Is this a first step towards building a community?

One of the coolest parts of spending over a decade in the restaurant business is that you know someone at most every restaurant.  Last night, my girlfriend Ali (who complains about not getting mentioned enough on here) and I went to check out a new restaurant.  We scrolled through a list of six people we knew between us that worked there.  Unfortunately only one was working, but I did see two more that I didn’t even know worked there.  The owner, who wanted me to be sure and say hi to the owner of my restaurant, paid us a visit.  By the end of the meal, our server even met two new industry folks who would vouch for him if asked to.

There are over 17,000 servers in Kansas City, but among the ones who have worked at more than a couple of restaurants, there is generally only a couple of degrees of separation between them.  Background checks are fairly simple amongst this group because someone on the staff knows someone who has worked with them.  It is a very small world and one that it is important to maintain your reputation within.  I am still not sure that I would call it a community though.  Even in a time when social networking is a part of daily life, there is still relatively little opportunity for servers to gather, share ideas, and advance common goals.

This is why one website has really captured my interest.  I haven’t written about The Employee Lounge on this blog before because I wasn’t sure what it was going to develop into.  I also wasn’t sure what sort of appeal it would have to people beyond Kansas City.  I saw the potential for what it could become, but I think it has extended far beyond that potential.  As it continues to grow, I think it will prove to be a model that should be emulated around the country.  This has the potential to create the framework to build a sense of community between servers that has been lacking.

I should also point out that today’s profile was about me.  This is how I managed to tie in the relevance to my audience.  Even if you read this blog daily or I have waited on you, there is still a much broader picture of the person painted by one of their profiles.  This serves as an example of how they manage to get the person behind the persona.

What I like about this site so much is that it puts a spotlight on the servers, bartenders, chefs, and others that make this industry work.  It is more than just a bio or resume.  Tina and Linh, the founders of The Employee Lounge, really strive to get to know the people they are writing about.  As a reader, you get to know far more about them too.  I read about servers who I know and still learn something about them.  They have a tremendous ability to put their subjects at ease and everyone looks cooler through Tina’s lens.

There is not a lot of fame that comes with being a service industry professional.  Most servers will never get the chance to do an interview or have a story written about them.  This site seeks to change that.  It is now my “go to” source for finding out about servers changing jobs and finding old co-workers.  It creates an appreciation for the people who make up this industry and helps guests see us as more than “just a server.”

The site is also great about spreading the word on community events.  They sponsor some of the more interesting server/bartender related happenings.  Their list of service industry nights, cheap wine deals, and brunch spots is the best on the web.  They end every interview by asking what the subject would do to make Kansas City better.  They take the lead by doing what they can to make it better too.

The purpose of this post is not to say how cool my city is.  It is not to get you to go look at pictures of me looking cool.  It is not even to help promote a very deserving site.  Those would all be good reasons to write a post.  I think the message is a little bigger though.

Your city has just as many cool servers, bartenders, and chefs.  You may not be as good with a camera as Tina or be able to turn a phrase like Linh, but you can help create a community.  Introduce yourself to the next person to wait on you.  Help spread the word about job openings.  Get to know the people around you in this industry and help plant the roots for a community.  For far too long we have been treated as a group of people who are simply between jobs or waiting to finish school.  You are more than that and so are the people around you.  Recognize that and build upon it.  We have much more to offer when we view it as a community than when we see ourselves as individuals.

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