Common jobs in food service are: cook, line cook, server assistant, server, barista, fast food employee, ice cream scooper, etc. But really, they’re all the same thing. Each functions at a basic level upon the premise of being at the utter mercy of the customer; customer wants the beet salad without fennel, customer’s water is almost out, customer’s been waiting for over three minutes and still hasn’t been greeted, customer wants a half-caff skinny mocha with a small amount of raspberry to go, customer needs her table ‘crumbed,’ tuck your shirt in – customers come here for the class, etc. Customers are the gods of the food service industry, and they’re angry gods at that; when one is even slightly dissatisfied, apologies pour from over the counter in a tidal wash of discounts, refunds, coupons, sincere hopes for reconciliation and a plea to please, please don’t let this one minor mistake reflect upon our business as a whole, please come back again.
But working in food service has its merits, especially for those in high school who still haven’t Learned What Hard Work Is. Because in the food service industry, you work your ass off, and, comically, part of this Working Your Ass Off is that you must act like you enjoy working your ass off. Ha ha! It’s like a bad joke. But for this, food service employees are somewhat hardened, resilient and stoic, and this is why I think food service employees deserve our great respect (especially the ones that have come from south of the border, are working two other shitty jobs, and sending most of the money back to their families – but we’ll go over that later).
Before Becoming A Writer, I worked in the food service industry for at least ten years. And despite the whole bitch-aspect to every food service job that employed me, I found that a positive aspect to working in food service is that it gives one the chance to work with a lot of different people from a lot of different backgrounds. I loved these people, and I hated them. I looked forward to days they were working, and I was relieved to be working the days they had off. I wanted to get drinks with these people after work, and I never wanted to run into these people outside of work. Point is, you meet a great many people in food service… and so here, for your scrutiny, is a list that contains generalized caricatures of the typical people you’ll find working at food service jobs.
- The dude who seems way to old to be working in food service. Aside from how well you get along with him, your feelings about this person are two-fold: “I feel bad for him,” and “Damn, am I going to be working in food service when I’m 45? How does he… pay his rent? Does he live in a shitty apartment like me? Am I going to be living in a shitty apartment the rest of my life??” And these answers, in today’s shitty ass economy, are unclear, which is scary. Scary because food service is, for most people, a soul-grating thing – in essence it’s the practice of getting paid comparatively crappy wages for 8-10 hours of near-manual, frantic labor, all with a smile on your face, despite the fact that you’ve just broken up with your boyfriend, that your friend’s in the hospital right now, etc. It’s entirely likely that the dude who seems way too old to be working in food service has Fallen On Hard Times or simply lacks the motivation to find a more specialized area of work in which he might be compensated a bit more fairly, but in any case, we look upon this man with curiosity and an anxiety about our own future.
- The slacker. This person sucks. She’s constantly slowing everyone down, letting food die on the expo line, fucking up orders and blaming anyone but herself, and shirking her cleaning responsibilities. Generally, she can’t even be found at the restaurant/ fine food service establishment that employs her, because she’s called in for an obviously fake reason (“Oh, my girlfriend’s really sick and I’d just really appreciate it if I could stay home today and take care of her, I think we might need to go to the Emergency Room,” “I’m [coughs weakly] sick, my throat’s just so sore…” etc.). For some reason, she never gets fired for this. When at work, she spends most of her time being bitchy to customers, on her cell phone talking to the friends she went out with last night, or smoking out back. Add the fact that her attitude is shit and that she’s completely unreliable and infuriating and you come to realize you have a sincere hate for this person. She is a Bad Person, and will remain so in your memory until you’re dead.
- The person who immigrated here to support his family. Most often from Latin American countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico, the immigrant is usually found working the most grunt-like positions in a food service establishment – line cook, dishwasher, pantry, janitor. Their English is generally average or below-average, but that doesn’t stop them from being some of the chillest, hardest-working employees at the cafe/ restaurant/ bar/ etc. Typically, it becomes known that this person has a family back in his home country and is sending most of his wages to them while working three jobs and sharing a small room in a bad part of town with three other dudes who are doing the same thing.
- The elitist. While at work, this elitist basically forgets he’s a human being and instead assumes a posture of being a sort of robot policeman with an intricate knowledge of the beauty of, for example, an under-cooked piece of cow skewered on a twig of rosemary, or something. The key to understanding this type of food service employee is the knowledge that when they’re not at work, they define themselves and take much self-confidence from knowing how to open a bottle of a wine in a non-awkward way, or making a flower pattern with some milk in a coffee, or preparing cool-looking salads. You get the idea. Most likely to be Head Servers, Baristas or Head Line Cooks, elitists take their jobs more seriously than their pay usually warrants, which feels sort of tragic and endearing, in a sense, but probably not when you have to work with them on a day-to-day basis. Elitist food service employees are good workers, and for that matter, they’re often seen working long hours, doubles, and coming in on days that they’re supposed to have off; for this we need to grant them a certain amount of respect. But there’s something intrinsically satisfying about talking shit on them (which is, admittedly, what I’m doing right now), perhaps because upon seeing someone with an unreasonably self-aggrandized persona, we have a natural desire to shoot it down to our level in an effort to mitigate feelings of inferiority.
- The superstar. The superstar is the best type of food service worker there is: she’s fast, clean, hates customers but is nice to their faces; she’s never late, she covers for you when you’re too hungover to come in, she takes smoke breaks with you when it’s slow, she’s always on time, she’ll stay late to finish cleaning, and she’ll have beers in the kitchen with you after closing time. Obviously this contributor’s favorite type of food service worker, the superstar is stellar because she’s fully aware of what she signed up for when she accepted a food service job, and as such has no real reason to bitch about inevitable shitty customer behavior, and every reason to approach her position with the right amount of humor.
- The complainer. Unlike the superstar, the complainer seems to be unaware of what he signed up for when he accepted a job in food service, or he simply is in denial about it. Every minor betrayal a customer makes of his Rules Customers Must Follow (that no one knows but him) is an absolutely egregious insult to be bitched about for at least an hour. Most often seen giving frosty, near-fake smiles to customers and fuming to the back-end to smash some used dinner plates on the ground before going out for a stress-smoke, the complainer’s grip on reality is a contentious one, as if reality were an antagonizing entity purposefully harassing him and making his life more difficult. Unfortunately for his co-workers, the complainer reacts to such cosmic injustices by a stream of seemingly unending bitching and moaning to anyone who will listen, serving only to make others just as miserable as him.
For the sake of brevity, all types of food service employees are not listed here (I’ve had to ignore such food service entities as: the comedian, the manager, the constant grazer, the scary head chef, the natural, the extremely sexy guy/girl you really, really want to have sex with, the person who’s constantly complaining about managerial authority, the person who has a grudge against you, the person against whom you have a grudge, the person who has ethical issues with the establishment they’re working for, the only hipster employee, the only non-hipster employee, and many more) and many variants and combinations of those listed above exist all across the world.