The Restaurant Diaries
Sex, alcohol, drugs, late hours... Working in the high end restaurant industry yields high cash at a high price.
Let’s pick up a few shifts, as a side hustle while in school, I thought to myself. After all, working as a bartender or server in a high end restaurant in a big city can yield some nice cash. If you’re a student or at the beginning of a career with many expenses and zero third party support, making some extra bucks to alleviate the struggle is appealing. However, it comes at a price.
To those who have never worked in the industry, it is difficult to understand. I know this from experience, trying to explain the toils and troubles to friends and family members who have never been in the position. Let’s face it, either they don’t want to come to terms with the shitty experiences of their friend or daughter for their own emotionally selfish reasons, or they quite simple don’t get it. To all my sisters who have come out of the bar and restaurant industry unscathed, I salute you.
I’ve been in and out of the industry for a solid eight years. I’ve made some amazing life long friends, yes. We now share this unbreakable camaraderie. However, for the five amazing people I’ve found, I had to experience hundreds of bad apples. For me, the industry was always a means to get by. I cannot say I worked in the industry because of a true passion, due to the harassment of women, including myself, from customers that have had one too many to drink and fellow employees that have become too comfortable. What I can say, however, is that I have a passion for spectacular food and wine, what it means to people, it’s history, and the comfort it provides to us. So you could say that was part of the reason I initially entered this industry, and notably why I am good at it.
Now let’s get real. When someone tells you high school is over when it’s over... is wrong. I’ve noticed that wherever humans are grouped, there will always be a natural hierarchy and order. There will always be things you have to do so you don’t topple to the bottom, or things you have to do to secure your place on the top. I don’t care how close you think you are to your coworkers or family, or whoever, there is always some level of competition in the back of everyone’s mind. There is always the notion of “being cool,” or being the “strongest” because guess what, if you aren’t, your next shift will likely be even more hellish than the last. With that being said, you have to roll with the punches and play the game.
Which is fine. Until it isn’t.
Now here’s the part where you tell the kids to go do something else, or stop reading yourself, because the level of raunch is about to skyrocket.
“I’m just going to go in there, do my shift and leave.” Says everyone. Remember when I made a comment about high school? Yeah, so what comes with that?—Peer pressure. The thing about the restaurant industry is that most tips are pooled. So essentially on the floor, everyone helps everyone. Now think, what would happen if you truly pissed off one of your colleagues? Or a group of your colleagues thinks you are stuck up, or not a team player because you didn’t party with them last night? They likely won’t help you in your section, probably give you the biggest section thus making you work the hardest, and your shift will be worse than a trip to Hades.
Now I’ve always been shocked at the level of energy everyone has after a 10 hour, no break, no meal, shift. Listen, I am tired. In my early 20s, I naively never understood how people wanted to go to a club or bar after kind of physical torture endured by standing, lifting, and not eating for a 10 hour shift. Until, I understood, and it’s called cocaine. Somehow, people can afford it. I don’t know how, considering from my perspective, I don’t have much free cash at the end of the month after paying bills and tuition, for a bottle of wine—let alone a nightly cocaine fix. The pressure is always high to attend these nights out, where drugs and a lot of booze are bound to run rampant. Couple the effects of this toxic mix, peer pressure to be out, with men ogling you, the whole situation is extraordinarily uncomfortable. Can I go home now?
So everyone wants to party at the end of the night. We get it. Now imagine if you’re a good looking girl, working with mostly a team of men. Men in the kitchen, men as bussers and men on the floor. Now I’m not saying the restaurant industry has no women. However in my personal experience, it’s male-dominated industry; a pirate ship, if you will.
In my first job as a hostess at eighteen, the manager would sit behind me and take pictures of me. He’d make sexual comments about my dresses and how I should wear tighter ones for him. When I’d bend over to pick something up, his phone was quite obviously out and taking photos. Despite being my father’s age, he’d call me “baby” and “sexy,” even though I never reciprocated. Closing late nights with this man, I was afraid. Even men at the bar the same age as grandfather, would ask to have sex and wait for me outside despite my always saying “no.”
In my early to mid 20s, some of the many things I, and my fellow female colleagues, have often heard while on the clock were disturbing. Customers would ask if I could be their escort. They’d promise me a change of life if I’d go suck them off in their car now, and more later. “When does your shift end? I’ll wait for you,” they’d say. Even people in higher up positions of the business would tell me to show more cleavage next time I come to work. “You’re serving the group that’s a bachelor party, show that cleavage,” he barked. I understand sales. And I understand knowing your crowd and how to work them, but it should be at my discretion. Your boss shouldn’t tell you to show your tits. Gross.
“I’m going to throat fuck you till your mascara bleeds,” is another statement I’ll never forget hearing from a male colleague. “I wonder what that ass feels like,” “Next time you go to the wine cellar I’ll follow you and fuck you down there,” “I want you to be the third in a threesome with my wife, I’ve already shown her pictures of you,” “I bet you like it hard from behind, don’t you.” One time a customer took my number down from the employee information sheet, which, as it states, is meant to be between employees in case of an emergency or someone not being able to take a shift. Which I only found out once I received extremely sexually aggressive, unsolicited text messages.
These are just a few of the many statements myself and women I know have endured while trying to make money in a restaurant. And let’s not forget the physical, sexual assault ,and rape that gets brushed off under the guise of being drunk or “too fucked up” for the perpetrator to take account for their actions—I’ll spare you the details.
I’m sure many of you are thinking, “Why don’t women report them. Why didn’t you stand up for yourself more?” Remember when I mentioned high school? Yeah so basically a restaurant industry in a given city is a big high school. All chefs know each other from restaurant to restaurant. Chances are the HR guy is the one who assaulted you. And if you whine about it, you’ll likely be fired. And good luck getting a job at another restaurant cause if you burn one bridge, you’ve likely burned them all.
In the restaurant industry and many others, men feel that women are the object of their enjoyment. Whether they’re the customer or fellow coworker. They’re looking for sex, even if it makes you uncomfortable, because working at a restaurant is like working on a pirate ship, as I’ve mentioned. Social norms are thrown out the window, and you’re expected to take it and brush it off with a smile.
I wrote this for women. Because I don’t believe enough light is shed on specific industries where high levels of harassment occurs. I don’t believe people causing the harm are called out enough or are held responsible for their actions. I don’t believe that friends and family members of these women even know, and oftentimes they ignore, the trauma that has been endured.
I hope this is an educational piece. I want to spread the knowledge and to help people understand what goes on being closed doors. Next time you go out for dinner and think you can save some money by barely tipping—don’t. Next time you plan on being a douche to your server—stay home. And next time you tip, I hope you will understand the potential harassment that your server has endured to be able to serve you your meal, while still magically serving you a smile and a good time for the couple of hours that your visit lasts.