Please Stop Telling me to Quit the Service Industry

Tokyo Smoke

Outside Tokyo Smoke

Nowadays, everyone’s got a side hustle that helps them pursue their passions. And while the service industry has gotten a bad rap, not everyone working in it hates it. Vv Magazine’s Sarah Brown tells us why she’s not leaving the industry anytime soon. 

In an idealistic world, I make a modest living as a freelance writer with words in publication one, two and three. This is true on a vanity level, but the financial reality isn’t rock solid. Don’t get me wrong, writing pays for chunks of rent, cheap frills like the $28 tab at Pretty Ugly and kitschy bomber jackets — but I can’t solely depend on freelance writing to pay for basic needs like coffee, hot showers and hump day cocktails. That’s why I’ve always counted my blessings as a child of the service industry.

Admittedly, there’s one itsy-bitsy problem: the service sector suffers from middle child syndrome. Long before the city turned into a hotbed for small business, chain restaurants and mega corporations exaggerated a stereotype of a sad employee in an ugly (or sexist) uniform serving terrible customers for long hours on minimum wage. Thus, the service industry earned a reputation as a fast-cash income for drop-outs, expats, foreign workers and confused twentysomethings looking for casual responsibility between high school and entry-level employment. There was no reason to stay in it because the work was tedious and the people generally sucked.

service industry

Thank god the service industry rebranded. Nowadays, smaller businesses empower employees with schedule flexibility, influential mentors, and casual black uniform (if any at all). The service sector has become selective, as employers aim to find staff members with a lifestyle that represents their brand inside and outside of work. Consequently, employees feel less disposable because they’re vetted by credible business owners with choosy hiring practices. I’m proud to work at Dynasty because it’s a plant store that people know about, my boss is awesome and the customers are cool. People want my job.

As small businesses persuade new trends, millennials began to shift their focus on self-made success and vanity endeavors. Chefs double as media personalities, DJs are bartenders, musicians are baristas, writers are retail associates and everybody sells a zine. The service industry is the launching pad for the multi-tasking middle class as fewer people define themselves by a single career, more respectably by passion projects and the establishments they work for. Service work is the backbone of Toronto’s creative class, an earnest way to earn money, casually network and rub shoulders with the elite. It’s a job that grants me a steady income and satisfying social interaction as an introverted writer-type. I’m blessed.

The service industry is the launching pad for the multi-tasking middle class as fewer people define themselves by a single career

Don’t believe me, huh? Even the customers have changed. Look around at any local bar or coffee shop and you might spot the “regulars” — a Churchill phenomenon coined for the no-fuss, loyal and local patrons of the neighborhood (Cheers 2.0). The concept isn’t new, but the attitude has revived a yearning to socialize with service people in places within a community. Customers are more willing than ever to chummy up to the people servicing them because it represents power by association and access to the community. After all, it’s not about a transaction anymore. It’s about being seen with the right people at the right time. Good service, like good tips, is optional.

service industry

On Instagram, the industry has been pimped out with sex appeal and be-your-own-boss appeal. The new era of patriotic service people are lifestyle advertisements for the places they work for; outsiders can easily connect the dots between business owners, staff members and the community around them. And the most disturbing part: the “sad” human beings of the service industry are…having um, fun? It’s an attractive lifestyle, and beyond that, it’s a visually appealing career choice for anyone who isn’t tied to a desk all day. Service people are at the heart of the city’s happenings and their social media reflects a lifestyle that others are envious of. Outsiders desperately want in on it.

With so much change in the industry, better wages, cooler customers and a stronger emphasis on hyper-local community, there’s still a negative stigma attached to working in the service industry. Every week, friends of mine warn me to “get in and get out”, like if I don’t find a job outside of it, I’ll poof into a supreme loser by thirty. Now in the thick of my twenties, I’m not leaving the industry anytime soon because I see the value in a job that grants me access to a highly desirable culture of creative and hardworking people. There’s decent money, great tips, family, and at the heart of it — simplicity. I show up to work, help customers, clean up after myself and clock out. That’s it, it’s over.

Now in the thick of my twenties, I’m not leaving the industry anytime soon because I see the value in a job that grants me access to a highly desirable culture of creative and hardworking people

My theory is that everyone is so hellbent on criticizing the service industry because they’re terrified of being an outsider. The service industry represents a big chunk of hardworking people who’ve chosen a career path that’s accessible, humbling and socially rewarding. When people tell me to leave the service industry, I take a big breath before telling them to sit on my middle finger. Like any job, it depends on where you work and who you work for. I work for places that have values and a genuine interest in the people of the neighborhood. I’m not lost, confused or biding my time before a “real” career comes my way. In case you haven’t cared to notice, the service industry has come a long way from ugly uniforms and cheesy corporate morale, it’s a family with extraordinary benefits. Stop telling me to leave it became I’m “too good” or “too smart”. My job reflects who I am and I’m not ashamed of it.

RELATED LINK: The Rise of the Freelancer: How to Be Your Own Boss 

Do you agree with these views on the service industry? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.

Sarah Brown

Sarah Brown is a 12-year-old boy trapped in a woman's body. When she’s not reading Tom Robbins, painting rappers or daydreaming about sneakers, she’s writing about women, art, the Internet and Drake. Since moving from the West Coast in 2009, her bicycle has been stolen three times and her heart has been broken twice. She also likes: the state of Arizona, almond milk, climbing fences, People’s Eatery and Joan Didion.
  • Eileen Wong

    Thank you for this article!!! I totally agree with what you said. It’s so annoying how people tell you to get out of your current job because they assume you’re not happy there. I genuinely enjoy the service industry since I’m not tied down to a desk and I can talk to different groups of people. I really appreciate you taking the time to write this message down. Let’s bring down the negative stigma of working in the service industry!

  • Bryan Griffith

    I live in Nashville, TN and while there are plenty of bartending jobs that will pay rent for musicians, I wonder about the off-broadway bars or coffee shops employing barista-musicians. Minimum wage here is $7.75 I believe and even with some tips that is not nearly enough to cover the cost of living in this city…I wonder if Canada, being a more progressive country, makes it easier for these creative folks to support their lifestyle. I certainly wish there were more service industry jobs that allowed for artists to support themselves, but from my current view things here in the American South are pretty grim 🙁