I worked as a manager at a trendy chain restaurant in a big city. It’s the kind of place that big rowdy groups come to, and it’s nearby a number of nightclubs.
I was in charge of opening the restaurant for lunch service, which meant getting in very early to check the facilities. I had to make sure the paint hadn’t chipped in the bathroom the night before. That there was no broken glass. Something was always wrong — the soda gun wasn’t working, or the toilet was broken, or the bar was all sticky, or the guy who was supposed to refill the salt and pepper shakers didn’t do it last night.
And then the staff was late, of course. Especially if it was Sunday brunch. Everyone is hungover at Sunday brunch. If a waiter reeks of booze or hasn’t shaved, you have to send them away. And then you’re short on staff.
In a lot of ways, I had to act as the bouncer. If somebody had six drinks and was starting to act wasted, I’d be the one who had to tell them they were cut off from the bar. People didn’t like to hear that.
Regular customers — people who come back all the time — can actually be the worst. These people would come back every weekend and order the exact same thing, and their waiter knew them. We had a group that really liked sweet potato fries, and they would order them every time. So then one time they came in and ordered “regular” fries, but the waiter made a mistake and brought out regular fries. And they totally freaked out.
People would send food back all the time saying, “That’s not what I ordered.” It’s exactly what you ordered, you just don’t know what this dish is. Or they’d get their steak and say, “There’s an eyelash in my food and I need a steak in two minutes.” You can’t get a steak in two minutes. We have to cook it to order. I’m sorry there was a problem, but we can’t cook a steak in two minutes.
We saw a lot of bachelorette parties. They bring in the penis hats and they want you to put one on with them. You have to be a good sport for a minute and a half. We also had a lot of young groups who’d order one drink each and share a salad. They were basically killing time before going out to bars and clubs.
We once found a couple getting it on in a corner booth after the restaurant had closed, as we were cleaning up. We have no idea how we didn’t catch them.
If a restaurant isn’t properly managed, it can be really disgusting. For the most part, I still feel fine eating in a restaurant with some health violations. You can get violations for having a puddle of water on the floor or a leaky sink, and that’s not really that disgusting. If there are bugs or roaches, that’s gross.
Another thing is, well, you teach the staff to wash their hands, but do they really? You’re not in the bathroom with them. It’s in good faith.
Over the holidays, tip well. The myth that 10% is OK is just not true. The people who work at restaurants are making less than minimum wage as a base because they’re relying on tips. And they share that tip with the busboys, the coffee person, the dishwashers — it doesn’t all go to them.
At the end of the day, I always managed to have food all over me — guacamole, drinks, whatever. And my feet would kill. But possibly the worst part was dealing with Rihanna blasting in your ears on repeat. The same songs, over and over and over.
— As told to Hillary Reinsberg
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