The Toxicity of the Restaurant Industry

By Haley Connor

If you have ever worked in the restaurant industry you have more than likely endured a bad experience. Whether you are a chef, a waitress, a hostess, a bus boy, or a food runner, things are bound to go poorly more than once when you work in this industry.  

I was sixteen when I got my first job in the food industry. It was a restaurant right around the corner from my house, which was convenient for my mom since I did not have my license yet. I got a job as a hostess and was excited to have an activity to do at night and be able to make my own money. 

The first few months weren’t bad. Of course I got yelled at a few times when I would mess up but that’s a part of any job so I tried to not let it phase me. I got my job in the summer and when wintertime rolled around that’s when things started to deteriorate.  

The management began to get stricter and the environment as a whole was negatively impacted. When you work in the restaurant industry it is emphasized that you are not allowed to be on your phone while you are working. It can distract you from the customers and comes off as rude. With that said, when things are slow and you don’t have a rush of customers, going on your phone for a few minutes is allowed, or so I thought. 

Our manager began posting signs in the back of the restaurant that read, “No Phones Allowed at Anytime.”  However, this did not do the job. People would still occasionally glance at their phones.  Various emails were sent out saying that if you went on your phone at any point during your shift you would be fired immediately. 

People definitely stopped using their phones as much but management thought more was needed.  Management sent out a group message saying that if you brought your phone to work they would put it in a safe where it would be locked up for your entire shift. 

I learned that when you treat your employees like children, and threaten them with termination, you may get the immediate result you wanted – no phones. But in the long run, it ruins your relationship with your employees.  The restaurant comradery was gone and instead we were in a hostile “us against them” environment. 

Soon after that, I left the restaurant and took a break from the restaurant industry. 

At the end of my junior year I returned to the industry to make money during the summer.  I knew someone who worked at the next restaurant and the environment was fun and collaborative. 

When I first started I loved the environment and the other employees. As a whole, this job seemed to be a million times better than the last. 

About a month into working at this restaurant we became extremely understaffed due to the pandemic.  I was constantly working double shifts, working everyday, and if I needed a day off it meant that my co-workers had to cover. When I returned there were simply more double shifts. The restaurant scrambled for new management and new employees but could not seem to hire new employees. I was exhausted. 

I continued to work because I was making good money and enjoyed the people I was working with even though I never seemed to get a break. 

Dry storage is the holy grail of a restaurant if you are a server.  It is a secluded area in the back of the restaurant where they keep food that does not need to be refrigerated.  This was the hot spot to go to if you needed a minute alone or a second to catch your breath. 

One day, after a tough day working and a host of personal issues, I went to dry storage to take a minute and cry.  I thought it was private.  

I went into work the next day and everyone was giving me strange looks. One of the other girls I was close with at the restaurant said that one of the managers had seen me cry and told everyone. There was a camera in dry storage and everyone was making jokes that they wanted to replay the video of me crying.  

I thought I had good relationships with my co-workers, but I was humiliated.

The restaurant industry is tough, especially now when establishments are understaffed. Customers have little patience and are often rude following the pandemic. Money is tight for many people and this results in smaller or sometimes no tips.  

I learned a lot of lessons such as  how to deal with many types of people, how important your co-workers are and how I will manage people when I am in charge.   

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