What is the meaning of "wait a few tables" in the text below? As far as I can deduce it would mean working as a waiter, but that doesn't seem to make sense within the context of the text - or maybe I'm not able to see the context in a broader way. Can this expression have any other meaning than the one I am deducing?

  1. Be willing to change the plan. Perhaps your dream is to become a famous visual artist. However, through your volunteering, you are asked to assist with some administration tasks at minimum wage. Do it! Sometimes you’ll make contacts in the most surprising contexts, and sometimes you might discover that diversifying from your original plan gives your business added opportunities to reach a wider market. And even if you need to wait a few tables, answer some phones or file some papers for a few months when nobody else wants to, if this helps you keep going and pays some of the bills, it’s worth it. Dependability and consistency will give you a head start whatever you do.

1 Answer 1


Literally, to "wait a table" means to provide service to the people at a table in a restaurant.

In this context, "wait a few tables" is a metonym meaning work as a server in a restaurant for a short time. The quantifier "a few" indicates it's a short time because it means only serving a small number of tables.

The overall meaning of the sentence is do work that's not the work you'd actually like to be doing.

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    'I have noticed that Americans tend to say 'wait tables' where Brits might say 'wait on tables'. Nov 10, 2023 at 9:12
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    I’d add that being a waiter in restaurants is the stereotypical way that aspiring artists—especially aspiring actors—support themselves while awaiting their “big break.” I don’t know how literally true it is, but it is at least a widely understood metaphor in American culture. Nov 10, 2023 at 12:03
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    @PaulTanenbaum "Pumping gas", (sometimes "pumping 'tane") and "washing dishes" are other metaphors often used in the same sense.
    – Tonny
    Nov 10, 2023 at 14:27
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    You had it yourself: "working as a waiter...pays some of the bills." Nov 10, 2023 at 14:34
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    @PaulTanenbaum When actors appear on talk shows, they frequently mention waiting tables or bartending before they made it. Probably because the hours are flexible and allow going to auditions -- it's hard to do that while holding a 9-5 job.
    – Barmar
    Nov 10, 2023 at 15:28

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