If I was going to start my own acupunk school…

Not that I’m really thinking of starting my own school, but if I were…..one of the introductory first year courses I would require for my students would be to work in a restaurant waiting tables. I believe it’s a great training for an acupuncturist, especially if you are going to practice community acupuncture.

Besides it’s practical applications such as fairly flexible schedules, good part-time income for a student and the food benefits it requires multitasking skills that the new acupunk will need in the community acupuncture setting.

I often think about how similar treating patients as a community acupuncturist is to waiting tables. Instead of turning tables we flip chair covers. (checking for stray needles, not crumbs) Instead of people telling me what they want I figure out what they need. Both jobs require to very quickly determining how to best communicate with patients/patrons effectively. In both scenarios people typically want their check or wake up from their nap at the same time.

I usually scan the room to check on each person while they are reclining just as a good waiter/tress will make sure all the needs of their patrons are being met. The waitperson brings food while the acupuncturist checks on comfort by offering an extra blanket or adjusting the chair.

In a busy shift both acupuncturist and waiter loose a sense of time as they are working (“in the face of creativity time becomes meaningless”) There are so many details to consider which require a lot of focus with both occupations. Just as a busy restaurant shift can energize a person, a slow acupuncture shift can equally make a person tired and lethargic. When people are coming and going the energy flows and it’s palpable. (especially the thick “Qi” permeating the acupuncture clinic)

Often times patients will all show up at the same time. I like to acknowledge each patient so they know I will be with them as soon as I am able. In restaurant lingo when you are very busy (overwhelmed) you are “in the weeds”. I can’t remember where that expression came from, but that’s another story. In the acupuncture clinic when it gets hectic I’ll take a deep breath and make sure I am grounded so I can focus completely with each person. I know when I have lots of patients to treat (or to serve) I do my best work because I have to be efficient as well as think with my heart and hands and not as much with my head.

I wonder what my teachers would say about my school with foundational table waiting as part of the acupuncture curriculum? In addition to memorizing point location there would be the experiential requirement of interacting with lots of hungry impatient people. One course could be entitled Table Diagnosis 101. How to handle the….And of course I would have to submit test questions to the NCCAOM. Who knows, it could catch on…Either way, don’t forget to tip your waitperson.

Author: Joseph

Moved to Portland from Albuquerque, New Mexico where I graduated from Southwest Acupuncture College in August 2006. Originally I co-founded Brooklyn Community Acupuncture and in May 2009 I joined forces with Working Class Acupuncture to open their second location. Prior to my studies in acupuncture I pursued the fine arts as a sculptor.

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  1. More thoughts on waiting tables

    My first waiter gig was at TGI Friday’s in Long Island. Once, I dropped a ramiken of blue cheese on a womans head. It politely bounced off of the top of her head, near DU20, without emptying it’s contents until it reached her nice purple coat. A strange and unfortunate episode I remember all these years later.

    When not dropping food on my guests, I did manage to learn what is the essence of good food service, though not within the esteemed, clutter lined walls that are the home of The Ultimate MudslideTM. Good service requires that a server flows from task to task in a chaotic yet orderly fashion, meeting needs as they arise and not spending more time in any one place than is truly necessary. Food is ran, wine is poured, a check is dropped, a desert order taken. All things arising as a waiter flows seemlessly between tables, a manager of the chaos that is the restaurant. “Check sir? Of course.” “More coffee?” “And how would you like your steak cooked?” A good waiter is everywhere and nowhere. Kind of like a ninja but without the smoke bombs. Moving quietly and efficiently, unnoticed.

    To truly flow requires knowledge. I can’t imagine getting through a late night shift at my current bar gig without being able to recall the ingredients in a margarita. However, this knowledge is head knowledge and after a while in the field it is the least significant, although most fundamental skill that is depended on. The body just moves and makes the drink, the memory of the last thousand times spent making the same drink engrained into muscle fibers that work outside of time.

    By the time we got to the student clinic in year three, I concluded that being a server was the best preparation I could have had for a career as an acupuncturist. The similarities are undeniable, more so in the community model. Both require meeting a lot of people, providing a service which, hopefully, they will come back for. Money is exchanged, ideally both parties looking forward to the next meeting. Quick and skillful interaction is necessary, and sincerity is communicated better through the eyes than through the lips. Taking the money up front and setting in the needles, we just let ’em cook. “I’m just going to drop the check. Stay as long as you’d like, we don’t need the table.”

    Perhaps instead of a class in waiting tables during the first year, it should be a pre-requisite for admission to school, BCA. I imagine the entrance interview…”Can you handle a five table section?”

  2. I so agree!

    I worked at a busy roadside diner on Hwy 30 before the interstate went through Nebraska in the very early 60’s.  I hadn’t thought about it with respect to CA but I totally agree!  I had the booths and the counter at lunch a lot.  It required quick assessment and intense short connecting with the patrons, focus, speed, the ability to make it look effortless and accuracy. 

    My worst day at that job was when I messed up the order of one of the counter regulars at lunch.  He ate the wrong order as he had to get back to work at the auto repair shop.  

    Thanks for the memories.   I will use these notions in CA classes and when it comes time to interview L. Acs for employment.


  3. And as long as it’s not “86 Needles” you are all set! 🙂

    I love this blog post.  When I first got to work at Manchester Acupuncture Studio I realized the uncanny resemblence to waitressing – albeit much more enjoyable and relaxing.  I have had 3 waitressing jobs in my life, the last one being at a diner for 2.5 of the 3 years I was at NESA.  Similarly to community acupuncture you get the joy of interacting with multiple people at once, who are of all walks of life, and an interesting mixture of age, sex and ethnicity.  In both cases there’s the enjoyable challenge of thinking on your feet, moving at a fast pace yet maintaining a calmness, multitasking and figuring out a system or routine that works.  You learn from the positive feedback and the mistakes, and how to keep your cool under pressure.  I think waiting tables is probably one of the best ways to train yourself for community acupuncture!

  4. 86 me

    Great post. I couldn’t agree more. I spent years waiting tables and only “retired” last spring. I have happily replaced that time with my acupuncture practice. I must say that I really enjoyed waiting tables. I love being busy and multi-tasking, and I love talking to people. The things that I loved about waiting tables ring true for my community acupuncture practice and I think of this crossover often, being grateful to have had my serving experience to draw from. I’m happy to hear I’m not the only one, and I would be happy to “teach’ this class with you at your school!

    Care for anything else?

    The Pin Cushion

  5. I enjoyed reading

    I enjoyed reading everyone’s comments about their restaurant experiences; the stories evoked memories of the great friendships i made when i worked in restaurants…. That’s another similarity with the two professions: they both build community.



  6. absolutely

    my 3rd year at OCOM I found myself as the Saturday night hostess (the only night there was one) at Rimsky Korsakoffee house, with no previous restaurant experience.  that in turn led me to a 6 year on and off series of hosting, bartending and private party shifts at Denver’s legendary Mercury Cafe, picking up some shifts even during my most profitable year of private practice.

     that and my Hooper and PAAC internships taught me more about working with people and time management than any clinic course or clinic shift EVER did!