By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Oct 03, 2009 at 8:15 AM

October is the third annual Dining Month on All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delicious features, chef profiles, unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2009."

In Europe, food service is considered a career like any other and waitstaff and other restaurant employees earn a living wage.

Of course there are some exceptions, but it seems that a small percentage of those working in America's restaurants do it for the love of the job and a passion for serving people. That's because here, for the most part, waitresses, bus boys, dishwashers and others often have to survive on tips and a small salary. That means many of us worked in restaurants as teenagers looking to earn some spending money or while in college or trying to make it as a musician, artist, filmmaker or in some other pursuit.

We salute those hard-workin' folks who make or break our restaurant experiences -- be they professionals or just those in transit toward another career -- by sharing some of our stories of working in restaurants in Milwaukee. Share yours by using the Talkback feature below.

Molly Snyder Edler
Staff Writer

Like my co-worker and friend, Julie Lawrence, I have a solid background in food service. I started my career in edibles at the age of 15, working in a Koepsell's Popcorn wagon at Summerfest. From there, I worked as a "vendette" -- serving popcorn, candy and soda -- at the Prospect Mall Cinema for five years. I waitressed at the now-defunct Ciatti's Italian restaurant in Whitefish Bay and, finally, worked at the Safe House for most of my college years. Granted, I usually worked the door at the Safe House and demanded the password from patrons, but I occasionally picked up extra serving shifts, too.

Julie Lawrence
Staff Writer

I think I can honestly say that, at this point, I have spent the majority of my working life in the food service industry. It all began with Suzy's Cream Cheesecakes back in '94. They needed people to work their Summerfest tent and hey, that $4.75 an hour and a free pass into the Big Gig was the best a 15-year-old could hope for. Sadly, that scenario pretty much summed up my employment for the next 10 years. Whether it was slinging Auntie Anne's Pretzels at the mall or hostesssing at Balistreri's on Bluemound, I was committed nights and weekends. I believe there was a point during freshman year of college that I was working three food industry jobs simultaneously, including the illustrious position of serving up mashed potatoes and gravy to my fellow dormmates in the dorm cafeteria. Ugh. The memories of reporting for 9 a.m. cafeteria duty on Friday after an infamous "Thirsty Thursday" is enough to give me the shivers.

Drew Olson
Senior Editor

I have never worked in the food service industry, possibly because I was scarred for life by a childhood episode. I may have been 8 or 9 years old and was tagging around with my cousin, who was babysitting me for the summer. His parents owned a popular tavern / restaurant and there were a few mornings when I helped him clean the place. At some point during the shift, he had me drink what was left from a small Tabasco bottle. He probably said something like "You've got to try this." I chugged a little and ended up sprinting for the soda gun and pouring liquid down my gullet as my face turned purple and steam came out of my mouth, ears and nostrils (I remember it being just like the cartoons). That was pretty much it for me in the food biz.

Maureen Post
Staff Writer

I've worked in more food service jobs than I can probably count. From festival foods to catering to serving to bartending, ever since I was 16, I've consistently kept a food service job on the side. And, honestly, I kind of love it. I love working in such a social position and strangely love the aspects of customer service. Sure, of course I have my share of horror stories; kitchens you'd rather avoid, customers completely out of line and disasterous nights where I have admittedly gone down in flames. But overall, I've learned more about food, wine and human interaction than you'd ever expect. My current job with Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub is my favorite thus far. A daily changing menu utilizing the freshest and highest quality products possible, I understand food and food production better than ever before.

Bobby Tanzilo
Managing Editor

Although, as kids, my friend and I "helped" his grandmother occasionally at her job in a donut shop on Kings Highway in Brooklyn, that consisted of little more than making sure the donuts weren't, you know, poisoned or anything, and mixing all the sodas together into one cup to see how it would taste (awful). My only real restaurant job was washing dishes in the kitchen at Cafe DiSalvo on Belleview Place, about 100 feet from the apartment I lived in at the time (I also managed the building ... where did I find the time?). I took the job, working evenings after working my regular full-time day job, to try and raise money to travel to Italy for the first time. In the hot, tiny kitchen, I washed dishes the old fashioned way -- by hand -- back to back with the cooks, and although it didn't pay well and I came home stinking of kitchen and with hair that felt like straw, I liked it (but not enough to make a career of it). I enjoyed the immature, boyish banter in the kitchen, I loved sitting in the doorway leading to the basement eating my heaping plate of pasta with garlic, oil and parmigiano and I felt satisfaction after working hard and getting everything done. It was also satisfying to receive near-constant compliments from my bosses. Apparently, I was about the only reliable, relatively competent, non-complaining, non-disappearing dishwasher they'd seen up to that point and while the waitstaff -- which was always bucking to get sent home -- griped about never getting raises, I seemed to get one every couple weeks.

Andy Tarnoff

I've only worked in the food industry once, but it was my first job, at McDonald's, when I was just a pimply teen of 15-years-old. I made $4 an hour, and I worked as both a cook and a cashier (I never graduated up to drive-thru window guy). It was a surprisingly hard job for a kid. When things got busy and I was the only one behind the scenes, I remember working at a feverish pace.  Every day, I'd come home covered in grease, smelling like Chicken McNuggets.  I still have a scar on my wrist from the time I was scalded by a McChicken sandwich, too, but the job served several purposes: it paid for a remote control car that I bought and used for about a week; and, more important, it taught me the value of education.  Working for 19-year-old managers with "dustaches" who regularly commanded me to mop the floors if they caught me idly leaning or taking a short break, I declared then and there that I would not only go to college, but I'd also never work in fast food again. During the school year, I worked between eight and 15 hours per week, I recall, but by summer, I was up to 30 hours. My career at McDonald's came to an end after about a year -- I had earned a 5 cent per hour raise by then, but when minimum wage was raised to $4.25, my manager refused to grandfather in my raise.  It was the first job I quit on principle, and I swore off McDonald's for a year.  Now, I eat it only at airports or on road trips, but I always treat these low-paid workers with the utmost respect.  It's tough work, and no one really wants to be there.  I'll always remember what life was like on the other side of the counter.