10 Things You Learn At A Food Service Job

1. You will always be hungry.

The time you are allotted for eating in a food service job could best be described as crouching behind a counter in a kitchen and shoveling food in your mouth as quickly as you can in between running around the establishment to attend to the 10,000 other things that need your attention while avoiding the glare of your unforgiving manager. They fill you with promises of “50 percent off anything on the menu,” failing to tell you that you’re more likely to sprout wings and fly around the bar than to actually have a decent amount of time to eat. This, combined with the fact that you’re perpetually surrounded by delicious-looking food that you can never, ever touch, means you will constantly be doubling over with hunger. Water, water everywhere and — well, you know the rest.

2. People who don’t tip should be shot.

If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to be eating at a restaurant. And unless your service was so bad as to ensure that your server should not be compensated enough to eat/pay their bills this month, you have no excuse for being a cheap bastard. Make no mistake, you will be hated, you will be remembered, and you had better plan on never coming back to that establishment ever, ever again.

3. If the hostess doesn’t do her (or, occasionally, his) job, your life sucks.

You could either end up with a completely dead section and go home with empty pockets, or you could end up with so many customers that you’re essentially just throwing food at them and yelling “EAT IT” in their general direction, if the hostess is too busy flirting/being flirted with. It’s true that a big part of the hostess’ job in a nice restaurant is to set an ambiance for the place and be essentially some kind of courtesan that makes everyone feel welcome and attended to, but they can easily get caught up in talking to people, doing the crossword, staring out the window, or just tapping their toe impatiently. (Having been a hostess myself, I can confirm that about half the job is reminding yourself you have a job to do period.) And when that job is forgotten, the seating chart is going to look like it threw up on itself, and everyone is hating each other for the evening.

4. If you don’t like dick jokes, don’t go near the kitchen.

The kitchen of nearly any restaurant is where all of the various parts of society who weren’t interested in or had too much of a criminal record for an office job decided to coalesce, yell at each other, be around scalding heat, and talk about women. It’s basically an enormous, stagnant cloud of testosterone, and it’s not for the faint of heart. Shout out to the women coming up in the food world, because the guys in the kitchens — even the best kitchens — make no bones about it being something of a boy’s club. One pass by the dishwasher or the various stations will be a crash-course in blue humor and graphic descriptions of the female anatomy. And the chef? As long as the kitchen is putting out good, consistent food, the chef couldn’t care less. It is what it is.

5. Drunks are the worst.

If you have ever been a female employee in an establishment that serves alcohol, you deserve a gold medal of some kind right now. After a certain hour — especially on weekends, but let’s not pretend like the weekday drunks don’t exist too — you are guaranteed to have some middle-aged, pot-bellied, red-nosed businessman and his overgrown bros turn their bleary attention over to you and spend a good portion of the rest of the night awkwardly hitting on you. It is your job, of course, to be as polite as possible in shooting down the attempts while gently reminding them that you have some things to attend to. God forbid they try to convince you to stay by offering you some crumpled up money — at which point your job will become not punching them in the face.

6. A good manager is like a unicorn.

Impossible to find. You will come to learn that most managers in food service are given just enough power to be absolutely awful to everyone, and that the biggest thrill in their lives is sh-tting on the various people who are chained to them by their desire for tip money. There is no task to petty for them to assign to you, or fleeting comment too irrelevant to make. Most of their time will be spent hounding after you to do minute tasks that they could easily do, sucking up to the owner of the place, and giving horrible motivational speeches before evening rush. They’re essentially the failed high school football coaches of the restaurant industry, and if you ever find a good one — you never, ever leave. You won’t get that happiness again.

7. Good chefs are rock stars.

If you are in a city and work in a nice, critically-respected restaurant, you will find that few people in town are cooler than the chef. Usually relatively young, often featuring arm tattoos and nice hair, the chefs are the people who do a job they love, are always down for a good drink after the shift (and are usually buying), provide everyone with amazing food, and are always getting spreads in the newspaper posing with their most famous dishes. We are currently riding a wave of some kind of culinary zeitgeist, and may it last forever, because the cream-of-the-crop chefs are the kind of stars whose products you can actually eat. Just beware, should you decide to date said hot/awesome chef, every foodie hipster in town will be perpetually hitting on them.

8. No one drinks like middle-aged women on “Girls’ Night.”

If you’ve ever had the pleasure/agony of hosting a group of dyed, tanned, and provocatively-clad middle-aged suburban women on a Girl’s Night, you have seen what it means to drink. These are the women who are going to plow through round after round of jewel-toned cocktails and endless bottles of fresh white wine, just looking to “let loose” and “have a good time,” because the “hubbies are home with the kids” and it’s time to “go crazy.” There will eventually be group cries of “wooooh,” as well as the open appreciation of the younger male asses on the waitstaff. Eventually, you’re going to have to find your sacrificial lamb and find a 17-year-old busboy to come bring them something so they can fawn over how cute he is and how much they just want to pinch his cheeks. Don’t worry, they usually tip like Rockefellers, as long as you keep them in Chardonnay and firm buttcheeks.

9. Everyone on the staff has slept with everyone else at some point.

You will quickly come to find, in any restaurant/bar/combination of the two, that everyone should probably be getting tested, given the amount of boning they are perpetually engaging in. There will always be at least four couples who are in some state of infatuation/seriousness/rockiness/break-up/avoiding eye contact, and it never gets any less weird to be around. It’s hard to keep up with the ever-turning carousel of relationships, and if you decide to ever step on yourself, you may never get off. It’s just a black hole of convenience, familiarity, and going out for drinks after every other shift — which brings me to my last point.

10. If you don’t watch out, you could quickly develop a drinking problem.

The thing about the restaurant crowd is, given how late you all get off work, you are pretty much obligated to hang out with each other. Everyone else has to get up early for work the next day, and has already been in bed for hours. And what is there to do at 1 a.m.? Go to an after-hours place and get wasted, after more-or-less every shift. You’ll have your usuals — lemon drops, Rumplemints, whiskey shots — and you’ll just fall into a comforting routine with a group of night owls who make drinking 4 out of 5 weekday nights seem completely normal. It’s probably for the best to keep an eye on this stuff, lest you end up like the alcoholic on the staff (and every staff has at least one). They all started somewhere. TC mark

image – Shutterstock

Chelsea Fagan

Chelsea Fagan founded the blog The Financial Diet. She is on Twitter.


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  • http://twitter.com/rachelanyaa rachL (@rachelanyaa)

    every single point on this list is spot on. thank you for validating my existence.

  • Max

    Pretty accurate, with the exception of the gender-bias bit; the amount of women in the industry kicking ass is growing exponentially (and it’s really, really hot).

  • Ben

    What is this, Chelsea Fagan re-hashes all of her old articles day??

  • http://gravatar.com/steinlette steinlette

    I’m sorry your kitchen staff was gender-normative and douchey, but try not to malign an entire profession, please. We don’t all believe in sexual harassment.

    • QYB

      For fuck’s sakes, everyone is so gender sensitive nowadays.

    • anonymouse

      i work in a kitchen that is dominantly female (the sous and the next two highest kitchen positions are held by women, in a TINY kitchen of four on the line at the most) and we ALL make disgusting jokes & comments. the beauty of working in the back of the house is that conversation (and relationships) are not censored by the overbearing politeness that working in the front entails. i say this because i’ve worked in various restaurants in both the front and the back over the last 6 years. the kitchen has always been a place for me that gender normativity goes to die and EVERYONE gets to say what they want. i’m sorry if that hasn’t been your experience and i’m even more sorry if you have a work environment in which the kitchen is held to the same bullshit standards of conversation that the front is. viva la cuisine disgusting!

  • JK

    “If you are in a city and work in a nice, critically-respected restaurant, you will find that few people in town are cooler than the chef.”

    And you’re whining about people who don’t tip? Try working in a fast food place or a crappy diner.

    • anon

      not the point

  • http://samanthastanway.wordpress.com Samantha Stanway

    Well done. Makes me want to re-watch “Waiting.”

  • Amelia

    Point 11: If you work in an urban Italian restaurant (cough, Buca di Beppo), all of these points are multiplied exponentially. The cook is on cocaine, the boss tackles the dine-and-dashers (… or if he doesn’t, he makes you pay the tab), everyone who works there lives within walking / ghetto bus-riding distance, because where else can poverty-stricken high school dropouts get jobs? And they will ALL resent the friendly, articulate, part-time individuals working their way through graduate school. MISERY.

  • Charli

    I don’t particularly like tipping unless the waiter has genuinely made my evening a more pleasant experience. I’m not 100% sure but I think the food service industry in the US has a lower or no? minimum wage (like I said not sure, something I heard somewhere) but in good old England it does. So why should I tip someone for doing their job, when they get paid the exact same minimum wage I do in my retail job (where I do run around and deal with ridiculous requests and retarded customers) and I rarely get a thankyou let alone a cash tip. And in fact with “service charges” automatically added to the bill these days most of my waiter friends are acutally on a higher rate of pay than me. So to summarise, to English waiters, no you do not get a tip unless you were fucking awesome.

    • Lskeilty

      Waitresses don’t earn minimum wage. I’ve worked jobs with the hourly rate being $3-$5.

      • Charli

        Yes thats what I thought, so I understand why tipping in America is a big a deal, but like I said in England waiters get paid at least the same minimum wage as say a retail job does. And like I said every other place adds a “service charge” to the bill that is supposed to get direct to the waiter. For example in my retail job I get the national minimum wage of £6.08 an hour, my brother who works in a (posh) bistro gets £7.00 an hour plus a 15% service charge so that makes it to £8.05 an hour, plus tips. So yeah I have little sympathy.

    • Mac

      In Texas, and I believe Florida , servers make $2.50/hr before tips

      • Moonbeam6249

        $2.13 an hour in Florida and Illinois.

    • Eliza

      We don’t get minimum wage, I make $2.50 an hour. Ad I have no idea what service charges you’re talking about.

      • Hannah

        She does clearly state that she’s from England not the U.S so it’s obviously very different.

  • heronkady

    I love working in a food related business. I was a food attendant for 3 years. ;)

    Saving Thousands of People Hundreds of Dollars a month. Join the club today. Just click -> http://www.saversclub.us

  • For Real

    I seriously do not understand the concept of tipping. Isn’t it your job? Isn’t the restaurant’s responsibility to pay you more? Consumers shouldn’t be paying for your ‘service’ by just taking our orders and being nice.

    • Lauren

      Please, for the love of God, give serving a shot for 2 weeks. I GUARANTEE you completely change your opinion.

      • Zeke

        100% true. Be a server for a couple of weeks (it looks so easy! you’re all so stupid! lolz can you wait here for 5 minutes while I discuss what I should order with my friends?!) and then tell us we don’t deserve tips.

    • N Looman

      I worked as a server, making $3.15/hr. If you didn’t tip 15-25% i assumed you hated me as a person and wanted my water shut off. The prices of food and drinks are adjusted because of this. Sure, the restaurant could pay me $10/hr but they would charge you $8 for a corona. Please tip and be nice to people in service industries.

    • Ayyo

      If there wasn’t tipping the food would just be more expensive to compensate paying staff. It’s all the same, but this way you get to choose how much you give.

      • Kate

        This is the most reasonable and well put explanation for tipping.

    • Moonbeam6249

      Dear For Real: So all your server does is take your order and be nice? REALLY? You never ask for special moderations to your food? You don’t leave a mess on the table?You never, ever ask for more than one drink (no coffee refills, no drink refills—free of course), you don’t get pissy when you feel that the steak is just a little undercooked (because most of America truly has no idea what a medium rare steak is), and of course you don’t tell those horrible boring jokes over and over (Hi my name is “For Real” and I’ll be your customer today, haha! So no, running their asses off, getting you refills, ensuring your “special” dinner is exactly the way you ordered it, picking up after your filthy self, enduring your stupidity, that’s what you’re tipping them for. Do us all a favor, go to Burger King (you don’t have to tip there and if the food isn’t exactly what you wanted, just remember you get what you pay for.)

  • http://jillbean245.wordpress.com Jill.Winslow
  • Zeke

    HA! Right on point. The one thing I would argue with is the point about managers being assholes– I had a couple of awesome managers. I also had an insufferable douche who followed me around and was perpetually deck-in-the-faceably cheery. That element really varies.

    To address those of you questioning why you have to tip, the American restaurant industry is set up in a way that pays waitstaff below minimum wage at a rate that one person cannot live off of, even living meagerly. It is structured to rely on tips, which is why restaurants are allowed by law to pay an hourly rate that is below the legal minimum wage. The fact that it relies on tips is what makes it possible for you to receive such excellent service sometimes– the reality is, we’re going to work our hardest when WE stand to gain. If we’re getting paid a flat rate, most people will complacently fall into providing mediocre service. You think that shouldn’t be the case? Fine. But it just is, and is true of all business relationships. Retail stores? The most helpful employees are commissioned. In most cases, when they aren’t commissioned, you can look forward to searching high and low for an associate and receiving bad-to-somewhat acceptable service.

    Waitering is a physically exhausting and draining position in which you are the servant of each person at each one of your tables. We walk miles and miles each day around the restaurant, so much so that waiters have blistered feet and raw thighs. If you can’t afford to compensate us for a hard work, either don’t come– or do come, don’t tip, then come back and look forward to some surprises in your dish :o)

  • Erin

    I knew I couldn’t like you Chelsea Fagan. Sometimes I want to like you. But then you go and ruin it. Being a hostess at a busy, fine dining restaurant is hard as shit and you’re a dumb bitch for saying otherwise

    • Mac

      Fine dining is completely different from the restaurants she addresses even then she didn’t say it wasn’t an easy job not everyone is made to be a host/hostess but a good head host/hostess is amazing and I will sneak them drinks and give them free apps when they come and sit in my section
      Sucky host/hostess just get made fun of for being extremely oblivious
      A host/hostess’s job is in the details and they can make the servers more tips and in turn themselves more tips if they pay attention to the little things

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  • Moonbeam6249

    Seriously, most of you people are what make the general public think of restaurant workers as low lifes. I have been in the industry for over 25 years, did all the regular jobs, waitress, hostess, bartendar, etc. then went into management. I have found that most guys in the kitchen are breaking their asses on 140 degree lines to take care of their families (and by the way, be a woman and try to lift a box, or sweep with a broom, and these gentlemen come and take the item out of your hands.). Most of the servers are busting their asses paying their way through college (oh, let’s see, two of my sons have done this and several of my very best workers), and the host staff usually are young, but this experience helps to make them more comfortable around the general public, which helps them greatly later on in life. So….get the hell out of the business! As a manager I have busted my ass making sure my staff is paid, has the days off they need (for finals, graduations, etc.) and that they can continue to go to school or take care of their kids, etc. “Waiting” was so over the top, I can’t even begin to address that comment. If you’re such a princess and you can’t take the hard work that is done daily by the people who work in this industry, do us all a favor, go sit on your ass in an office and write stupid lists (oh wait a minute……….)

  • MM

    also, you might become addicted to smoking working at a restaurant.
    I worked at a BBQ one and everyone smoked. It was pretty ridiculous…because they would have tables and they would sneak out and smoke and i would have to find them and then they would yell at me for giving them a table (when they first complained about not having any money)

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