10 Things You Learn At A Food Service Job
By Chelsea Fagan
1. You will always be hungry.
The time you are allotted for eating in a food service job could be best described as crouching behind a counter in a kitchen and shoveling food in your mouth as quickly as you can in between running around the establishment to attend to the 10,000 other things that need your attention while avoiding the glare of your unforgiving manager. They fill you with promises of '50% off anything on the menu,' failing to tell you that you're more likely to sprout wings and fly around the bar than to actually have a decent amount of time to eat. This, combined with the fact that you're perpetually surrounded by delicious-looking food that you can never, ever touch, means you will constantly be doubling over with hunger. Water, water everywhere and - well, you know the rest.
[Ah, how I remember this. The restaurant I worked at, Seabiscuit Cafe, made delicious meals such as macaroni and cheese balls, a lobster BLT, sweet maple bacon, stuffed french toast that was more of a dessert than a breakfast meal, a cobb salad with everything on it, sweet potato fries, and a chocolate souffle that took 25 minutes to bake! It was torture having to bring out these foods to tables when sometimes they wouldn't even eat it all! Lucky for me, whenever I worked the early shift from 6:30-2 (my favorite shift), the cook would make me a little breakfast, usually eggs mixed with hash browns and an English muffin. Is that legal? I don't know and I really don't care, but I appreciated it so much.]
2. People who don't tip should be shot.
If you can't afford to tip, you can't afford to be eating at a restaurant. And unless your service was so bad as to ensure that your server should not be compensated enough to eat/pay their bills this month, you have no excuse for being a cheap bastard. Make no mistake, you will be hated, you will be remembered, and you had better plan on never coming back to that establishment ever, ever again.
[True dat. Waiters and waitresses deserve tips. They are SERVING you. After being a waitress and hanging out with other waitresses and bartenders all last summer, I've learned that you always tip 20%. At least. If you've got extra change to spare, give it to your server. It's karma - when you need some extra money, your friend will be willing to give you some. What goes around comes around.]
3. If the hostess doesn't do her job, your life sucks.
You could either end up with a completely dead section and go home with empty pockets, or you could end up with so many customers that you're essentially just throwing food at them and yelling 'EAT IT' in their general direction, if the hostess is too busy flirting/being flirted with. It's true that a big part of the hostess' job in a nice restaurant is to set an ambiance for the place and be essentially some kind of courtesan that makes everyone feel welcome and attended to, but they can easily get caught up in talking to people, doing the crossword, staring out the window, or just tapping their toe impatiently. (Having been a hostess myself, I can confirm about half the job is reminding yourself you have a job, period.) And when that job is forgotten, the seating chart is going to look like it threw up on itself, and everyone is hating each other for the rest of the evening.
[Having been a hostess myself as well, I can totally attest to this. While most of the time I was seating people, cleaning tables and taking down names, the rest of the time was spent staring out onto Main Street, looking at all the tourists, the bike riders, the same workers going back and forth. I loved being a hostess, but it's harder than it looks!]
4. If you don't like dick jokes, don't go near the kitchen.
The kitchen of nearly any restaurant is where all the various parts of society who weren't interested in or had too much of a criminal record for an office job decided to coalesce, yell at each other, be around scalding heat, and talk about women. It's basically an enormous stagnant cloud of testosterone, and it's not for the faint of heart. Shout out to the women coming up in the food world, because the guys in the kitchens - even the best kitchens - make no bones about it being something of a boy's club. One pass by the dishwasher or the various stations will be a crash-course in blue humor and graphic descriptions of the female anatomy. And the chef? As long as the kitchen is putting out good, consistent food, the chef couldn't care less. It is what it is.
[This is true. At the first restaurant I worked at, the Pub, basically every guy working in the kitchen were Jamaicans. They were charming and talked funny and also very hard to understand. At the second restaurant I worked at, Seabiscuit, most of the kitchen workers were white. Also very charming and funny. I learned that if you are nice to the kitchen, meaning you get the food out quickly, prepare all the dressings or sauces early, and generally not get in their way/be sassy to them, they're more likely to make you a yummy breakfast or make you extra fries for that one customer who insists that their fries were cold.]
5. Drunks are the worst.
If you have ever been a female employee in an establishment that serves alcohol, you deserve a gold medal of some kind right now. After a certain hour - especially on weekends, but let's not pretend like the weekday drunks don't exist too - you are guaranteed to have some middle-aged, pot-bellied, red-nosed businessman and his overgrown bros turn their bleary attention over to you and spend a good portion of the rest of the night awkwardly hitting on you. It's your job, of course, to be as polite as possible in shooting down the attempts while gently reminding them that you have some things to attend to. God forbid they try to convince you to stay by offering you some crumpled up money - at which point your job will become not punching them in the face.
[This one made me laugh like a goon. I've definitely had my fair share of drunk men when I waitressed, and I can tell you they're not fun to serve. On Mackinac Island, the day you have off work is the day you get to sleep in and then get shitfaced. It's just how it is. There are many day drinkers on the island, and it's very normal. I never minded them, because employees know how to act, but drunk tourists were the worst. No, drunk bachelorette parties were the worst!]
6. A good manager is like a unicorn.
Impossible to find. You will come to learn that most managers in food service are given just enough power to be absolutely awful to everyone, and that the biggest thrill in their lives is shitting on the various people who are chained to them by their desire for tip money. There is no task to petty for them to assign to you, or fleeting comment too irrelevant to make. Most of their time will be spent hounding after you to do minute tasks that they could easily to, sucking up to the owner of the place, and giving horrible motivational speeches before evening rush. They're essentially the failed high school football coaches of the restaurant industry, and if you ever find a good one - you never, ever leave. You won't get that happiness again.
[This one also made me laugh like a complete fool. It also brought back some repressed memories of my first manager at the Pub on Mackinac. He was Jamaican, about 7 foot tall, and scary as all hell, even though people called him 'Chicken'. I kid you not. I don't think I ever did see him smile. Oh, wait, he didn't smile. He sneered, like the Grinch. I ended up quitting that job because of how crude and disturbing he was. The second manager I had, let's call her Emily, was better, but somehow hated me, and I knew it. It seemed like every mistake I made, she was there to witness. She didn't give me my job back at Seabiscuit, and I soon came to realize that employees or managers on Mackinac only care about themselves and about making the most money they can.]
7. Good chefs are rock stars.
If you are in a city and work in a nice, critically-respected restaurant, you will find that few people in town are cooler than the chef. Usually relatively young, often featuring arm tattoos and nice hair, the chefs are the people who do a job they love, always down for a good drink after the shift (and are usually buying), provide everyone with amazing food, and are always getting spreads in the newspaper posing with their most famous dishes. We are currently riding a wave of some kind of culinary zeitgeist, and may it last forever, because the cream-of-the-crop chefs are the kind of stars whose products you can actually eat. Just beware, should you decide to date said hot/awesome chef, every foodie hipster in town will be perpetually hitting on them.
[I remember this guy. His name was Jason and he was not hot or awesome, but he did look a bit like leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. That part creeped me out, but he was a relatively cool guy.]
8. No one drinks like middle-aged women on 'Girls Night.'
If you've ever had the pleasure/agony of hosting a group of dyed, tanned, and provocatively-clad middle-aged suburban women on a Girl's Night, you have seen what it means to drink. These are the women who are going to plow through round after round of jewel-toned cocktails an endless bottles of fresh white wine, just looking to 'let loose' and 'have a good time,' because the 'hubbies are home with the kids' and it's time to 'go crazy.' There will eventually be group cries of 'wooooh,' as well as the open appreciation of the younger males asses on the waitstaff. Eventually, you're going to have to find your sacrificial lamb and find a 17-year-old busboy to come and bring them something so they can fawn over how cute he is and how much they just want to pinch his cheeks. Don't worry, they usually tip like Rockefellers, as long as you keep them in Chardonnay and firm butt cheeks.
[It's like these women have saved up the past ten years of their lives in suburbia to drink! They can drink like no other, and they ALL come to Mackinac Island to have their bachelorette party/birthday party/girl's reunion.]
9. Everyone on the staff has slept with everyone else at some point.
You will quickly come to find, in any restaurant/bar/combination of the two, that everyone should probably be getting tested, given the amount of boning they are perpetually engaging in. There will always be at least four couples who are in some state of infatuation/seriousness/rockiness/break-up/avoiding eye contact, and it never gets any less weird to be around. It's hard to keep up with the ever-turning carousel of relationships, and if you decide to ever step on yourself, you may never get off. It's just a black hole of convenience, familiarity, and going out for drinks after every other shift.
[Um. I actually had no idea about this, and didn't take part in it because I was seeing a guy I was working with for practically the whole summer. It makes sense though. There was one 19 year old girl I worked with was sleeping with Old Man Joe, who was 20 years her senior. Yikes.]
10. If you don't watch out, you could quickly develop a drinking problem.
The thing about the restaurant crowd is, given how late you all get off work, you are pretty much obligated to hang out with each other. Everyone else has to get up early for work the next day, and has already been in bed for hours. And what is there to do at 1 am? Go to an after-hours place and get wasted, after more-or-less every shift. You'll have your usuals - lemon drops, Rumplemints, whiskey shots - and you'll just fall into a comforting routine with a group of night owls who make drinking 4 out of 5 weekday nights seem completely normal. It's probably for the best to keep an eye on this stuff, lest you end up like the alcoholic on the staff (and every staff has at least one). They all started somewhere.
[If I waitressed somewhere else, like in Burlington or Whitewater, I wouldn't have drank as much as I did on Mackinac. It was just so easy and convenient! After a long, hard day on your feet, you would want a shift drink - a free drink from the bar, anything you want! Plus you would know the specials at every bar on Main Street. There really was nothing else to do on the island, except for partake in touristy things, which was completely out of the question. So, drink I did. Bottoms up!]