by: Lindsey Gavel
I have spent over 9 years working in the specialty food service industry as a hostess, line cook, server, bartender, and barista. The following lists were created with much input from fellow industry friends and are unfortunately, not all-inclusive. Because there’s a word limit.
Hooking up. You’re going to make a lot of industry friends – most of whom will come in while you’re on shift at some point. Likewise, you’re going to visit them. You’re going to hook one another up from time to time; a free beer here, a half-off sandwich there. But understand that we’re trying to make money for ourselves and for the businesses we represent, so the hooking up can’t and won’t always happen. Respect that, understand that, and don’t ever start to expect freebies – when you get to that point, you’ve ruined the relationship.
Keep those crazy bastards close. Some of my best friends were made while working in specialty food service. It’s like being part of a big, beautiful, incredibly dysfunctional family. You work with folks who understand the crazy hours, who can sit and commiserate over a cold beer at the local dive bar after a 12 hour shift, and who will have your back if you have theirs. I’m talking about both your co-workers and your fellow industry folk, here – don’t underestimate the beauty of an over-caffeinated, sleep-deprived friendship.
Communicate. Over-communicate. Send emails, talk in person, text, call, beep, page, sharpen your quills. Even the tiniest little thing can get blown out of proportion and cause huge problems in the long run – unless people are on the same page. So be on the same page, and make sure everyone knows their shit.
Watch your mouth. Everyone has an ego – some just have huge, over-inflated, obnoxious ones. Look. We’re all pretty, and we’re all going to prom. But there’s only so much shit-talking you can do before it turns around and bites you in the ass. Remember that rumors spread like herpes in this dysfunctional industry family, and learn to show some respect for the work, craft, and ability of others.
Conflict. Every place is going to have its own special blend of bullshit – but you need to know what bullshit you can deal with, and what bullshit you can’t. If it becomes more than a personality conflict and heads into hostile environment territory, there’s nothing wrong with respectfully walking away.
The birds and the bees. Whether you made a mistake after the company christmas party, or legitimately fell for someone you work with or serve food/coffee/alcohol to, learn to act like a goddamn adult. Maybe you’ve seen them naked, or maybe it was just one date – regardless of what happened or is still happening, don’t let it affect your ability to do your job. If you can’t do that, don’t get into the service industry. We’ve got a lot of attractive folks in here.
Educate yourself, fool. If you like what you do and have the time/ability/funds to learn new things about your craft, fucking take advantage of it. Don’t refuse to educate yourself and then whine about the fact that you’ve been serving coffee for years and still can’t pull a decent shot of espresso. It’s not the machine’s fault, it’s not the weather, and you sure as hell better not blame it on the guy who roasted the beans – it’s your own damn fault, and everybody knows it.
Chill out. You have bad days. I have bad days. Customers have bad days. Just because you didn’t get laid last night doesn’t mean that you should take it out on the guy in line who just wants a soda.
Enjoy it. If you don’t like what you do, then don’t do it. Explore other options – find a job that you enjoy, and that you’re good at. Know how to have fun and how to work, and how to find the balance between the two.
The “Have-It-Your-Way” mentality. If you’re ordering a specialty item off of the menu and are making additions and subtractions to the recipe to the point that it becomes unrecognizable, you forfeit most of your whining rights when it doesn’t taste the way you imagined it would. Someone (or several someones) spent days perfecting that recipe so that all of the ingredients blend perfectly to create a special concoction; if it doesn’t suit your palate in its original state, that’s one thing. But when you add extra salt, take out half the sugar, remove the butter, use raisins instead of chocolate, and cook them at 400 degrees for an hour, the chocolate chip cookies you made are going to be fucked, and you have no one to blame but yourself.
Know tipping etiquette. We work for minimum wage or less. Tips mean that I can actually eat this week and help bring me closer to the “making a living wage” range. If you get terrible or non-existent service, you reserve the right adjust your tipping accordingly. We work long hours and we usually make just enough money to scrape by – any show of appreciation, thanks, and understanding goes a long way.
If you ask questions, listen to the fucking answers. If you ask what sizes we have and I say “small or large,” don’t ask for a medium. If you ask to substitute a side dish and I inform you that there is a $1.00 up-charge for said substitution, don’t fight with me about it when you get your bill. Don’t read the menu, ask me what comes on the cheeseburger, then act surprised when your cheeseburger arrives with cheese on it. Don’t ask me for the internet password three times, huff loudly in the corner about our shoddy wifi, and then bring me your macbook for troubleshooting help – I told you it was cap sensitive, and that it was all one word. That is not what you typed.
Use. Your. Words. “I want that.” Oh, really? The whole pastry case? Well, I could be wrong about this, but I don’t think it’s for sale. Listen – we all have moments of brain dysfunction, but for the love of god, do your best to articulate. Gesturing at the entire menu and mumbling, “that one – in the biggest size you have,” is obnoxious. And we will make fun of you for it after you leave.
Don’t be a douchebag. I may be behind the counter/notebook/bar/grill, but I am still a human being. Crazy, right? Treat me like one. Just because you’re the one paying me for something doesn’t make me any less worthy of common human decency.
No one wants dog hair in their coffee. I love dogs. You love dogs. I probably love your dog. Know who doesn’t love dogs? The Health Department. If there is a sign in the window asking you to leave your pets outside, don’t bring them in and get pissed when you are asked to kindly remove them.
Cost. Please don’t discredit the work that we do by complaining about the price of something, especially if it’s after you read the menu, READ THE PRICES, and placed your order. If you want to know why you pay more for something artisanal, just ask me. I am more than happy to explain the details of our work to you.
Time doesn’t revolve around you. If the door is locked, tugging at it like a petulant toddler won’t make it magically open. Furthermore, if you’re within tugging distance of the front door, you also happen to be eye-level with our hours sign. Read it.
Cell phones. Ugh. On the phone when you’re ordering/paying/checking out? I’m going to treat you like you’re being an asshole, because you are being an asshole. In line in front of me, on your phone while ordering/paying/checking out? I’m probably going to make unnecessarily loud comments about how rude it is, commiserate with the barista/bartender/waiter/cashier, and then overtip them. For dealing with you being an asshole.
Act like a goddamn adult. Garbage cans exist for a reason. “Inside voices” exist for a reason. You can escort yourself to the restroom on your own because you don’t wear a fucking diaper any more. You should have learned by now that snapping your fingers, whistling, and throwing temper tantrums doesn’t accomplish anything. I don’t get paid enough to be your babysitter, nor do I get paid enough to deal with your attitude. Check that shit at the door, or do us all a favor and don’t go out in public.
Lindsey Gavel is an outspoken and opinionated atheist, feminist, and cyclist living in Chicago. She graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a BFA in Acting, so naturally, she has a day job slinging lattes. She “works” around town as an actor, theatre production-er, musician, and writer, and is a huge nerd for anything sci-fi. Disclaimer: She’s a Daywalker.