10. You have nightmares about splitting a check more than six ways.
Want to know what’s annoying? When nine people have one beer each and then split the check nine ways. Even more so when some pay in cash, some pay on a card, and some give you three in cash and say “put the other five on the card”. I recently had a nightmare where a customer asked me to split a $34 check twelve ways. When I said I couldn’t do it, he said “but it’s science” and called me a ‘stupid waitress.”.I hit the check presenter out of his hand, told him to go fuck himself and quit. I woke up unsure if I still had a job and if that would really qualify as a nightmare or a good dream, because anyone who has ever served would LOVE to say that.
9. You’ve seen things only registered medical professionals and new mothers should see.
When I signed up to bartend, I never signed up to clean vomit off the walls. Or piss off the floor. Or put a compress to the face of a person who fell down drunk and made themselves bleed. But somehow, I ended up doing that sometimes. It’s disgusting, and it really isn’t part of my job description. So do us all a favor, drunk people. Please stop pissing, shitting, and puking on yourselves when you get wasted. I don’t have a baby for a reason.
8. You associate holidays with really, really good staff meals.
I don’t remember the last time I spent Christmas Eve or Day with my family. But I still look forward to staff meal on those days because you know it’s gonna be GOOD. Sure, it’s not homemade turkey and stuffing, but it’s scrambled eggs with sausage and pasta that isn’t three days old and reheated! Or perhaps even better, it’s leftover buffet food from the private event the night before, including but not limited to prime rib, chicken marsala and talapia! Merry Christmas, everyone!
7. You remember the particularly bad tippers.
We all get bad tips, idiots who leave five, ten percent on excellent service because they’re cheap or assholes or European (or all three). You let those ones slide because, hey, life. The nice guy who comes along and tips thirty percent just because evens it all out in the end. But there are some who stick with you. For me, that was Cliff “Cade” Marsh from Louisiana, who on Christmas Day after a twelve-hour shift left me no tip on a $242 check. Oh no, wait, he left me something. A note that said the food (all of which he and his family ate and never complained about) and my service were horrible. Mind you, he never complained to me, my manager, or anyone else. I was so furious I did in fact look him up and thought about sending him an e-mail to his HVAC company, but decided to let karma run it’s course. If this article makes its way to him, I just hope Mr. Marsh learns that no shitty deed goes un-internet punished. Thanks for nothing, asshole. I’m sure Jesus wouldn’t have tipped on his birthday, either. Dick.
6. Your work friends are your second family.
I was at my old place for six years. Six years in service industry time is like forty three in regular job time. My three best friends all worked with me, commiserated with me, stuck up for me. We were all on the same page with what we wanted to do in life, how we were going to get there, and the shit we had to put up with to do so. Our conversations usually included poop stories, boob stories, sex stories, farting, “almost shit my pants” stories, and other usually not-work-friendly topics. I spent more holidays with those guys in the last six years than I did my family, and still mass text them on a weekly basis. I cried when I left them, and envy those who work at my new place and have that relationship I now need to work for again. I swear it’s true, only other service industry workers really GET other service industry workers.
5. You learn to speak Spanish on the fly.
At my old place, the majority of the guys in the kitchen spoke Spanish, as did our barback. I loved them all. They called me “Flaquita.” which means skinny in Spanish, and I responded to it without hesitation. I called our barback “Bigote” and our pizza guy “Chuleta” which mean mustache and pork chop, respectively. I learned enough Spanish to have conversations with the guys in the kitchen, and they learned enough English to ask me how my day was and what I needed. We had a really nice balance where sometimes words were completely wrong and we’d laugh about it. I feel like every politician and every undocumented immigrant should work in a restaurant kitchen for a month and the world would be a much better place for everyone.
4. You know 20% of every number.
I wasn’t a math major, but without a calculator I can tell you that 20% of $171.91 is $34. It baffles me when guys who are in finance come in and need to use their iPhones to figure out how to tip on $210 or $300. It’s a firm reminder that the financial crisis of 2008 probably happened because a junior sales associate at UBS or Bank of America didn’t have his iPhone handy to do a calculation.
3. You have “quiet spots” around your restaurant.
For me, it was the liquor room. For many others, it’s the smoking spot outside the trash room. For others, it’s Private Room B. We all have our “sanity spots” in our restaurant where we go when we need a moment to nap, make a phone call, or scream out loud in order to collect ourselves and retain a reasonable level of sanity. When dealing with customers, a quiet place to retreat to is a necessity and makes questions like “is this bread gluten-free” and “can you make me a virgin pina colada?” bearable.
2. You use restaurant language in your non-restaurant life.
I find it weird that sometimes when I have friends over for a BBQ I ask them how they want their burgers cooked and then rattle off a list of cheeses for them to choose from. When someone asks for a drink when we’re watching football, I might ask up or on the rocks or neat. I’ve even answered my cell phone thanking someone for calling my restaurant (I used to hostess, too). Sometimes it’s hard to break the habits of what you do in a restaurant and what you do in your personal life. But if nothing else, my friends all think I’m a very attentive, concerned cook and liquor provider.
1. You are jaded and happy in equal measures.
Working in the restaurant industry long enough, you DO become jaded a lot of the time. The same questions over and over, the same requests, the same orders, the same tired responses. Working in a restaurant, you without a doubt see the worst of humanity come through and are usually in a position where you can not call them out on being God awful people. I’ve had customers yell at me, berate me, stiff me, belittle me, and make me cry. All over food or a drink. I’ve come to hate holidays like Christmas and New Years because I hate dealing with people on those days. Some people are impossible to please, and for some reason, a lot of those people congregate in my place of employment and demand service that Queen Elizabeth doesn’t get. And then bitch about how much it costs to be treated like a queen.
But on the flip side, working in the service industry has made me a better, stronger, more motivated person. It made me the ultimate multitasker, it made me more social, it made me stand up to people who treated me poorly and it gave me the opportunity to follow my passion in life (which is writing). It paid my bills, gave me plenty of time off, broadened my knowledge of bourbons and tequilas and above all, it made me more respectful of people. All people. I never tip less than 20%, even when the service is shitty because I know what it’s like. I never look down on the guys who take out the garbage or the porters or the guys who don’t speak a lick of English, because I know how hard they work and how important their job is, because it makes mine so much easier. I never judge people by the kind of work they do and I treat everyone how I want to be treated because I know what it feels like when someone treats me shitty simply because they look at me as nothing more than a waitress. I say “please” and “thank you” more than is necessary because I am grateful to anyone in the restaurant who does something that helps me. Serving and bar tending has given me perspective, gratitude and opportunity. And I’m pretty happy about that.
And check out my new web series, Front of House, about life behind the bar.