I Automatically Judge People Who Haven’t Worked In The Restaurant Industry

restaurantI was recently in a restaurant situation where it was very, very clear that one of the people at the table had never worked in the restaurant industry. Few things get the hairs on the back of my neck up like people being rude to or expecting insane/impossible things from their servers, for a few reasons. Obviously, it’s the worst manifestation of shittiness to be shitty to someone who can do literally nothing to defend themselves/fight back, but it’s also a pretty big demonstrator — especially in the case of serving and not, say, retail — that they expect a waiter to essentially be a butler. (No, your 12-dollar tip doesn’t pay you two hours’ worth of butler service, that would be much more expensive.) And the general expectation of your server to do things that are just not an option, or punishing them for things that aren’t their fault, are the unique territory of people who’ve never held the job themselves.

And because of this, I find myself automatically judging people who haven’t worked in food service. Because while other entry-level/service jobs can be shat upon, few are so thoroughly punished during such a physically exhausting task. If you’re a woman in the restaurant industry, for example, you can expect to be a) sexually harassed, b) yelled at for things you had nothing to do with, and c) underpaid out of ‘principle’ by half your clientele. And it just comes with the job! But for people who rely on those sweet, sweet tips — inarguably better than most wages you could get at a job with similar requirements — accepting all of those terrible side effects is well worth it.

On the bright side, once you’ve worked in those conditions (and seen the way average people feel entitled to treat you when you are bringing them food/alcohol/coffee), you are almost guaranteed never to be an asshole to a person in the same position. You will always tip above and beyond for solid service, and even go back to compensate for a tablemate who thought 15% was appropriate. In this way, you’ll always have your shit together in restaurants and generally can expect not to be silently resented  by the people waiting on you/making your food.

But more than this, I feel pretty convinced that the act of working at a restaurant is hugely important to being an all-around better person in the world. This is pretentious, of course, coming from someone who spent several years in food service, but I think it’s stood pretty true for pretty much everyone I’ve met who fits this description. The truth is that food service is the industry where people truly let their worst colors fly, and show you just how much they believe a person they are paying a few dollars to for service should behave like their personal entertainment monkey. Restaurant work humbles you in a way that little other work does, if for no other reason that it almost certainly removes you from polite society with its crazy working hours.

And while having this experience is hugely defining for someone’s personality type and worldview, not having it is probably the more extreme marker of character. Because pretty much universally, people who have been shitty to service-industry people are people who’ve never done it themselves, who look at the work as “just a job,” because they have no idea, on a day-to-day basis, how draining that shit can be. Anyone who has worked food service, and then gone on to work a 9-to-5, can say with conviction that the service job was harder in many ways. At least, in most “real” (ugh) jobs, people treat you with a baseline level of respect and you are not forced to be on your feet carrying hot, heavy things while getting lightly sexually harassed several times per day.

The thing is that most people who allow themselves to hold the dichotomy of “real” vs “not-real” jobs are people who’ve never really experienced the former. There is a whole class of society that won’t tip a good amount, or make dumb proclamations about how “only students should be working these jobs, they shouldn’t be a career.” And those people are, sadly, some of the most frequent customers. The only way to change this mentality, of course, is to be a part of it, and to see what the world looks like from the other side of the cold, tip-dependent glass.

I automatically judge people who have never worked these jobs because I know, on some level, that they haven’t experienced these things, and they will always have an easier time making requests that aren’t feasible, behaving in a way that isn’t acceptable, or figuring that something is “not a big deal” when it absolutely is for the person on the other end. (They don’t know, for example, that in a lot of restaurants, if you send something back for no reason, it’s often taken out of the staff’s pay.)

Not having worked in food service doesn’t make you a bad person, nor does it mean that you will be a universally shitty patron. But it means that you’re much more likely to be one of the people that servers/hosts/runners will complain about in the kitchen because you simply Don’t Get It, and are expressing that ignorance on the people who have no choice but to wait on you. If it’s not too late, and you’re looking for a job (side or full-time), I’d encourage you to check out the restaurant industry at least once. If nothing else, you can guarantee yourself that after six months working one of those jobs, you’ll never look at people the same way again.

Image via Pexels

  • Kelly Wuyscik

    While I do agree with the points you make, Chelsea, I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss retail jobs. While I never worked in the restaurant industry, having worked retail for a large portion of my life prior to my 9-5, I believe, has made my appreciate hard work and what people in all service industries go through. Not only in the restaurant industry are workers yelled at for things they had nothing to do with or sexually harassed (leading some men to a fitting room while wearing workout clothes was often the worst part of my job most days.) I do agree I’ve never experienced what it’s like to rely on tips, but I think it’s important to remember that retail workers deal with just as much poor behavior and indecency from the screaming customers, the late night shopping trips, the black friday rushes, and the disgusting dressing room messes, just to name a few. Having survived all my years in retail, I find myself more empathetic to those in all service industries and far more likely to be patient with servers, bartenders, valets, retail employees, etc. The restaurant industry isn’t the only place you’ll find how terrible people can really be.

    • chelseafagan

      That’s very true! And to be clear, I’ve worked several retail jobs in the past, but I do think the degree to which people feel okay to “use” you is a bit different. Also the physically taxing nature and odd hours of the serving industry are a huge part of it.

      (And being at the whim of tips is just huge for creating a terrible power imbalance)

  • nycnative

    I get what you’re saying Chelsea, but this article feels kind of aggressive towards your readers who haven’t worked in the restaurant industry. There are lots of ways working people can be taken advantage of or treated like crap by others; anyone on the service side of any industry, where your job depends on making others happy, will have some horror stories to share (myself included). Also in my experience in big cities it is the exception when someone is rude to the waitstaff – I can’t even remember the last time I noticed someone being obnoxious to a server (and in NYC tipping 20% is pretty much automatic).

    Also just want to chime in that anyone who would say “only students should be working these jobs, they shouldn’t be a career” is probably a republican trying to argue against raising the minimum wage – something many people do seem to believe, unfortunately. I absolutely HATE that rhetoric so I’m with you there.

    • icewater

      Agreed on all points. Additionally, I have served many servers who are so good at their jobs that they instead spend their time picking apart everything I do. They earn their tips, so why shouldn’t I?

      There are many types of people in this world. A variety of perspectives is always valuable regardless of which side of the tip dependent glass they are on.

      And I guess that my friends who have never worked service industry jobs are a lot better humans than average?

    • Hayls

      Agreed. I have never worked in the restaurant industry but I have learned a lot about it from my friends who have, and there is no doubt in my mind that it is really hard work. Just because someone does not share the same experiences as you does not automatically make them an asshole, but a lack of empathy does. I would have rather read about your specific experiences where you felt mistreated, rather this (honestly) self-righteous and presumptuous sounding rant. Everyone goes through hard stuff.

  • lazuliz

    Let’s not forget those terrible states that have laws allowing employers to pay a lower minimum wage to tipped employees. In Maryland they can get paid as little as $3.63/hour! What if you have a super slow shift? Better hope your employer will actually cover the difference to meet the state minimum wage.

    • Summer

      $2.14 here in SC. Total bullshit.

  • Loraine Darling

    Deducting the cost of a meal sent back from an employee’s paycheck is totally illegal. You can’t take deductions from an employee’s paycheck besides taxes without their explicit written consent. You can’t deduct something from an employee’s paycheck because they’ve done something “wrong” somehow, if they work an hour, they are entitled to be paid for that hour.

    The lower minimum wage for tipped employees is not designed to take anything away from employees, it’s a “tip credit” that employers may take ONLY IF the tips do not cover the regular minimum wage. Very often in New York, at a restaurant with higher turnaround, the tipped employees make double, triple what even managers make, often into six figure yearly incomes. Obviously not every restaurant front-of-house employee falls into that category, but they totally LEGALLY should be making the normal minimum wage no matter what at the very least.

    Shed a tear for the line cooks who may have gotten themselves into years of debt at a culinary school to follow their dream career, and work 70-80 hours a week at $10/hour. There’s a lot of resentment in the restaurant industry between the cooks and the servers for this very reason.

  • Erin C

    I guess I must be in the minority. I’ve never worked a restaurant job because I know I am not capable of doing what they do. I would forget things right and left, and because of that, I always tip well. I tip because I am glad that I am not the one waiting tables!

    • Springs131

      “I would forget things right and left, and because of that, I always tip well.”

      It’s easy to forget things, but that’s why servers are supposed to *TRY* by **WRITING THINGS DOWN***. So when they forget, but didn’t write things down, MUCH MORE OFF THE TIP than if I saw them take 100% *****EFFORT***** into the job. Why pay someone well to be a LAZY, UNCARING person in this world huh?

      • Erin C

        Wow, you feel very strongly about this, I can tell. Yes, I agree that servers should write things down if they can’t remember. I’m always impressed when they do remember. As far whether I should judge if they are lazy and uncaring, I honestly don’t. Here’s the thing: I don’t know their story. I don’t know what kind of week or day they are having. They could be working three jobs trying to put themselves through school because nobody else will support them. They could be a new mother who is wondering how her baby is doing while she’s out trying to earn some money to pay for that childcare and have enough for food. Servers are rarely paid “well”. If you don’t tip, their take-home pay will be close to $0 and nobody deserves that.

        • Springs131

          “I don’t know what kind of week or day they are having. They could be working three jobs trying to put themselves through school because nobody else will support them.”

          You don’t know if the customers have been just laid off or are working 3 jobs as well, so I don’t see how a “SERVER” is ***ANY*** DIFFERENT here? I mean really, you act like that we have to “BOW DOWN” to them as if they are “BETTER” than us. WHY do you feel we should treat you any better than any other person in this world, huh?

          SO WHAT if they are working 3 jobs? I mean really, you would tell the customer “SO WHAT YOU GOT LAID OFF, PAY ME 20% NO MATTER WHAT” is what you would say and you know it. So please, stop acting like servers are holier than thou like they are somehow “BETTER” than everyone else.

          “They could be a new mother who is wondering how her baby is doing while she’s out trying to earn some money to pay for that childcare and have enough for food.”

          They decided to have sexual intercourse(assuming they weren’t raped and if they were, adoption is an option), so I don’t feel sorry for them. I waited until I was **********MARRIED*********** to have sexual intercourse, because I didn’t want to become a single mother(at least try, I know you can have your spouse die or divorce, but at least it’s a more guarantee than just living together with someone or dating someone). I am 38yrs old, I waited until I was 25yrs old to have all the way sex. I did do everything else, but intercourse. WHY should I feel sorry for a mother that didn’t do what I did, huh? Seriously, WHY?

          Also, WHAT THE HELL DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH TIPPING? Their “PERSONAL LIVES” have NOTHING WHAT-SO-EVER to do with tipping. This is a *JOB*, NOT a “CHARITY” case. You don’t care if the customer can’t tip you or just tip you 10% because they were laid off. WHY should we care about you in that manner, huh?

          I don’t understand why should your personal lives matter when it comes to tipping when tipping is a*********************BUSINESS TRANSACTION******************************** of you do work for me by giving me good service or at least decent service, I PAY YOU?

          This is not something that is a charity that we are supposed to feel sorry for you. I don’t understand your stance? You’d tell the laid off person to not eat out, isn’t that correct? Yet, I bet if you were laid off from let’s say you were a nurse, so you’d try to find a job, but had a hard time finding something(let’s say it’s 3 months), I am SO SURE(YEAH RIGHT) that you’d not eat out at ALL in the 3 months. GET REAL, you probably would if you were doing it previously, at least once.

          So my point is, WHY are you mentioning ***PERSONAL ISSUES*** when it comes to tipping, because tipping has absolutely ****************NOTHING********************** to do with personal lives of servers?

          WHO GIVES A SHIT if you are working 2 jobs or have a kid? It’s not my problem just as it’s not our problem you have a kid without help. When you have sexual intercourse, you take that chance in life to have a baby. Even if you were raped, you could give your baby up for adoption. NO ONE is MAKING YOU be a single parent but YOU! If you decided to have sexual intercourse without being married, in my opinion, you made your bed, now lie in it. You did it YOURSELF, so WHY THE HELL SHOULD ANYONE CARE ABOUT YOUR PERSONAL ISSUES WHEN YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT OURS??? It’s a 2-way street. Tipping has NOTHING to do with personal issues. WHY mention this stuff?

          “Servers are rarely paid “well””

          That’s BS, because if someone tips $20 on a $100, that’s just ONE table they made $20 in less than an hour and even with tipping out, you have to account for 3 or 4 at least other tables. So you just made WAYYYY MORE than I do per hour.

          “If you don’t tip, their take-home pay will be close to $0 and nobody deserves that.”

          They do if they give us HORRIBLE SERVICE, YES THEY SURE THE HELL DO!

          • Erin C

            tl:dr plus you must be a very unhappy person. I feel bad for you.

          • Springs131

            No, I am a VERY HAPPY person. You are just TOO LAZY JUST LIKE THOSE SERVERS and the reason why you said that is you KNOW everything I said was the GOD’S HONEST TRUTH! NO ONE CARES when a time in my life I was laid off. I mean seriously, what server would think “Gee you are laid off, it’s OK with me if you don’t tip me, I fully 100% understand” BS! NO server will EVER do that and you know it. So WHY should I give a shit about anyone that decided to have a kid without being married? It’s just like spending your money on drugs or cigarettes or drinking or gambling, then not having any money to pay your bills. If you do it to YOURSELF, WHY would you feel people should somehow feel sorry for you, huh?

            I’d rather donate money to children with cancer than to give a tip to someone just because they decided to have a kid and can’t give me the proper service they should. At least that kid with cancer didn’t cause their situation, the **SERVER** DID though.

      • Erin C

        Upon further inspection, all 43 comments you have posted via Disqus have been rants about servers and bartenders, so why did I even bother replying because you clearly have a bone to pick. If you don’t like servers, stop eating out and cook your own food.

  • I had a table run out on the check when I was waitressing with just one other girl on a particularly busy day. They left when we were pre-occupied with a completely full (and understaffed) restaurant. The owner took the bill out of hers and mine tips. I felt like crying. Even though waitressing was a “simple” job, I learned an extraordinary amount about working quickly with all types of people. I do my best to compensate good or excellent service now that I am able to, and simply because I know it will make that waiter or waitresses day.

  • Diana

    I had to use an outhouse to go to the bathroom for the first 10 years of my life so I automatically judge people who’ve had an indoor bathroom and hot water on demand their whole life. It means they don’t understand what it’s like to struggle as well as I do.

    Does that sound ridiculous? That’s exactly how this article sounds. This was such a disheartening read. Everyone struggles in their own way, having worked in the restaurant industry isn’t the holy grail of struggles.

    • Ali

      She’s not saying her struggle is harder than anyone elses. It’s an article that will hopefully make more people realize the way in which they treat restaurant workers. They’re not puppets you can make dance for your money which is the way they most often are treated unlike in other jobs where there is a common level of respect.

      • Diana

        What you’re saying is a long way away from automatically judging people for not having worked in the restaurant industry. A really long way away.

    • s0nicfreak

      That doesn’t sound ridiculous to me. Someone who has never had to do without indoor plumbing and hot water DOESN’T understand the struggle of living without it, and takes it for granted. It may seem like nothing if it was the first 10 years of your life, because dealing without it would have been normal to you. But ask anyone who grew up with indoor plumbing and hot water who suddenly has to do without it.

  • Aileen

    I get this, and in some ways I agree (I’ll totally judge a bad tipper for example) but I’m not so quick to judge without learning someone’s character first. I know a few servers from my restaurant days that were awful in other restaurants (coming in just before closing time, complaining to the manager about bad service when there was obviously an unexpected rush, etc.) I also know some great people who don’t ask for ridiculous things and tip well even though they never worked food service. Basically, it seems to me that assholes can be assholes no matter their past experience, and we shouldn’t ever judge without getting to know a person first.

    But seriously, if you’re a bad tipper, gtfo.

  • SB

    Judge me if you like for never having waited tables, but it looks horrible and I’ll gladly tip 20% every time.

  • Springs131

    “expecting insane/impossible things from their servers,”

    Like what? I am just curious what you think is “insane” or “impossible?”

    “that they expect a waiter to essentially be a butler.”

    You sound VERY LAZY to say that. The server’s job is just like a butler. You are there to do their EVERY WANT they desire and then some for the *TIP* you want.

    “punishing them for things that aren’t their fault,”

    Like what do you think is not your fault? Lots of things that servers will say aren’t their fault, *ARE* their fault like long waits for food in most cases(not all, but MOST cases) and things wrong with their food in most cases as well(not all).

    “you are almost guaranteed never to be an asshole to a person in the same position.”

    I find a GOOD CHUNK of servers out there are plain assholes. Most don’t apologize for their mistakes. A lot of them aren’t even *TRYING* to get things write like not writing things down to show “I don’t care if I remember what you said.” A lot of them don’t care if they cut in front of your turn making you wait last but you asked for whatever it was first out of their hands. Some even LIE blaming others or objects that are at fault.

    Most servers aren’t nice people. That’s why sometimes people tip poorly. Look at the way you TREATED your customer when your customer treated you BETTER than you did. My husband and I have had this happen before. A good example, it was just me and my husband, our waitress forgot my husband’s baked potato. He told her nicely. She stood there reading the ticket on the tray and left with NO WORD at all. NO SORRY, NO WTH it was, NOTHING! Even when she brought the baked potato, he said “thank you”, she said NOTHING the bitch. Servers wonder why they don’t get a better tip. Look at the way she treated us. She should have ***IMMEDIATELY*** said she was sorry once my husband told her(as I said he told her nicely). Servers are mean in most cases. They aren’t nice people in general. It’s RARE you find a real good nice hard worker as a server. It’s just really rare these days. Most are selfish, mean assholes just like that waitress that couldn’t admit fault. Even if she put in the order correctly, *SHE* brought out the food from the kitchen, so *SHE* FORGOT it no matter what. If she forgot to put it in the computer, then she made 2 mistakes.

    You think that you get treated horribly, I find a lot of servers treat their customers horribly. The next time you eat out if you do eat out, if something goes wrong like the server messed up, I want you to notice if they are nice about it or not. If so, you are lucky, because a lot of times we don’t have that. We go out to eat every weekend sometimes 2-3 times a weekend, some holidays, and vacations. We have been doing this since late 2000, so we have LOTS of experiences over the years, some good, some bad. I am just saying through our experiences, servers think they are GOD like they do nothing wrong, well I have got news for you, if you don’t say you are sorry for ANY mistake you make, you are an ASSHOLE yourself. I always apologize when I forget to ask for something. Heck, I even apologize to servers at times for my heavily modified orders even.

    I am not saying you don’t get mean customers. I got mean customers sometimes when I worked at a donut shop/diner back in 1998-2002 off and on a little over 2yrs worth as counter help. I do know both sides of the situations as to how customers can be, just on a smaller level than a server, but I still dealt with customers that were mean sometimes.

    All I am saying is, it’s a 2-way street the way you get treated as well. You want a good tip, be NICE. Saying you are sorry for mistakes can make ALL the difference in someone’s life while they are at the restaurant just as we tell our server “thank you” and ask nicely for things. It goes both ways.

    • Danielle Campbell

      If you get treated horribly everywhere you go, the common denominator is you.

      • Erin C

        This person only posts on articles complaining about service, so I agree with you.

      • Springs131

        No, I don’t get treated horribly everywhere I go. A lot of servers are LAZY today. I mean, just recently we had a waitress on a slow Sunday afternoon(she only had us(me and my husband and another table), she auctioned off our refills like said “Who had the diet”, I am thinking in my head how LAZY when she WROTE down our drink orders. I mean seriously, if you can’t even *TRY* to get a couple of soft drinks correctly by REREADING your written order because you were TOO LAZY to, then why should I give you a good tip? She also forgot the ranch I asked for with the appetizer and didn’t say she was sorry even though I said “thank you” as well as told her nicely about it when she had forgotten it. Most servers are mean, lazy, and uncaring like her. I am not the common denominator, THEY are! They are the ones that don’t want to ***************DO THE WORK*********************************for the money. She should have compared her written order to what she was giving us in both situations, but especially for the drinks. HOW LAZY can you get? I made sure she knew, so when they had comment card in the bill folder, I put how lazy she was that she auctioned off our drinks by making US do the work SHE should have done herself by finding out who had what drink. That’s the SERVER’S JOB, NOT THE CUSTOMER’S JOB! I mean she took the order. This wasn’t like it was a different server. You don’t seem to get how many lazy and uncaring servers are out there, do you?

  • Aryn Hill

    I work in the hospitality industry and I feel this article so much! As soon as people walk in through the doors of the hotel, people seem to think that every employee suddenly becomes their personal b*tch. The other day I had a woman scream at me and throw a tantrum at check in because she was on the 8th floor and not the 14th (because she swears she got a confirmation letter saying she was on the 14th floor which suddenly she can’t find). “I can’t believe you gave my room away! There better be a bottle of wine coming to my room for this!” On and on she went. And because it’s customer service I literally have to stand there and take it and not say a single thing to defend myself (like the fact that we don’t assign floors and a confirmation letter would NEVER say a floor number). It’s incredibly stressful and I’m not even minimum wage.

    That’s why whenever the roles are reversed and I’m the one being served I always say “please” and “thank you” as much as possible and when I see my waiter getting stressed cause they’re expecting to get yelled at I just say “no worries!”

  • Lela Dixon

    My time in the restaurant industry has had the opposite affect. I am occasionally demanding of servers now because I realize that it’s in their job description to provide “Great Service”, and accommodate my wishes whereas I didn’t before. I will definitely be critical if a server hands me the wrong drink, (or doesn’t apologize profusely and comp it after doing so) if s/he doesn’t project a happy demeanor, or makes some mistake I wouldn’t have allowed when I worked in a restaurant.

    That having been said, though I may speak up, I never ever let this affect my tip. I round up from a 20%, regardless of service, and if a server accommodates any “extras” (ordering off menu/is generally exceptional) I tip more.

    My logic for this is that as a server, I had a pretty thick skin and that’s part of the job. If you can’t deal with it, join a different industry. People go to restaurants because they want to be waited on just as much as they want good food and there is hierarchy innate to that experience that customers Enjoy. It’s naive to think otherwise. Demanding customers were a welcome challenge for me as long as I was compensated fairly.

    Still, I judge people that haven’t worked in restaurants because they often don’t comprehend different types of “hard work”– customer service is physically and emotionally draining. But assuming a server breaks down because you made a rude comment or called them out harshly is silly. In my experience, no customer has ever been as rude or hurtful as my coworkers or employers in the restaurant industry, and they weren’t even the ones paying me!

  • FacePalmHeadache

    This to me was easily the most grating post I’ve read on this site. I generally like the content here, even when I disagree, but I’m sorry, what? I’ve worked in food service in various areas, I’ve worked at camps, I’ve been an intern and cleaned toilets and been sexually harassed in one day. I’ve also worked in an office and worn business casual, been a freelancer, etc…

    Your judging people for not working in the restaurant industry is the same logic applied by those who judge people in the restaurant industry. If we allow ourselves to judge everyone because they have never experienced what we have, well, the world is going to be a pretty awful place because no one can experience everything.

    So no, I don’t think being a waitress allows you to judge those who haven’t been unless you find it ok for people to keep using phrases like “real” job with regard to people who have never worked a “9-5” (whatever that means, because I’ve worked in plenty of offices and rarely have I ever had a 9-5 day).

  • Timo Yy

    While spending some time in NYC I had the privilege to eat in some fantastic restaurants, but I must say that is service is the worst aspect of eating out in America, and often kind of ruins what would have been a memorable experience.

    Waiters who are constantly nagging you with their fake friendliness, pretending to be your best chums while lying to your face. Waiters who talk smooth but below the surface are unprofessional and un-knowledgeable about the items on the menu and will spout some bullshit when you ask them to advise you. And to top it off, the constant sensation of being guilt-tripped into tipping 20%.

    Ugh. It gets unbearable after a while. Give me a grumpy Parisian waiter any day!