met some cool people and made some good friends.
The Kerrville store was so cool because it was huge and right by the river that ran through town. There was an outdoor patio, and local bands would come and play on the weekends during the summer. Working on the patio at that time really sucked because it was so crowded and because of the Texas humidity. Actually, the whole summer at the Kerrville Chili's pretty much sucked because of the extended summer hours. I was always beat at the end of the day.
I moved to California in August 2001 and transferred to a Chili's out here - the one in San Bernardino, to be exact. I started off at the bottom of the pile as just a server again despite my experience with training and bartending. It actually took me a long time to like my new Chili's, despite the vast improvement in pay (servers in Texas get paid $2.13/hr, whereas servers in California get paid minimum wage) and regulation of work hours (California law required us to take a break if we worked over 5 hours a shift). I was busy adjusting to a whole new way of doing things (the Kerrville Chili's was a franchise, whereas the San Bernardino Chili's was a corporate store) and learning the ins and outs of dealing with California people as customers and co-workers. (Turns out there's a huge difference between California people and Texas people!)
Waiting tables in San Bernardino was a huge adjustment for me and really drove home the point that the clientele does matter. I faced some big challenges while working at Chili's in San Bernardino. I had customers who felt entitled to treat me like garbage (which happens everywhere truthfully, but moreso at the SB store), people who walked out without paying their check (this happened to me 4 times at the SB store and never in Texas), and some really horrible tippers. I also faced a huge obstacle when I reported one of my co-workers for sexual harrassment (for unwanted ass-grabbing), but we were able to work out our differences - and he never touched me again, except when he gave me a hug good-bye when I left Chili's for good.
But I had some really awesome experiences too. I made some really great friends, many of whom came to my wedding. I also had some really fabulous regular customers who for some reason just liked me and sat in my station whenever I was working. There was the guy named Rob who tipped me $20 everytime he came in (and no, he wasn't hitting on me), the old man named Joe who liked to talk to me because he thought I was interesting (again, not hitting on me), the business people who came in at lunchtime, and the sweet old couple and their son who came in every Sunday (and when I received news of the husband/father's death, I was very shaken).
There were also some real crazies who came in. The best example I have is Connie, who was an alcoholic. She came in every Friday and had to show everyone her socks and pictures of her rabbit. She had a strange attachment to our lunchtime bartender and made out with random people in the bar. She always had some injury, it seemed. Even though she was a nice lady, I avoided her as much as possible because she didn't know when to stop talking.
The best part about working at Chili's was that I got to make decent money while working towards my BA. I worked less than 20 hours a week and made enough to pay my bills. And I had a ton of fun. All of us would sing at the top of our lungs while we were in the back. We had fights with the cooks and learned all the cool curse words in Spanish. We would have queso parties after our shift where we would all sit around and eat chips and queso. We spilled things and laughed at each other. We pulled pranks on the customers for treating us badly. It was truly the best job I've ever had, because it was fun, challenging, and always rewarding (even if the rewards weren't monetary).
I left Chili's in September 2006. By that time I was so burned out (to the point where I would give up my shifts or cut them short). It was truly time for me to move on. I don't regret taking the job I have now, because I needed something more professional for my resume. But I miss the social aspect of the job. I miss being silly constantly. I miss giving stupid customers veiled insults that were easily passed off as jokes. I miss having exercise built into my job. And I miss the simplicity of it, even though it didn't feel simple at the time.
Here is a picture of my friend Candice and I on my last day at Chili's. Candice became (and still is) one of my best friends. (And I look 12 in this picture.)
This one is of me and this guy Shervin. (I included it because it shows my adeptness at flashing gang signs.)
Can I get a "Go, Chili's!" Chilihead in da house!