"What's Your Real Job?"

By Leah Blewett
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Oct. 18, 2006

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Starving actor. Freelance writer. Occasional nude photographer. Self-employed karaoke specialist.

Ask most people in the restaurant industry about their "real job," and you'll likely hear a list of occupations you didn't even know existed.

Those gorgeous creatures at the host stand patiently doling out menus? Chances are at least one has done modeling work. And your animated, charismatic bartender probably looks so familiar because you caught his one-man Fringe show last month. If you stumble into the right restaurant, you might even get an eyeful of yours truly doing the work that actually pays the rent.

Sure, there are plenty of career restaurant employees, and most take at least some measure of offense if it's suggested that serving, bartending or bussing isn't a "real job." Of course it is. The restaurant industry is an industry, and the employees who populate it are carefully trained and educated professionals who've worked hard to acquire the wealth of knowledge necessary not just to ferry food from kitchen to table, but to carefully describe every component of every dish, properly mix all those obscure cocktails and generally make your experience in our place of business as enjoyable and relaxing as we can.

But "the biz" also offers a relatively steady flow of income for work you never have to take home with you, and therein lies the appeal for all of us artsy types who'd rather spend our time writing sarcastic columns for alt-weeklies or shooting complicated fine-art nudes or choreographing a jazz ballet to the works of Tori Amos.

While restaurant work sometimes feels menial, or even degrading, it affords creative minds a means of paying the bills, as well as enough leisure time to devote to whatever we hope to eventually make a living doing. And if you've ever tried finding gainful employment by listing your three best karaoke songs on a resume, submitting an endless procession of headshots to casting directors or churning out pitches for the brilliant novels you just know you could write, you have some idea of how challenging that can be.

Philadelphia restaurants are a haven for writers, singers, dancers and actors. Ask what really inspires us and you'll likely discover a whole world you never knew existed, whether it's a fantastic piece of original art to hang in the den or an edgy new political play to see this weekend. Believe it or not, we have more in our heads than which wine goes best with the filet.

So ask away. Maybe your food runner designs a fantastic line of corsets. Maybe you'll end up in some hole in the wall belting out karaoke with your server. Or maybe hearing about all the creative things that happen when restaurant workers vacate the premises will inspire you to try a little artistic expression of your own.

Just don't use the phrase "real job." I'd hate for a drink to accidentally end up in your lap.

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