Monday, April 27, 2015

Everyone should work in a restaurant at some point in their lives

The first job I ever had was as a dishwasher at Tizzano's, an Italian restaurant not far from my house. I made something like $2.50 an hour, but it was all under the table and it was good money for a 15-year-old kid in the summer of 1985.

I was OK at it. Not nearly as good as my friend Kevin, who took right to kitchen work and was therefore nicknamed "The Natural" by Vince, the head cook. Vince called me "Thornton." I have no idea why, and he never explained it, but he was essentially a good guy so I'll trust it was well-intended.

I only worked there three months before I quit. I was about to start my sophomore year of high school and was playing football, so I didn't see how I would have time for practices, homework AND a job (though that didn't stop other football players from working there...they must have been a lot tougher than me).

In those 90 days or so, I learned a lot. For one thing, I learned I never wanted to work in a restaurant again. It's a tough gig, man! Kudos to all of you foodservice workers who make a living at it.

I also learned that I was grateful for having had the experience. In fact, I think it's an experience everyone should have. Whether you're working behind the counter at a fast-food place, bussing tables at a family restaurant, or scraping congealed marinara sauce off of customers' plates like I was, there is a lot to be learned from working at a restaurant. That includes:

(1) A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE ESSENTIALLY MEAN: I hate to say it, but you see the worst side of human nature when you're a restaurant worker. From lousy tips to unjustified complaints, people who otherwise have no real power in their lives become tyrants when they sit down at that table. The best servers learn this early on and know how to work through it. God bless them.

(2) A LOT PEOPLE ARE ALSO EXTRAORDINARILY PICKY: At least it seems so to me. I eat virtually anything. Anything. Just ask my wife. I never veer from the way a dish is described on the menu, I make no special requests, and I think just about everything I've ever been served in a restaurant has tasted great. I'm a server's dream. But that's not the case with many (most?) other folks. Sometimes I used to think people would send food back just because they could. Again, just so they could exercise their dominance over the poor waitstaff.

(3) HARD WORK IS GOOD FOR YOU...AND IT'S ALSO HARD: I know we already covered this, but I can't emphasize enough how hard the staff at Tizzano's worked when I was there. They were exhausted at the end of the night, and they earned every penny the owner, Mike, paid them. Such work benefits you both physically and mentally  and spiritually, I would argue  but it's also not something I could spend decades doing. You learn a lot about yourself in your first job, I think.

(4) GETTING YELLED AT BY YOUR BOSS IS NOT THE END OF THE WORLD: Mike used to praise me quite a bit, but he also got in my face more than a few times. And I totally deserved it. One time I put away a plate that had come out of the dishwasher with some miscellaneous crud still stuck to it, only I hadn't noticed because I was being lazy. Mike grabbed the plate, saw the crud, and stormed right up to me, ripping me the proverbial new one. Again, I deserved it. And I can tell you it never happened again. Sometimes getting reamed out is the only way to learn.

(5) THE GOLDEN RULE DOTH APPLY HERE: That whole thing about treating people how you yourself would want to be treated? Yeah, you learn that in a hurry when you're in a service industry. I would venture that the best tippers and most gracious restaurant patrons are those who spent some time in the shoes of those waiting on them. Working in foodservice, if nothing else, teaches you basic human decency, which ultimately is why we all could benefit from it.

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