The Restaurant Revolution: Why I Left Industry and Why I’m Not Going Back

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You can now listen to this blog pod as an episode of The Millennial Agenda Podcast! Click here or search The Millennial Agenda on your chosen podcast platform!

When it comes to restaurants in the Orlando area, I am fully aware of who is and isn’t hiring. The “is” category outweighs the “isn’t” by a whole lot at this point. I’m aware of these places because at least four or five times a day a well-meaning friend will text or message or send a carrier pigeon letting me know that “This place is hiring bartenders- you should apply!” or “Chain restaurant XYZ needs servers bad, go apply!”

I know they mean well. They’ve seen me struggling with the fact that I’ve had very little luck finding any work and I doubt I’ll be offered up any speaking engagements with the school year about to end and things still being the way they are with COVID.  And Orlando, like many areas, is struggling to find hospitality workers. Hell do you really think that Disney changing up the “Disney look” was 100% about inclusivity? Nah, it was (at least partially) about opening up the ability to hire more people that they normally wouldn’t think twice about bringing on board.

That and I have to keep reminding people that bartending and serving are not my chosen profession, yeah it’s a means to an end but it’s a trap. Sure, I was good at what I did- was I the greatest server in the entire world? Absolutely not! Was I the best bartender in the world? Hell no! But I was good and in the four years I spent in the industry I worked my way up from server to closer to trainer to bartender to training captain to shift leader.

With all of that experience under my belt you’d think it’d be a no brainer to hire me on the spot. I know it sounds like I’m tooting my own horn saying that but I’m allowed to toot once and a while so give me that much. The truth is, I applied to a number of local places in late 2020 and never heard back from a single one of them. I applied for a training position at one of the theme parks and it took them two months to tell me “thanks but no thanks.” Didn’t even get an damn interview.

But that was then and this is now. Now, when many places are offering sign-on bonuses to anyone they hire. I could walk into almost any restaurant right now with my resume and say “Give me a job” and they will respond with “put on an apron, that’s your section, good luck!” One of my old managers just recently practically got on his knees and begged me to come back and work for him offering me my choice of shifts, days, whatever I wanted. Bar shifts? They were mine. Expo shifts? All yours. Make your own damn schedule!

You’re probably asking me “why the hell don’t you do it?” and you’re not the first and you probably won’t be the last. You’re right there with all the people asking me why I’m not taking advantage of those sign-on bonuses and busy tourist restaurants. Why isn’t anyone taking advantage of it if so many people in Orlando are still out of work?

These are all valid questions. Let me go ahead and answer those questions by opening up my brain and my journals and letting you know exactly why the hell I left the damn service industry and why I have no intention of going back to it any time soon.

When it comes to my time in restaurants, I’ve actually been pretty tight lipped about it when it came to social media or even my blog. One reason is I’ve had issues with people attempting to stalk me before and I didn’t need that in my life. Another is out of some blind respect for my companies. I’m fully aware of what the social media policies were and I was welcome to post whatever I wanted (within reason) but I felt it best to wait until I was out of the company before writing about it. I’ve shared some stories here and there and I’ve discussed some aspects of the job but I kept most things to myself.

See: The Real World is Less Fun Than I Remember, I Am Really Not That Kind of Bartender, and Sometimes You Have to Ask Yourself: What Would Beyonce Do?

For Pandemic Stories: A Beginners Guide to Not Being an A-Hole at a Restaurant and Here’s Why Doordash is Evil, Especially During Quarantine, A Plague Upon Your Servers

Wanna hear me talk about it: Check out my guest spot on the No Reservations Podcast

But today’s we’re about a year out from the anniversary of my quitting bartending and I’m ready to rip off that band aid and give people a look at what that life is like and why the mere thought of returning causes a panic attack. Maybe you know some of this already, maybe you’ve been in the industry and you get it, maybe you’ve seen all the articles about worker shortage and the stories of Chipotle workers walking out on the job. However, this is my perspective and experience and hopefully it helps you understand why I really want you to stop sending me job postings at restaurants.

The funny part of all of this is that for a couple years friends kept telling me, pretty much begging me, to leave serving and bartending because they saw what it was doing to me as a person. My sleep schedule was shit, I was angry all the time and I was drinking far more than I ever had before. They saw how much I was being taken advantage of and they saw how abusive my co-workers were towards me. Sure, laugh all you want at those memes about being crying in the cooler but it’s a real damn thing and not as amusing as it sounds.

Sure, a lot of what you hear from service industry employees are the horrible customer stories but there are just as many horrid stories about how management treats their staff. I’m sure you’ve also seen the memes about managers wanting staff to come in after an accident or even their death- these aren’t jokes, they’re real life. If we wanted to call out it, the task of finding a replacement was put on us. Sick? Better go get a doctor’s note to prove that you were sick or it’ll be a no call, no show.

Want to know the reality of being sick while working in a restaurant?  We’re still showing up to work. Why? Because we don’t get sick days. Sure, managers get sick time and vacations and PTO but hourly servers making $5 an hour are screwed so we show up. The number of times that I would come to work sick when I should have been at home not spreading my germs around would baffle your mind. And I did it because I needed the money. No work, no money. That simple.

Even times I would want to call out I was told that I couldn’t because there was no one to cover me. At one point, I came in for a shift with a fever, nausea and a litany of other symptoms that had me running to the bathroom as often as possible. I was SWEATING from fever and looked like I had just crawled out of my grave. My manager even commented that I looked like death when I came in for my shift. I flat out said, I didn’t feel well and I shouldn’t be working, could I please go home.

The answer was no. Best they could offer was getting me out a little early.

I worked the shift behind the bar half dead. I begged the hosts to point people anywhere other than the bar to no avail. Full bar, me sick as a dog. Not only was I exposing my nasty sick to everyone sitting at the bar, don’t forget that I’m also making drinks for everyone in the restaurant that’s ordering alcohol. I was finally allowed to leave an hour before we actually closed and at that point, I could barely stand. I was told that I better not even think about trying to call out for my shift the next day.

This wasn’t limited to me at all. More times than I’m willing to admit I would watch as half-dead co-workers would come in with the flu and drag themselves around, waiting on people, handling food and drinks and money. Because we all had no choice.

No work, no money.

Whatever illness would end up making its way around to everyone from other servers to hosts to cooks to bartenders and we would all muscle through and come to work because we needed the money.

A manager gets sick? They have paid time to recover and another manager picks up the slack or they call someone in from another location. Must be nice.

At one point a co-worker was in an accident on their way to work that totaled their car. The manager’s response? “Well, get here when you can.” When the server called back and said that they weren’t going to be able to make it because of how bad the accident was- “Just call an uber, you need to come to work.”

In early 2020 before COVID really hit the fan, I was dealing with some personal things at home. A pipe had burst in our wall and flooded half of the apartment I was living in. My home was a disaster and as a result I was being forced to move and trying to find a home while a pandemic is knocking at your door was stressful. I was also working two jobs. Bartending wasn’t my full-time gig but I live in Orlando and the only way to survive here is to work multiple jobs. My time off was precious because I was using it to pack and look for a place to live. The reality was I didn’t have any days off because of both jobs, but I had a couple nights that I wasn’t at the restaurant so I used them for what needed to be done.

One Tuesday, my general manager texted and asked if I would work the following night in the kitchen. I told her I would think about it and let he know when I came in for my shift that night. The time came and I was honest and straight forward with her. My exact words for “for the sake of my mental health, I’m going to say no.” She knew very well what I was dealing with in my personal time but that didn’t matter to her.

 She complained to me, “well if you don’t do it that means I have to come in on my day off to work.”

If you’re scratching your head and saying “what the fuck?” well I was too. Here I was, an employee, standing there on the brink of tears saying I couldn’t work and extra shift (a 6th day at that job) because my mental health was on the line and she has the audacity to complain about losing HER day off. Her, being the general manager. Apparently her days off were more important than mine despite her name being on the building.

I will note that not all managers were horrible. This particular manager was a brand new GM and had the power stick shoved firmly up her ass. My old GM, the one that had hired me, wouldn’t have bat an eye at me saying no. She would have understood and moved on. So, not all managers were soulless monsters but a good majority of them were.

During all of that, I had requested to be transferred to a new location because I was not thrilled with the way our new GM was doing things and she really didn’t seem to care for me either. She made the very clear when she first came to our store at the end of 2019 and there was no love lost between us. A manager that I worked well with had been promoted and moved to another Orlando location and needed bartenders so it seemed like a good fit. The whole thing should have been a painless procedure but my current GM made it a nightmare, going so far as to lie to me about what was going on with the transfer.

Then we shut down and it didn’t matter. I was furloughed along with many others in my industry.

When restaurants reopened for indoor dining in Florida, I wasn’t immediately asked back but within a couple days I was needed. Coming back was something of a nightmare because it meant more work for everyone for the same exact pay. Since people couldn’t sit at the bar top, I was charged with waiting all the tables in our lounge area. This would have been fine if my people were the only ones I needed to worry about but I was also making drinks for the servers in the dining room and most nights there were only two of them.

Despite only three of us on the floor and the reduced capacities, management insisted that all available tables were sat as quickly as possible. So now we’re all busy as hell with no ability to support one another. At that point we were expected to wear gloves and changed them along with washing our hands every time we touched something. So on top of being busy as hell, everything we did took forever because of all the extra safety and cleaning steps.

Want some honesty? If you think your servers we able to wash their hands as often as we were supposed to while doing all that work you are kidding yourselves.

My breaking point came about three weeks after returning to work. I was on shift with our hourly manager (a certified shift leader as we called it) who was a nightmare to work with even in the best of times. She was lazy as hell and would never do anything to support a shift. What I mean by that is that if the kitchen was crashing, for example, would she come back and help the cooks? Nope. If the expo needed help getting food together and run to tables would she be there to assist? Not at all. Would she be out on the floor helping bus tables and control the flow at the door? Not on your life. Would she be sitting in the office playing on her phone or outside smoking a cigarette or standing at the host stand chatting with them? Absolutely.

On the day in question, I came in for my shift at the regular time and set about getting to work. Unbeknownst to me, this manager decided to cut the servers in the dining room, the host and the to-go specialist. Suddenly I found myself with a full section. I was a little perturbed but no big deal, start the night making money. But then I realized I had no help. On top of that, if the to-go person is cut, the work is defaulted to the bartender. So now I’m busy with tables and getting bombarded by DoorDashers. No one is in the kitchen helping to get my food together to go to tables or the to-go people so the shift quickly turns into a disaster.

Where’s the manager? She’s outside chatting with the morning bartender who’s heading home.

When she finally comes back inside and I tell her I need help, she decides to start seating more people in the dining room. Mind you, I’m the only one on with a full section along with to-go orders and she is sitting me even more tables because corporate doesn’t want us on a wait. I tell her that it is impossible for me to take care of all these people by myself.

What does she do? She seats more tables. I make it very clear that I’m already underwater with what I have and I won’t be getting to those tables. There is no one to run my food or make my drinks or make sure my tables have what they need already. How am I supposed to take on more? And don’t forget those fucking DoorDash people. They are waiting and they are great at making it clear to you that they aren’t happy about it.

So she starts waiting on the new tables instead of supporting what we already have. Now this would seem like a nice thing but here’s the hitch- I haven’t the slightest clue where the money for those tables went. As a manager, she is not allowed to close checks and take tips. Logic would tell us that she would transfer those tables to me and I would get the money for them as I was the only server on the clock. But that didn’t happen. So she essentially stole from me.

After an hour of that hell, the rest of the night shift came in but the damage was done. If you think I had time to follow proper COVID safety during all of that- I wasn’t. Yes, I was all sorts of masked up but hand washing? Table cleaning? Don’t kid yourself.

Then she has the gall to throw a snide remark my way while I was in the kitchen asking, “Are you going to have this shitty attitude all night?”

I. LOST. IT.

The following day, Monday, I called out from my shift. On Tuesday I was ready to go back in and let go what had happened. I had taken my mental health day and was ready to be the bigger person and move forward. The GM was on shift when I arrived and told me we needed to talk. I agreed, we did. We went into the function room and say but before I could say anything the GM brought the problem manager into the room and sat her down.

I said that I wasn’t comfortable talking about the events of Sunday night with her sitting in the room. It made for an uncomfortable situation and I knew my employees rights. I had the right to have a one-on-one with my GM especially when it comes to issues with another manager. Can’t really be candid when someone is GLARING at you from across the table. I was told that my options were to talk to the both of them right then or leave and have a People Works (our HR) case opened against me.

I left.

On the drive home I called my former GM who was no longer with the company and asked about the situation. Mostly asking if I was wrong in requesting to talk about what had happened privately. I was in the right. So my next call was to Team Member relations at our corporate office where I issued a formal complaint against my management team. I laid it all out from the events of Sunday night to the lack of support in general from our management and the safety risks being posed to our team.

Wednesday morning I received a call from Team Member Relations and was essentially told that I was in the wrong and that I should be respecting my managers. When I brought up the safety issues (the safety of the team along with our guests) I was told to stay in my lane. I went in that night and worked what would become my final shift.

I had also learned that my GM had been lying to me about a number of things. When I first returned I has asked about my transfer which was supposed to be in process before the shut down. She told me at that point there was no need for me at the other store so my options were to come back to work there or stay on furlough. This was a lie. About a week before I quit, the GM from the other store had stopped in for a meal and asked me when I would be able to come to his store. He was hurting for bartenders and right now only had one fully trained person working his bar. I told him what I had been told and he laughed. When workers were recalled he had called my current GM and asked for me and was told no, that I no longer wanted the transfer.

When it came down to it, someone was lying to me and I’m not sure who it was. Add in the lack of support from corporate and I was ready to throw in the towel. I was made out to be the problem in all of this with managers acting like I was an issue to them. I was a shift lead, our lead trainer, a highly rated server who had received praise from guests and managers alike. None of that mattered. So I hung up my apron.

Funny part? That’s the abridged version of those events- there was so much more but we don’t have the time here.

My story wasn’t unique things like this were happening all over and I’m not talking just within the company I worked for. Servers and bartenders were thrilled to go back to work only to find that they were going to be expected to double or triple their workload with no added benefit. Not to mention that guests were treating us like shit more than every before.

Notice how long this post is and I haven’t even gotten to how guests treat their servers. When it came to how I was treated in the three weeks I worked after lockdown I’ll point you towards my post: A Beginners Guide to Not Being An A-Hole At A Restaurant: Pandemic Edition.

When it comes to the way people choose to treat service workers, I still have nightmares about it. Servers and bartenders are treated like scum regardless of where you are working. It can be McDonalds or some five diamond hole- we are all looked at as less than. Like we are burn-outs and morons because we couldn’t be any better than serving food.

One night while I was working a lead shift, I was called to a table that wanted to speak to a manager. Mom was upset because not only was the wait for a table long (on a Saturday night in one of the busiest tourist destinations in the country) but a group of people who had arrived after them was sat before them. The party in question was 4 people as opposed to her parties seven and from what I saw on the system we use for the wait list- they were called to sit within a few minutes of one another.

I went and spoke with the table explaining how restaurants work (I know that sounds snarky but I promise I was very polite about it in explaining how numbers and whatnot worked). In the midst of my talking to her, she shoves her hand in my face to stop me from talking and turns to her two teenage kids, “You see, THIS is why you need to go to college so when you grow up you can get a real job!” In a show of absolute professionalism, I walked away from the table without another word. The woman ended up complaining to corporate about me.

This was a sentiment I received a lot regardless of what position I was working, especially if something went wrong. God forbid any of us are humans and make mistakes. Yeah, I forget to ring stuff in or forget a modifier. Maybe the kitchen is backed up and food is taking forever or maybe they overcook your steak. It happens.

I’ve been sworn at, threatened, and had things thrown at me. I’ve been verbally abused and called a wide variety of names. I’ve worked doubles, a 12 to 14 hour shift with no break and barely time to go to the bathroom. I’ve eaten dead food just to keep from passing out and have actually passed out from dehydration. In four years of working in the industry I’ve suffered through three urinary tract infections from holding my pee for hours at a time.

We’ve barely grazed the tip of the iceberg with the number of stories I have of how I was treated in my time serving and bartending. I’d like to think that by now I’ve made my point.

Don’t agree? Go back to the top and check out the linked posts. All of that and we’re nowhere near close to everything I’ve gone through, what others have put up with.

So ask me again why I’m not applying to all these places desperate for help. Is any of what you just read worth $5.63/hour with no PTO, vacation time, benefits or sick time?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

1 comments on “The Restaurant Revolution: Why I Left Industry and Why I’m Not Going Back”

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. I managed for a small group on Sand Lake a few years back. I’m currently in Texas and working in the industry. I try to be understanding, patient and helpful. I’ve developed a communications system in my restaurant to provide shift coverage regardless of how big or small the issue. Still, excessive strain leads to more stress. When I feel myself getting to the point where I feel “that manager” creeping up, I try to think about stories like yours to check me.
    I tell all my managers the same thing. If the company we source from runs out of the particular brand of 80/20 ground beef we order, they have twelve others to choose from. The same goes for chicken, beer, vodka, paper towels, etc. Loose one good team member and it could be months to find, train and develop a quality replacement.

    Like

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