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Welcome to The Work Day, a series that charts a single day in various women’s working lives — from gallery owners to stay-at-home parents to chief executives. In this installment, we hear breakfast restaurant server Cassidy Shelton, who recorded a workday in August.

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Name: Cassidy Shelton

Age: 25

Location: Rogers, Ark.

Current role: Server at a local breakfast restaurant

Previous jobs: My first job was at the Dairy Queen five minutes from my house in the small town of Fruitland, Mo., but all through high school I worked at the gym where I practiced gymnastics in when I was a kid. This was my favorite job. I learned about child development, anatomy and physiology, and most importantly realized how magical children are.

I went to college straight out of high school, four hours away from home and my sweet gym girls. After a catastrophic first semester in pre-nursing, I decided to go to school for something I was always passionate about: education.

In August, I went back to school for the third time. It’s been a seven-year journey so far. My projected graduation date is in three years, for a total of 10 years of college. I’ve worked at Chick-fil-A as a director of operations, and later got a job serving at First Watch. That job saved my life. It gave me a routine, financial freedom and the best relationships I’ve ever had.

Now I work at a different local breakfast restaurant as a server, and I’m learning that even “just” as a server, there is immense pressure on people in the restaurant industry.

How I spend the majority of my day: Our responsibilities are seating customers, taking their drink order, taking their food order, running their food to them, making sure everything tastes great and their experience is amazing, dropping off their check, and making sure they are satisfied with their food and service. In between doing that for our five to 10 tables and keeping a constant eye on the door for customers and on the counter for food, we clean and stock. When we close, we sweep, mop, vacuum and do our final cleaning and what we call “side work” tasks and leave for the day.

My work day

4:40 a.m.: My first alarm goes off because I’m a More-Than-One-Alarm Person. This slightly annoys my boyfriend, who is a One-Alarm-Only type of person but he doesn’t say anything. He just turns around and cuddles me.

5:15 a.m.: I finally get out of bed, and then get ready and start my coffee.

6 a.m.: I leave for work. It’s a 20-minute drive and I have to be there five minutes early because our time-punch clock is early, and “if you’re not five minutes early, you’re late.”

6:30 a.m.: I clock in early (even though I won’t get paid until my scheduled time) because I’m anticipating a hard day. It’s our first day back [in August] requiring all employees to wear masks. Customers aren’t required to wear masks, but I’m still expecting some pushback because our average customer is over the age of 65 and conservative and so will not love the idea that we’re masking up again.

6:37 a.m.: I got my first table! Sometimes it’s an hour before I serve my first table so I’m super excited.

A selfie in my uniform. (Courtesy of Cassidy Shelton)
A selfie in my uniform. (Courtesy of Cassidy Shelton)

6:48 a.m.: I got my second table — a group of nurses who were going out for breakfast before their 12-hour shift at the hospital that is so flooded with sick patients there are tents in the parking lot. They are very sweet and tip me well and thank me for my service, and I insist I am more thankful for their service. Serving them early in the morning gives me a clearer perspective for day — instead of complaining about my mask, I simply wear it and think of all the lives I could be saving.

7 a.m.: We have a good breakfast rush, which is nice. It’s good for money but most importantly for morale. One of the things I love about serving is that time flies when you’re busy. You get so caught up in what you’re doing that the next time you look at the clock, three hours have passed by.

10 a.m.: One of my co-workers messed up and put butter on a piece of sourdough bread that was supposed to be dry, so now I have a breakfast snack!

11 a.m.: The lunch crowd is steady. I have a good section so I’m working hard and time is flying.

12:30 p.m.: This is the best part of my day, because at about this time all our lunch regulars come in, and today two of my favorite regulars are in my section. I ask Mr. Ronald if he has anything good for me, referring to the newspaper he reads on his tablet every day at the counter. He says to forget about goodness in the news, but he has a $1 coin and that’s a good thing.

Just as Mr. Ronald leaves, Mr. James sits down. I have a soft spot for both of these men. They don’t wear wedding rings and don’t talk about their families, so I always try to make them smile and feel heard and known, even for just a minute. Mr. James always asks me, “What’s something you know for sure?” He will not take an answer if it is any amount of hesitation or caution. It has to be something you know down to the core of your being. It’s actually a very good question — it makes me think of at least one thing every day that I am absolutely sure of.

I beat him to it today, and ask him first, “Mr. James, what are you absolutely sure of?” He says without hesitation, “I’ve never seen those earrings on you before.” He’s right. I told him I got the earrings in Phoenix. I went to the Grand Canyon for my 25th birthday to curb the quarter-life crisis I felt coming. He laughs.

1 p.m.: I’m allowed one free meal every day I work, and I’m allowed to sit and eat it as long as I can keep up with my responsibilities, so I sit and eat every day. Most restaurants won’t allow that, so I’m grateful for my little break every day. It helps me feel like I’m a human person instead of just an employee.

1:30 p.m.: I end up getting assigned three tables when my shift should be coming to an end. It’s a rough little push at the end of the day, but that’s the job sometimes. Normally servers are pretty chatty people, but for the last hour of the day everyone is pretty quiet and trying to finish as fast as we can. We get paid $4/hour [untipped] at this job, which is more than the national minimum, but it still isn’t the most fun cleaning the entire restaurant for about $4.

3:15 p.m.: I’m finally finished after sweeping and vacuuming my section, cleaning and resetting and filling all condiments on my table, bringing in the cigarette cans and changing those very gross trash bags, vacuuming the foyer rug and stocking and filling truly everything in the front of the restaurant.

3:30 p.m.: I’m the last server standing, and my manager is waiting on me. I count my money and calculate my time, and I’m out the door with $197 cash. I’m extremely pleased with that!

4 p.m.: I get home and let out my puppies, Olive and Pepper. I make myself some hot tea because my throat hurts after wearing a mask for nine hours in a row.

After work with the dogs. (Courtesy of Cassidy Shelton)
After work with the dogs. (Courtesy of Cassidy Shelton)

4:30 p.m.: My boyfriend gets off early! It’s Friday night and most of his friends are making plans to hang out, but I have to be at work at 5:30 a.m. tomorrow, so he takes me out to a Chinese restaurant and we pick up ice cream. We talk about friendship and growing up. I’m so grateful for him.

6 p.m.: We get home and work on our habits and responsibilities and second jobs. He just got his real estate license and I am trying to open up my own Etsy shop.

9:30 p.m.: After watching a movie and winding down for the night, we go to sleep.

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