When I was little, I thought waitresses were so glamorous. They were outgoing and funny, and I - as a shy child - thought they were so brave for walking up to tables of strangers and commanding their attention.
In college, I was working part-time for a television news magazine, and needed some supplemental income. The anchor said the restaurant her son worked at was looking for some summer staff.
I thought to myself, "This is my chance! I get to have the coolest job in the world! I get to work in a restaurant!" And thus began my nearly decade-long career in restaurants.
Here are 10 things I hated about it.
1) Constantly Feeling Unworthy
“Overall, [you're] feeling like you are on the precipice of being fired at any moment for the mere reason that you are indeed replaceable. It makes you a bad worker, too.”
Some quotes my friends shared, spoken by either managers or guests that speak for themselves.
- “We’re thinking of firing you. We’re just not sure when.”
- “We don’t need you. A monkey could do your job.”
- “You went to college? Could you not find a job after you graduated?”
- “You BOTH went to college [speaking to a coworker and me]?! I don’t know what I expected but I guess I didn’t know why else you worked here. ”
- “What do you want to do when you grow up?”
2) The Actual Pain
You’re never not in pain when working at a restaurant.
One time, I pulled a muscle in my shoulder. When I handed a doctor’s note to my manager, he said “What am I supposed to do with this?”
I said “I dunno,” and then just...worked the shift because I was young and didn’t know what else to do.
Also your feet hurt pretty much forever. I worked with a couple who had a kiddie pool that they filled with warm water and epsom salts every night when they came home from work. You also essentially straight up lose your fingerprints from burning them on hot plates.
3) The Nightmares (Yes, Really)
I used to have a recurring nightmare where where I just couldn’t give all my guests enough water. The water pitcher was never full, glasses were always empty, and I was just in high stress panic mode making sure everyone was hydrated - only wake up in a cold sweat. It would always take a few moments to realize it wasn’t real and it wasn’t a memory.
It was just a horrible dream that experienced over and over again. That's how stressful this job can be.
And...not a nightmare per say, but I’ve also woken up from a dead sleep and remembered that I forgot to give table 47 their side of sauce. And felt horrible about it.
4) The Sucky Schedule
The only times I saw my friends was when they came to visit me (this is a slight exaggeration - but only slight).
There are so many wonderful things about having an off-schedule. You can schedule doctor’s appointments whenever you want. You can go to the gym in the middle of the day when the only other people that are there are old ladies. You never hit traffic to and from work.
But a cook once mentioned to me that when you work in a restaurant, the only people you can date are either other restaurant workers or nurses. You have different hours than everyone else in your life.
- Oh, you guys want to go to happy hour on Thursday? Have fun because I’m working.
- Trivia on Tuesday? Let me know how it goes, I’ll be at work!
- Sunday brunch? Sorry, closed last night and will sleep until the sun sets.
On top of that, you’re always tired and you sleep at the weirdest times. You’re always hungry, eat at odd hours, and think inhaling a burger and fries at 2:00am is a good idea.
And when you finally get that Friday night off, all you want to do is sleep. I got cut early on a Friday night and my manager told me to go “do something fun,” so I went home and marathoned Scandal.
5) The Smell
I had a t-shirt that I wore while working in a restaurant that I washed in every dark load for literally a year after I stopped working there.
Literally a year.
I eventually gave up and threw it away because it smelled like fry oil and grease and old BBQ sauce. It was awful. I know servers and bartenders who have thrown away their shoes because the smell of the kitchen permeated every fiber.
6) Managers' *Wild* Expectations of Their Staff
Managers' expectations of their staff can just be out of control.
When I was in college, in addition to taking classes, I was working full-time for a PR firm and about 30 hours a week in a high-end restaurant in Boston. I worked Tuesday and Thursday-Saturday nights, was training servers, and almost always had a server shadowing me. We were frequently tested on the menu during our pre-shift meetings.
During one meeting in particular, we were asked the ingredients in a scallop dish. Among the group, we knew the majority of the ingredients. But no one could remember “xathan gum.” Our chef and GM were furious and the entire serving staff was written up.
Xathan gum! I’ll never forget it (now).
But what I mean to say is this: it’s the rare person who remembers everything on the menu, forever. Forgetting one ingredient in a dish on a menu of 50+ items? Shouldn’t be a fireable offense (if you ask me).
7) Dealing with Guests
A manager friend of mine summed up dealing with guests quite well: "It's like we're all in a competition to see who's dealt with the worst person.”
Okay, I know. Taking care of guests is the host/server/bartender’s main priority when working in a restaurant. However, dealing with guests and making sure they have a great experience is arguably the most exhausting part of the job.
This is not to say there aren’t amazing guests out there. While serving at a restaurant in Somerville, MA, I befriended some phenomenal families that I still am close with to this day. However, guests aren’t always the most understanding when something goes wrong.
Here are some of the biggest pet peeves I think most servers can relate to.
They Think You’re Lying
I had been working in a pizza restaurant for about a year. We had two specials per week. Sometimes, the specials included bacon, but we did not carry bacon in the restaurant unless it was on the special. If it was on the special, you could opt to add bacon to any of the pizzas. But like stated above, we did not carry bacon unless it was on the special.
Well, one particular night, a guest requested bacon. I informed her we didn’t have it. She said she’d had it in the past. I explained the “special” situation. She graciously informed me that I was wrong, and that we always carried bacon. Bacon was a $3.99 upcharge on a pizza. Adding bacon to her pizza would add money to her check, and therefore would likely increase my tip at the end of the night.
Wish we did - but we didn’t carry bacon! I was about to walk down the street to buy bacon just to get me out of the conversation. She fought me so hard I had to have my manager go and explain that we did not, in fact, carry bacon.
They Ask You Out
We’re just trying to do our jobs over here.
Unless you truly believe you met the love of your life, please don’t ask your server/bartender out (and please don’t ask them out before paying, and then leave them a bad tip when they say no).
If you feel the need, leave your phone number on the check. But when it’s a Friday rush and I have seven tables who all need 400 things from me, I do not have the time to talk about our potential date.
I worked in restaurants for eight years, and only once did I see a server/guest relationship work out, and now they’re engaged. But they were most definitely the exception to the rule.
They Don't Communicate Well
Your server is the means to everything you want while dining out. I do not understand the decision to ignore them. When they come over to your table, acknowledge them. Make eye contact. If you have your meal and you don’t need anything, it’s perfectly fine to let them know.
Don’t want to be interrupted? Fine! Just communicate! We’re not mind readers. You need another margarita? Great! Let me know. Verbalize it. Don’t snap, don’t shake your drink at me, and please don’t touch me. Please don’t touch me.
8) Going Out to Eat
“As a server, there was nothing worse than spending your night off in another restaurant,” my friend once said.
Somehow, while singlehandedly being the easiest and most relaxed guests to wait on, servers and bartenders were most critical.
I couldn’t stand when people said “Oh I work in the industry too.” And yet, without fail, I would say it when I went out. I wanted everyone to know I was part of the “Cool Club,” too.
And in the same way restaurant staff was critical of me when I was waiting on them, I was the exact same way. I would make mistakes all the time while at work. But when I was out to eat? Well it was so easy to be critical because, like, hello? I had their job and it’s not that hard!
I was the worst and I apologize to everyone. But you were the worst, too! Let’s call it even.
9) My Coworkers
You love them, you hate them. They’re your family in the best and worst ways. The majority of the people in my life are from various restaurants. We felt like superheros taking on the bad guys on a Friday night.
However, your best friends, your family, will throw you under the bus if it means getting a leg up.
I remember one night, I said to a fellow server, a friend, that was I was hoping it was going to be kind of slow that night. It was a busy week and I was exhausted. He wrote it down and brought it up to our manager, saying he didn’t think I was “dedicated enough” to be a training server and should maybe lose some of my privileges. This was a friend of mine! I only found because my manager told me to try and get some dirt on that server.
There’s also an odd “classism” in a restaurant. In some restaurants I worked at, the front of house wasn’t allowed to talk to the back of house. If a server got “caught” talking to a cook, both employees were written up. And an employee could only talk to a manager if the manager made eye contact.
I was working in a casual restaurant, not on the set on Downton Abbey.
10) It's Impossible to Get Out
There were so many things I hated about working in a restaurant, and yet, it took me years to leave.
Yes, not knowing your schedule week-to-week was frustrating, but also so flexible. The guests could be horrendous, but it made me think about how I treated others. And so many guests were wonderful and made your night. And the staff! Well, the good ones, anyways. The majority of my friends are from restaurants. I have four weddings this summer, and three of them are from my restaurant world.
I left the restaurant industry three times. Each time, I announced to the world that I was “DONE WITH RESTAURANTS!”
And look at me now, working in marketing for a company that sells technology...