Why I Quit My Restaurant Job And Found A New Career With Uber

I always find it interesting to hear about how driving for Uber compares to other or previous lines of work for new drivers.  There really are a TON of different types of jobs out there and yet driving for Uber remains one of the most unique opportunities available today.  Now there are obviously some downsides, but hearing stories about what previous jobs have done to people over the years makes driving seem not quite so bad.  

Today, I’m sharing a guest post from RSG reader, Kevin McQuitty, a relatively new Uber driver who talks about the liberation he felt leaving his gig in the restaurant world and what it was like transitioning to a full-time Uber driver.  If this story resonates with you, please share what you did in a past career before switching to Uber in the comments below.

A Sunny Day In San Francisco

Beep, Beep, Beep…

So it begins! I tapped the screen on my smartphone to accept my first request. I had been waiting, wondering what this “Uber” thing was all about. My account had just been activated that morning and I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into – but hey, we could use a few extra bucks. I would be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t a little bit nervous, and a little bit excited when I took that first call. Little did I know I was about to take a ride that would change my life for the foreseeable future…

Looking back, as I drove to that first ride, I reflected back to a morning, a few months prior. I was holding my infant daughter in my arms and just looking at her – and in that moment I just knew. I had a nice, comfortable job complete with salary, benefits, and reliable hours. My career in the food industry had spanned more than two decades and I was damn good at what I did. The job was stable, our life was good, but I hated it. I was beyond unhappy. Twenty five years in restaurants had ground down my soul and passion. In that moment, looking into my daughter’s eyes, I knew it had just ended.

I smiled at my daughter, set her back into her bassinet, and went to tell my wife. I was shaking while we sat on our back patio and talked it out. I told her about my decision, and started listing reasons why I wanted to quit. I love my wife dearly, she just smiled and said “okay.” She had watched my mood decline over the past six months, and watched as my professional life bled into our family. We had a bit saved, and had time to figure it out. There are no words to express the relief I felt that morning.

I went to work, and in true self-destructive fashion, I quit on the spot!

I walked into the office, grabbed a few personal knick knacks and went looking for my boss. She was oblivious as she started barking orders, not even recognizing I was not in uniform. I just held out my keys. As understanding began to dawn, I dropped the keys into her palm and said the two most satisfying words of my life, “I quit.”

I walked out the door and left the restaurant industry behind me. Oh shit… now what?

After leaving my job, I took several interviews and tried a couple independent ventures, but nothing stuck. After a couple of months, we knew we were going to have to find something to supplement our dwindling accounts. About that time, a friend of ours was visiting from Southern California.

He told me how he used Uber all the time – to get to work, home from the bar, and even for long jaunts to visit friends. My friend talked about how cheap and convenient it was. He even grabbed one from my place back to where he was staying. I remember how easy the app was to use and request a ride. Five minutes later, he was in an Uber and gone. A taxi would have taken at least twenty minutes to arrive in this part of town! Someone had finally invented a better mouse trap!

I had heard of Uber prior to that, but that was the extent of it. Rideshare wasn’t something that crossed my usual experiences, but I was intrigued – off to Google I went. I looked into the company and discovered this new industry that was lighting the transportation world on fire, both figuratively and literally in Paris!

I was impressed with the vision and application of this new technology and service. In the course of my browsing, I of course came across the recruitment ads expounding on the virtues of being your own boss and the assertions that one could make $1500/wk. I knew that was likely the high end of things but…. what if I could make a few hundred?

That would definitely stem the bleeding from the bank accounts… Ok, what the hell, let’s see where this goes. I’ll do this for a little while, drive around home, and hopefully find that next great job in the meantime. I downloaded the apps, submitted my documentation and vehicle inspection, and waited. My account was activated less than 24 hours later and I was ready to Uber!

I pulled up to the address shown, and big thumbs-up for me, I beat my first ETA! I indicated I had arrived, and waited. How will I know who it is? Please don’t be a freak. Am I doing this right? I hope so… This is weird… I wonder where we’re going. A young lady in her mid-twenties came out of the apartment building. She was looking at her phone, then at my car, and back at her phone. She smiled and waved, and I returned the gesture.

“Uber?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said, and confirmed her name.

I confirmed her destination, and we were off. We exchanged pleasant conversation, and discovered that not only was she my first Uber ride, but it was her first experience as well! Her and her husband had just moved to the area and heard about this “new Uber thing.” A short drive later and we dropped her off at work, swapped five star ratings, and off I went in search of my next ride.

Well, that was fun. Maybe this wasn’t going to suck! I just made $10 for about fifteen minutes worth of work! Yeah, I got this!

I made $75 in six hours that day. For my first day, I was proud of myself. This was easy! I made $55 on day two. Not quite so great, but hey – this was part time, right? I finished the week with $500.

I had no clue what I was doing and learning as I went, and I made $500! This will definitely be the supplement I was looking for. I made another $500 the next week, I worked longer hours, but fewer days because I was still looking for something else. Then it occurred to me… if I put in full time hours like I did in restaurants, I bet I could make decent money.

I also realized my small hometown was slow. I had been watching my heat map and noticed other areas were busier. It never surged here. Week three, I drove a few extra minutes each day to and from one of the busy areas to test my luck. I made $750, and then broke the $1,000 mark the following week. Holy crap, I made almost $3,000 that month driving for Uber!

I began to understand that if I actually applied myself, I could make good money. I was spending a lot more on gas, I hadn’t accounted for taxes, but as a rookie Uber driver, I had basically made the same rate it had taken decades to reach in the restaurant industry.

I started analyzing patterns, times, and locations to maximize my efforts. I learned the area in terms of roads and routes – which way to take during rush hour, which roads to avoid. I met, and talked to, other drivers and learned from them – what worked and what didn’t. Over the following weeks I honed my skills and knowledge, and my earnings proved it. My goal is now $200+/day, and $12-1300/week. I drive not because I have to, but because I enjoy it. I worked pretty much the same way in the restaurant industry, made less, because they told me I had to.

Money aside, I love what I do. I’ve always enjoyed driving. It’s relaxing. Just you and the open road. Every day I see something new. I may discover a new restaurant I never knew existed, or be blessed with a breath taking vista. Every day, I meet new people and make new friends. Maybe not the life-long variety, but for a few minutes we touch each other’s lives – something I always enjoyed about working in restaurants. Of course you get the occasional bad apple, but whatever… everyone has a bit of drama in their life. I’ve learned a lot about the area I grew up in and explored new communities. Every day I unravel a little bit more about California’s rich history and beautiful landscapes.

Uber has given me the freedom to, in a sense, be my own boss. Setting my own hours and controlling my own schedule is just as amazing as I had always dreamed. I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to take a day off. If the day sucks, I can cut bait and go home. If my wife tells me she’s cooking my favorite Beef Wellington I can turn off the app and rush home. I may have to work a little harder the next day, but that’s the rub. For the first time in my life, my effort is truly rewarded. I’m no longer busting my ass and hoping and praying for recognition.

Now I’m a part of an emerging industry that combines technology, hospitality, and convenience. Like I said before, rideshare is taking the world by storm. We are rewriting all that is known about the transportation business. The industry has operated on the same, stale habits for generations and we are taking all of that and turning it on it’s ear! It’s exciting to be a part of that. As we evolve through it’s infancy, we are helping shape, in a sense, the future. It’s exciting to be a part of that, and to be able to share what I’ve learned with the rest of our community. Knowledge is power, and the more we learn from each other – passenger to driver to company – the greater our experiences will be!

My stop-gap while I looked for a “real job” has blossomed into a career, and I never even saw it coming! After that first month I didn’t take another interview. I didn’t continue to search for “something better”. I had unknowingly found it. In love, they say it happens when you’re least expecting it. In this case, that could not have been more true.

I’m more seasoned now, and I have my habits down. If the market changes, I adjust and react rather than crying foul. I’m making great money and I’m happy. I think back to that morning holding my daughter and know I can look into her eyes and be content with what I do. She can grow up seeing her father enjoy his work, and hopefully, be proud that he doesn’t have to sacrifice his soul to succeed. Every day is a hustle and this may not be where I end up down the road, but for now, for me and my family, it’s a great ride!

Beep… beep… beep…

That smooth familiar glow of another Uber rider requesting my services. I tap the screen, lock in my destination, and off we go…

Keep calm, and Uber on.

Kevin McQuitty, happily married and father of two, is a recent rideshare transplant from the food service industry.  He’s managed million dollar restaurants for over a decade, but has now found the freedom to manage his life.  He drives in the Northern San Francisco Bay Area of California and enjoys a better office window than most executives.  When not on the road, you can usually find him behind a grill, or enjoying Green Bay Packers football.  Go Pack, Go!!