When you dine out in Charleston your waiter just might be better educated than you are.
It's a common phenomenon in college towns like this. Students get sucked into the food-and-beverage business to earn spending money, then find themselves trapped.
And it's easy to see why.
Restaurants and bars are cash cows in tourist towns that always need smiling young faces to wait the tables, tend the bar and serve as hostesses.
Students are custom-made for jobs that deliver quick cash, have flexible hours and meld into a lifestyle that fits somebody working their way through school.
Which is why your waiter might already have an undergraduate degree and has talked about going to graduate school. You know, as soon as they get enough money.
So they're not exactly graduate students.
They're more like gradual students.
More tea, sir?
There are, you see, downsides to staying in F&B too long.
Needless to say, it's a young person's game. Some work odd hours, tend to party together into the wee hours of the morning, spend what money they made that night before the sun comes up, wake up with a hangover, then start all over again.
It's addictive. And it makes you feel like you ought to be doing more with your life than asking people if they want more sweet tea.
Talk to a few waiters and waitresses who've been at it a while and they might tell you the truth. Once the high wears off, it's just a crummy job.
For young women, especially, sexual harassment is common. For some, the after-hours party scene is fueled by alcohol and drugs. And, after a while, they fall into a cultural spin cycle that's hard to leave.
That's because it's quick money that requires little training.
And while it can be physically and mentally demanding, it can also be demeaning.
'Never say never'
In the business, they're known as lifers.
They're the waiters and bartenders who keep saying they're going to leave the business but never do. They don't want to leave Charleston. They're like ninth-semester seniors. Just can't find the finish line. Others got the diploma but never found a job that paid more than hustling tables.
Then there are the jumpers. They flit from place to place, hoping the next joint will be better than the last. But it's usually the same.
Eventually they tire of dealing with demanding customers who don't tip, overbearing managers with inflated egos, and the constant drama the customers never see behind the scenes in the kitchen.
Some simply age out. They finally get a regular job, work regular hours and make regular money.
But, as one former waitress said, "It's still a fallback. Never say never. If I lose my job today, I could be waiting tables again tomorrow."