Introduction: Why I write.

This blog is dedicated to anyone who has said “what a terrible waiter”, anyone who has ever called a corporate restaurant’s comment line to complain, anyone who has ever received free food, anyone who has ever demanded to sit in a booth over a table, Secret Shoppers, bad bosses everywhere, and most importantly everyone who hasn’t worked in the restaurant industry.

Most of you have had your food spit in. Many more of you have been the victims of unsafe food preparations practices. Virtually all of you have had your food mistreated. As a result you have all been exposed to potentially unsafe food and unsanitary eating conditions at some point in your life. This is the reality of the restaurant industry. Some of it is done very intentionally. Most of it is unintentional. I’ve seen it happen. I know it happens. I consider myself a very responsible person and I have been driven to such rage by waiting tables that I have had the urge to do some terrible things to food. If you will accept that I’m a fairly reasonable person, think about all the really unreasonable people you’ve met in your life. Now, keeping these really unreasonable people in mind, would you want really unreasonable people handling your food? I’m here to tell you that there are unreasonable, dirty, despicable, and just genuinely terrible people in this world and every time you go out to eat there is a fantastic chance that one of the aforementioned people will be handling your food. The restaurant industry has its fair share of dirtbags just like every other place of employment. In my life I’ve worked as a tour guide, a general manager of a retail clothing store, an assistant in the House of Representatives, a shift manager in various jobs in my life, and a teacher in a public high school. I have two Bachelors’ degrees and a Masters Degree in education. Nothing, however, turns me into a raving lunatic faster then the physical and mental stresses placed upon me by the restaurant industry.

The intentional mistreatment of food is not something I condone. It is a deplorable act typically carried out by people pushed to the breaking point. I’m not even trying to rationalize it with this blog or its title. This obviously isn’t a “How To” blog in the traditional sense. As a matter of fact, this blog isn’t really about spit or food. Several books have been written addressing the horrors of food mistreatment in the restaurant industry. It is not the goal of this book to be a depository of unbelievable restaurant stories.

This blog is just as much about bad bosses, bad corporations, and bad policies as it is about the mistreatment of your food. It's about the way people treat each other in a restaurant setting. This book is about corporate policies and abuse. This blog is about being educated and unemployable. This blog is about 12 hour shifts with no breaks. This blog is about health insurance. This blog is about prostituting yourself for tips. In a sentence, this book is about the stress of working in guest relations and specifically the restaurant industry and what causes that stress.

Books/Blogs have been written about the restaurant industry in the past. My main goal in sitting down and putting all these thoughts to paper blog is to demonstrate a few things. First of all, I want people to understand what its like to work in a restaurant and depend on tips for a living, get paid at least two dollars less than minimum wage an hour, not be unionized, not have health benefits, not have retirement programs, contend with unsafe working conditions on a regular basis, contend with terrible managerial decisions constantly… and that’s before we even talk about the people who we wait on. If you have never worked in a restaurant, you don’t know what its like to be us and you really need to.

Secondly, I want to demonstrate just how poorly people treat other people. Some of you may be familiar with the Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971. Stanford University Psychology Professor Philip Zimbardo set up an experiment where 24 “normal” people took the roles of prisoner and prison guards in a simulated prison environment for two weeks. The results were astounding. The guards treated the prisoners with such brutality the experiment had to be terminated six days into the two-week exercise. While the guards were prohibited from striking the prisoners, other brutal tactics emerged and the experiment was quickly indistinguishable from a real prison. Not to make light of the very real problem with our prisons, but some days I feel like the server to customer dynamic is comparable to the Stanford Prison Experiment. Normal, rational people can turn into total raving lunatics and treat people with utter disdain over food.

Many people, intentionally or otherwise, carry a sense of superiority into their dining experience. My favorite example of this “restaurant superiority complex” involves the unavoidable destruction of dishware. Anyone who’s waited tables will tell you that in the process of clearing a dirty table you will occasionally drop something on the floor. It’s inevitable. It’s part of the job. It usually happens to me when I’m trying to carry too much on one trip to the dish room. Something will slip while I’m balancing six glasses, four plates and seven or eight forks. I’ll drop a plate, glass, fork, spoon, or knife and nine times out of ten when you drop a ceramic plate from about four feet it will break. Spectacularly. I’ve seen this type of situation play out so many times, through my own doing and through the misfortune of my co-workers, that I can predict with absolute certainty what most people’s reaction to the destruction of said dishware will be. The second the dish hits the floor and shatters a horrible silence will fall upon the guests of the restaurant. Necks will crane, heads will swivel, and eyes will bulge in an attempt to see the aftermath of the fall. A smattering of applause will follow along with random laughter and pointing. Some people will be angered at the disturbance of their meal. Some people will be grateful for the entertainment. Some will definitely say, “Don’t have to wash that one.” or “The dishes are DONE.”.

You know what I can unequivocally guarantee will not happen? Someone putting down their fork, getting up from their table, asking the server if they are O.K. and if there is anyway they can help. That is something I can honestly say has never happened in any of my experiences. The reason? The hierarchy of the restaurant experience does not allow for such behavior. Servers serve and guests receive service. People come to restaurants for their own selfish reasons. It is not expected that guests of a restaurant worry about the welfare of the restaurant, wait staff, or dishware. Totally reasonable people who would normally be the first to lend a hand in a situation like this, in this environment, will remain in their seats. Servers get tipped for their service to the guest. You don’t come to a restaurant to clean up dishes. There are more important things to address. Like dinner.

Thirdly, I want you to take away some sense of what it’s like to find a good job in the world today. The world is a scary and weird place. People with college degrees are not finding jobs to match their education as often as you might expect. A lot of people rely on the restaurant industry as their main source of income and the demographics of those people might surprise you. My wife is a teacher in a local school district. One night one of her older (near retirement) teacher friends and her husband invited us over to diner. As we sat down to an exquisitely prepared meal, the teacher’s spouse turned to me and asked what I did for a living. I said to him that I worked in a restaurant while I was finishing my graduate degree. He blinked. An quizzical expression spread over his face much akin to how a baby looks after they befoul their diaper for the first time. He responded “What do you do for REAL money?” It became instantly clear to me that this man had never worked in a restaurant before. This blog is for people just like him.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wait a second. Why do you think a graduate degree will be any more useful than your null bachelor's degree?