Limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, anger, heresy, violence, fraud and treachery. These are the infamous Nine Circles of Hell depicted in Dante’s “Inferno”, but I guess somewhere between publishing discrepancies and the editing process Dante carelessly cut out some of the most important layers of hell. Dante forgot to mention the deepest, darkest circle of them all, the 10th circle, which would obviously be working in the restaurant industry.
I used to consider myself a bit of an optimist. I had a bright outlook on humanity as a whole and was eager to meet new people, and submerge myself in social scenarios. That was until one day I made a terrible mistake. Days before I turned 21, I applied via Craigslist to a “server’s wanted ad.”
I would move on to get the job and training started almost immediately. When I began training, there appeared to be a common theme present in almost all my new co-workers. They were all undeniably jaded. So young and naive to why everyone around me looked tired, and all had the same cynically sarcastic sense of humor, I had no idea that my optimistic feelings on humanity and life as I knew it would soon be tarnished.
Soon I would view accomplishment as simply being able to make it through my shift with my pen. I’d begin to lose sleep to night terrors of the ketchup I forgot to bring table 4 and have to replace my “fuck you” thoughts with a smile and “thank you for coming in” closing message.
Working in the restaurant industry takes a little part of your soul with no intention of ever giving it back. Here’s some insight into what it’s like to work in the restaurant industry.
First of all, you must thicken your skin, or you won’t last more than a week. There’s no crying in baseball? No. There’s no crying in taking the potato skins out to the needy guy sitting at table 33. For some reason, some people seem to lose all sense of moral decency when passing the threshold of restaurants. Suddenly “manners” become a taboo word of a different tongue, and you find yourself questioning whether you are working your day job or are some sort of indentured servant. Take it down Queen Elizabeth, you’re in a Denny’s, not Buckingham Palace, sorry to inform you but there is only one way to make scrambled eggs and they don’t come with a side of pixie dust for you, or anyone else. You have to be able to take orders and do it with a smile on your face.
Restaurants teach you that humans are wired to make things difficult for others around you. The dreaded “right this way folks. This is your table,” only to hear “Umm, actually I’m sorry but can we sit over there.” No, you can’t. If you were able to sit there, don’t you think we would’ve went there in the first place. You lead people to their table and like clockwork, there’s some mysterious magnetic field pulling these people to a table on the clear opposite side of the restaurant.
Working as a server you begin to realize we have fiercely entered the zombie technology apocalypse. Servers can pretty much agree one of the rudest most awful thing a customer can do is refuse to make eye contact while ordering because you’re consumed with Stacy’s Facebook relationship status. Please, it takes two seconds to look up from your less than interesting social media apps and order cheese enchiladas.
Common courtesy is clearly a thing of the past when closing time approaches. Also, the restaurant closes at 10 p.m. By no means does that make it acceptable to wait until 9:59 to come in the restaurant. Are you going to eat your food in 60 seconds? Didn’t think so. Come back and see us tomorrow, during business hours.
Then there’s the infamous party of 30 who wants to somehow split the check 45 ways. Listen, your gluten intolerant, no nut, light ice order was really difficult enough. The least you could’ve done was bring cash and deal with this at home. I mean for God’s sake, I don’t even have enough booklets to put your checks in.
One of the darkest realities of serving is that you dread interactions with international tourists. Not all (of course), but many foreigners don’t understand the concept of tipping. In America, it is common to tip 15 to 20 percent. Typically, servers’ livelihood depends on tips. Travel across the globe to China or Australia and tipping servers is an almost unheard of art. It’s almost a matter of self control in not greeting our foreign friends with a little disclaimer like, “Hi my name is Ali, I’m your server this evening. And Please remember Toto, you’re not in Australia anymore. Leave 20 percent, cheapskate.”
You realize you’re truly in the bottoms of hell in your restaurant when you’re even scared to serve the religious folk. If you’ve worked in the restaurant industry long enough chances are you’ve dropped a bill only to receive literature pamphlets as monetary compensation. And while the gesture may be noble and lead to some higher enlightenment, it sure as shit isn’t going to pay my WiFi bill.
Working in a restaurant is definitely no walk in the park. It can crumble your optimism and chew you up and spit you out. You find yourself doubting the greater good of humanity, and genuinely start to “hate everyone.” Luckily, most of the people who work as your peers feel the same way you do. They’ve been stiffed on checks and have gotten the pain in the ass “can we sit somewhere else table.” So as hard as it may be, find solace in your co-workers. Put a smile on your face and refrain from putting hair in the guy’s food who has made you run you back to the kitchen for the 17th time. Don’t let the restaurant industry get the best of you.
Ali Schultz studies journalism. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @AliSchultzzz.