I had a very life-changing moment in college thanks to an English bulldog. Though I had started out as a communications major at South Alabama, about two years in, I decided to change my major to pre-veterinary medicine, a pretty drastic change of course from communications.

So I started taking classes like chemistry instead of communication theory and looking into going to Auburn for vet school. I also got a part time job at a vet’s office in West Mobile.

Things went along fine, though I quickly found chemistry and other science classes didn’t come as easily to me as all of the writing classes had. I also found myself daydreaming more about the newsletter I would send out to my future clients rather than the work itself. After the coolness of seeing intestinal worms in fecal scans began to wear off, I began to have my doubts about this decision.

The vets I worked for specialized in English bulldogs. I can’t really remember if that is something they sought to do or if it just kind of happened, but whatever the case we saw a lot of them.

They are adorable pups and many people want them as pets, so they are in high demand, or at least they were back in the ‘90s. But what you may not know is bulldogs have trouble, well, let’s just say, “naturally mating.” So we performed a good many AIs at the clinic, or artificial inseminations, for our bulldog breeders. As such, “fresh semen” had to be collected. While some times the male dog would get turned on enough to provide such a sample while sniffing his lady friend and his efforts could be “redirected,” often it had to be collected by “manual stimulation,” which is exactly what you think it is. Are you enjoying that mental picture right now? I bet you are.

One day as our vet was performing this service for one of our dogs, he looked up at me as he was, shall we say, “clinically exciting” the dog and said, “Are you sure this is what you want to do for the rest of your life?”

Um, yeah, no.

I don’t think I said a word but that moment is still so crystal clear in my mind because it put me back on the path I was supposed to be on. I almost immediately changed my major back to communications and turned in my notice at the clinic. Thanks, Doc.

It was right after that, I got my first part-time job in a restaurant, as a hostess at a hot new LoDa establishment before it was even called LoDa. And I loved it. Everyone was young and fun and most were going to college too. And shockingly, it proved to be way more exhilarating than assisting in expressing a dog’s anal glands.

We all loved the restaurant and wanted to help each other out and make sure our guests enjoyed their dining experience. When we would get really slammed, I would help the servers out by bussing their tables, rolling silverware if we were running low or delivering their drinks for them. Just whatever it took to keep things moving. Sometimes they would tip me out for this, but I didn’t expect it.

Eventually I became a server myself and we tipped out several people in the front and “back of the house” (AKA the kitchen staff), and I was happy to do it because I knew I couldn’t have done my job without them, and I also I had just made way more money than I ever would have made during a shift at the vet’s office explaining the difference between various flea preventatives to a crazy cat lady. And also way more money than these kitchen employees had made in a single shift.

I was able to support myself through college, finance a post-graduation trip to Europe and survive financially while we were starting up this newspaper all by waiting tables and bartending. Though I did eventually burn out, as waiting on the public is hard, y’all, — Yeah, yeah, yeah, old lady, I know you want your tea “half and half” because sometimes someone here makes it too sweet for your “liking.” Oh the horror! — I am grateful to this industry for not just providing me a job, but a really good income at each of these stages of my life. It took my friends who were folding sweaters at the GAP twice as long, if not longer, to make the same amount of money I did in three shifts a week.

And I am sure that is true for all really successful restaurants. And not just for people who work in this industry part time but who also make a career out of it.

And that is why it is so very disheartening to see a Birmingham law firm leading the charge against several of our most popular local restaurants, filing law suits against them on behalf of former or even current servers who say they were required to tip people who shouldn’t be eligible to be tipped and also what percentage of their shift or what rate they were paid to do “side work.”

For those of you who didn’t do a tour of duty in the restaurant biz, though I think everyone should, side work includes such things as cutting up lemons, refilling Ketchup bottles and salt and pepper shakers, spraying off trays, cleaning out tea urns — basically everything you have to do to be prepared for the current and/or next shift. And it’s just part of it.

You can’t make all the tips you want to make if you don’t have all this stuff prepared and at your disposal. If it takes you two hours to prepare and two hours to clean up to make a couple hundred dollars in tips in four hours, so be it. It still all works out to you making way more than minimum wage.

As far as the tipping goes, these suits claim tipping people “who do not interact with the public” is a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Maybe it is, but I can tell you there are many restaurants whose servers tip out whoever it is that is enabling them to make a nice pile of cash in a single shift, whether it’s the dishwasher, the lady plating up their salads and desserts or the guy expediting their orders – (that’s the dude who is watching all of the tickets and putting all of the plates on the servers’ tray and making sure all the condiments and garnishes are on each dish properly.) It’s all hard work and everyone is a vital part of the process.

I’m also pretty sure it’s a “violation” for servers not to claim all of their tips, but I can assure you that ain’t happening.

I have never worked at any of the establishments involved in these cases and perhaps something unseemly could have been going on. But on the surface, it just seems like what goes on at every restaurant in America.

And the local restaurants that this one Birmingham law firm is attacking are some of the ones that are very important threads in the fabric that is our community — ones who are vital to the culture we know and love. And these suits could cripple them or maybe even put them out of business.

This will do nothing but hurt our community. And in turn, eventually prevent a student from putting himself through college, a mom from putting food on the table for her kids, a young entrepreneur from financing a start-up, or even a girl who realized “exciting” bulldogs just wasn’t going to be for her.