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Why I'll Never Work in a Restaurant Again

The Harsh Reality

By Ashlyn HarperPublished 5 years ago 14 min read
Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Before I start this, I want to put out a full disclosure. I am by no means trying to upset or insult anyone who works in the restaurant industry. I know plenty of close friends who absolutely love their job and have turned it into a passionate career. This is merely an opinion that should be taken with a grain of salt. For me, working at a restaurant was not a career path to follow. My views are being shared for another perspective, one that rarely gets spoken about. While a lot of people enjoy this job, I also know people who have hated it as well as some who are unaware of the struggles jobs like this have.

Throughout my entire adult life, I have worked at two different restaurants. The first (will call job #1) was my main job for four years. After it had closed down, I worked at job #2 for a mere 10 months before calling it quits and never looking back. Don't get me wrong. Both had some fantastic upsides that kept me working there as long as I did. In fact, if job #1 had not closed down, I would probably still be working there. Now that I have officially been separated from that life, I can see clearly as to how bad it genuinely was for me.

In the Beginning

I started job #1 about a year after graduating high school. Beforehand, I worked in a kitchen at a nursing home. My reason for quitting this job had to do with a loss of a friend who worked with me. Not only was it close to impossible to step foot in that place, but those few months afterward were a blur of pain and heartache. I rarely slept, never ate, and had no urge ever to leave the house. I was still living with my mom and was now unemployed. I lived in this suffering for three months.

Eventually, my mother had to give me a tough talk that she probably never expected to give. With a little bit of a fake threat, she forced me to get off my butt and move on. She couldn't bear to see me the way I was, wasting my life away, and knew I needed to change. With some persuasive coaxing, she made me start searching for new employment. While I was angry with her in the beginning, I now am hugely grateful to her. Without this push, I honestly could not say who I would be today.

During the next two weeks, I applied to any place that was hiring. With only a high school diploma, my options seemed a tad limited. Two of my applications were looked at and, within two days of each other, I was asked to come in for an interview. Both were fantastic restaurants that were hiring for servers. The first restaurant I went to was extremely strict. They required a suit and tie type of wardrobe and had an old-school mentality of how to talk with each table. Not knowing about the restaurant life, this scared me a little. After the interview, she let me know that she was impressed with my personality and asked me back for a second interview.

About 30 minutes after this first interview, I had my job #1 interview to go through. This place was the complete opposite of what I had just witnessed. Without giving away the restaurant, they had a casual demeanor and a roadhouse vibe that spoke to me. The manager was young and extremely polite, making me feel comfortable the entire time. She too asked me back for the second round of interviews, to which I accepted as well. At this point, I had no idea which one I would choose, but I was happy that I had some options.

Job #1 was my first scheduled second interview (both were on the same day again). This time, I met with the kitchen manager. His discussion was extremely brief, and he immediately offered me the job. Without much thought, I agreed to it. Within a few minutes, he was giving me all the paperwork needed to sign and my training schedule for the upcoming week. This bled into my second interview with the other opportunity, but I felt there was no need to let them know I was not going to accept their offer.

So I finally had a job. At first, it was incredibly overwhelming. I was the new girl in unfamiliar territory and felt like I would never remember all the information that was being thrown my way. While some of the servers and staff were incredibly rude to me (something every job has), I quickly found a group of people who were polite and sweet. The only manager I was not a huge fan of was the general manager (the top of the restaurant), but I eventually came to find that most people felt the same way about her.

While the job itself wasn't all that great, I was finding a group of friends and feeling like I was a part of a community. From this first year, I made incredible friendships, moved out of my mom's house, and lived with a roommate for the first time ever. After a year of serving, the hourly manager who I had befriended was moving out of state and needed to find her replacement. She offered my name to the managers, which they surprisingly all agreed upon. I felt so blessed that they believed in me and my capabilities that much.

During my training, a lot was changing all around me. A few of the senior employees now treated me differently since they were looked over for the position and I was decidedly moving out my roommate's house and in with my boyfriend (through a little persuasion from my general manager). This caused tension in our friendship, and realistically was the single cause of our now distant relationship. The year also brought new blood into the management team. We lost two managers (including the general manager), and the kitchen manager was promoted while new blood was brought in to take his old position.

With this, we also were transitioning through regional managers. Some came and went, most of them amazing while others were pure evil. When it came to my position, things were starting to change as well. My title was moved to a specific area of the restaurant and, with that, an abundance of new responsibilities added to my desk. I took them all eagerly.

Not making this a biography, I will just say this was the downhill of everything. To corporate, I worked 40 hours each week. Realistically, I was working an extra 20 hours that I was not logging so that nobody would get into trouble. I started helping each manager with their responsibilities, including paying bills, counting inventory, and opening up the store. This is not conceited, but I was a team lead who was doing more than any other team lead in all the other restaurants.

Personal struggles started to arise during this phase. I was overworking, under-sleeping, and ruining relationships right and left. Breaking up with my boyfriend turned into a regular, and I eventually moved out altogether. While we ultimately made it work, it wasn't until after the store closing that we truly mended everything. I was completely blind and naive to what this job was causing me to do. My loyalties were tied to the restaurant and managers so thoroughly that I started letting myself become second priority. Not blaming anyone but myself, I was living a life of hell that I thought was filled with gold and glitter.

It was four years at this point. We had gone through countless regional managers, but were still working together as a team. Then news broke online that the company had declared bankruptcy. Everyone was worried about what that meant for our store, the managers included. That was when the walls came crashing down. A couple of men came down to take our general manager out to dinner and let him know what was about to happen. Each manager (excluding me) was offered a severance package or the ability to transfer to a location that was staying open.

For the next week, the tears in my eyes never stopped. We were not allowed to tell the staff for fear of them walking out. If we did say, it would mean the managers were losing their severance package. Technically speaking, I was not even supposed to know. I ultimately gave up on the place. It was one of the worst weeks of my life. It felt like someone was ripping away my home and I had no control over it.

The day came and went, tears were the theme of the day, and most people left without another word. As we tore down the store, we said our goodbyes. To say it was a sad day would be an understatement. Besides the managers, no one was offered any form of severance. Like me, they all felt like corporate had just ripped them away from their home. It was a bittersweet moment, to say the least.

Job #2

After the fiasco, I was offered to be promoted and relocate to another restaurant in a different state. It was a fantastic offer that would have turned into a legitimate career. At first, I said yes. My boyfriend and I packed up my apartment as we discussed how we would stay in touch until he would move down with me. My friends and family were in a complete state of shock but wanted me to be happy. I was given a date to move and had all my bags packed. The night before, it all hit like a ton of bricks.

This was the moment I saw the restaurant for what it was. I was about to leave my friends, family, and love of my life for a job that brought me nothing but pain. Instead of trying to find myself, I was going to let them control my life yet again. Now I see it as unprofessional, but I emailed the regional manager that night to let him know I would not be moving down and accepting the position. It was the most significant decision I had ever made.

Of course, this meant that I had been out of a job for a few weeks and in pressing need of money. I had a friend who was working at a local restaurant who said he could quickly get me hired on. Without thinking, I messaged him and asked for him to pull some strings. Since it was just a family establishment, it was incredibly easy to get a job. Training lasted a whopping two days, and no interview was ever required. It seemed like such an amazing little place that I even bribed one of my other friends who had worked at job #1 to follow along.

For the first couple of months, it seemed unbelievable. We were allowed to wear what we wanted, the restaurant was small and quaint, and the tips had doubled. After being an hourly manager almost ruined my mental health, I was adamant about just being a server. I didn't want to think or have any responsibilities on my plate. I just wanted to wait on tables, clean up, and leave for the night. Everything seemed to be going perfectly.

Then true colors started to show. The owners were extremely wealthy and had several successful businesses in other states. They had opened this establishment as their retirement. It was supposed to be a place where the workers did everything, and they partied every night. With this mentality, things were being run entirely lopsided. On top of the oddball management, the owners treated servers like dirt every chance they could get.

The wife would continually yell at us for things that were out of our control, expected us to do things immaculately when we were running around catering to half the restaurant and would always refer to us as "the help" to others. The husband was a sexually assaulting narcissist who would tell you how to do your job while lightly grabbing your butt. Not being one to stand up for myself at the time, I just let this type of harassment continue.

Within a few months, they wanted me working in the kitchen. Not really wanting to, but knowing I needed a job, I said yes. Now I was working the server side and kitchen side, not liking either at all. I could feel myself turning into my old self and hated it. Eventually, a night came where it all came crashing down on me. While I was liked by most employees (and maybe even the owners), I was over being treated like garbage.

One night, in particular, forced me to make a decision. It was during the holidays, and the place was a madhouse. Instead of helping out, the owners had taken up their own table with all of their friends and families. My friend took the table and was treated like dirt by them the entire time. At one point, we were so busy the kitchen could not take in any more orders. People were upset for obvious reasons, but we were doing the best we could. The husband came in and saw how everything looked (and heard the complaints), and immediately took to screaming at us.

To understand what I'm about to say, let me backtrack a little bit. This restaurant was incredibly small, meaning only two to three servers were on at any given point. Even with it being small, there were enough tables to make this incredibly hard for two people to take care of. On top of this, we were instructed to keep the place swept no matter what and to have a candle lit on each table constantly. When he walked in, all he saw were the tables that had burnt out candles.

It wasn't the servers sweating and running around. It wasn't the kitchen that was backed up or the customers who were waiting an hour for a meal. His anger came from a few tables who did not have lit candles. He came up to the server station, grabbed a lighter, thrust it in my face with a demon-like expression, and slurred a mouthful of atrocities. At this point, I couldn't care about his anger because I had several tables needing multiple things.

When I went to move to the computer to type in a table's order, he pushed me harshly out of the way without saying a word. This push was harsh enough to leave a bruise on my ribs and cause me almost to fall down. It was a breaking point. Not wanting to leave my friend in this mess, I stayed until the very end. In fact, I didn't even quit after that night. With a few days off, I relished in not having to go back to that place. Once the day to go back came, all the anger from that night bubbled up.

I knew I couldn't look at the owners without saying something incredibly rude to them. Instead, I messaged the kitchen manager to let him know why I was not coming in and that I couldn't take the harassment I was given. From my friend (who worked that night), I was told that the wife made a big deal about this, cursing loud enough for the entire restaurant to hear about what I had sent. Her reaction was proof enough that I had made the right choice.

Long Story, Short Ending

My memories of restaurants are not sweet and amazing. I have seen the hard work employees put into these places, only to be treated by dirt by either manager, guests, or owners. They break their backs making sure to get the food out correctly and on time, to have a fantastic demeanor, and for little to no money sometimes. You could be the best server in the world and still receive nothing for a tip, and you could work until you bleed in the kitchen but still be told you need to do better.

I have met a lot of people who think anyone could work in a restaurant. In fact, I have had several guests say an idiot could do the job. This is not the case. While you might not need a college education to wait tables, it takes a lot of hard work and struggles each and every shift. The reason most people stay is that they do make decent money on the right nights and managers get paid a fantastic amount to run these establishments (and for a good reason). For my own sanity and wellbeing, I will never put myself in this type of stress and heartache again. The people I met along the way make each memory worth it, but not enough to try it out again. Next time you go to a restaurant, make sure to thank your server or kitchen if you had a great experience. Trust me, they are battling a war each day that can end up being a thankless and overwhelming job.


About the Creator

Ashlyn Harper

A chaotic room of stories. My curiosities lead me in all types of directions, creating a chaotic writing pathway. I want this place to be for experimenting, improving my craft, and sharing new ideas with anyone willing to read them.

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