9 Harsh Truths You Learn From Working In The Service Industry

by Joe Welkie

The service industry is a fickle mistress. I've been working in it for quite some time now, in a slew of different restaurants.

From fine dining to fast casual to 1950's themed diners -- you name it, I've done it.  All in a relatively short amount of time, too.

When working in the service industry, you definitely see people at their best and worst (mostly their worst). There are a lot of ugly truths that are unearthed upon handing people a plate of food that you may not have recognized before you started working this job.

This is by no means a complete list, but here are some of the lessons I've learned since I started in the service industry.

Your coworkers are almost always crazy.

Something about the service industry seems to bring the derelicts of society together. Working in the service industry pulls people from all walks of life to form teams that would never, ever get together otherwise.

There are students just trying to make their way through college, possibly paying off student loans, maybe trying to get some extra cash to spend on the weekends; there are 40-year-olds who have known no other trade; there are people who simply can't get another job; there are aspiring actors/singers/painters; there are ex-cons/drug addicts/miscellaneous-insane people all coming together to bring you your dinner.

Undoubtedly, there will be people you bond with that you had no idea you could ever bond with, and there will also be people you despise more than Satan himself. Unfortunately, you rely on these people when you need to swap a shift because of your big audition, no matter what you may think of them as people.

Your bosses are almost always crazy.

Imagine all the people listed above in positions of power. I've worked for so many failed actresses, actors, comedians, business owners, inventors, stylists, etc. who all seem to have lost their minds when they were forced to give up on their "big break."

They become bitter and jaded and are put into a senior positions in which they're in charge of managing a bunch of people who still have their dreams intact. Seems like a toxic situation, eh?

Their bitterness and jealousy of your youth and time can cause some friction between bosses that inevitably leads to firings and petty behavior. No need to worry though, you'll never be like that.

You totally can end up like that.

With a lot of servers, bartenders and busboys aspiring to be in a creative field, the reality of you making it in said creative field is slim already. What are you going to do if you don't succeed? What is the back-up plan? Oh no...

A lot of people don't know how to do simple math.

This one is actually pretty crazy to me. I'm not just talking about knowing how to tip and what percentage is acceptable to tip for good service -- I'm talking about simple addition. When writing the tip on their credit card receipts, more than an acceptable amount of people mess up their totals.

I've seen far too many credit card slips; let's say the total is $10.46 and the patron intends to tip $2.13. The correct total is $12.59 (totally didn't need a calculator for that one, whew), but on a lot of receipts, you'll have totals all over the place!

Anywhere from $11.59 to infinity. It boggles my mind how people can get by in life without knowing these simple mathematical concepts, but apparently they can.

You can (and will) stand all day.

When you work in the service industry, you begin to realize that there's a tiny little pleasure in life that you've been taking for granted -- a seat. Many service industry jobs require you to be on your feet, running around for hours on end.

You need to make sure you have a few pairs of comfy shoes because your dogs will be barking at the end of the day if you don't! I never take sitting down for granted ever now. I never knew what the term "taking a load off" meant until I worked in the service industry.

Sitting down and letting the weight of the day wash off your shoulders is a remarkable feeling that can rival orgasm.

In fact, if given the choice between having sex or sitting down after some of my shifts, I'd choose to sit down the majority of the time. Unless there was a third option of having sex while sitting down... in which case, sign me up!

You will, inevitably, have an insane sleep schedule.

One (kind of) advantage of the service industry is that working the night shifts means being able to sleep in as late as you want -- which means you can stay out later... which means you can do a lot more partying if you want... which means you can make a lot more unhealthy decisions... which means your body will suffer.

Staying out until 4 am is cool sometimes, but with a lot of service industry jobs, there's an awful phenomenon known as the "clopening." This is when you work a closing shift and have to work an opening shift the next day.

What a lot of people don't realize is that service industry workers don't leave when the restaurant closes its doors or when opening hours expire.

A lot of times, there are people who come in five minutes before the doors are supposed to close (ugh), sit down, eat for an hour and then mosey out of the place at their leisure. After that, there is additional side work and cleaning that needs to be done in order for you to be able to leave.

You may not leave the restaurant for an hour or two after the sign says it's supposed to be closed! Then you have to wake up bright and early the next day and come in to do it all over again on very little sleep. Good luck to you.

There will always be mindless side work.

The most tedious part of the job is the side work. Rolling up silverware, refilling ketchup bottles and filling sugar caddies are all integral parts of the job and having done enough of these mind-numbing tasks, it's easy to see why some people have mental breakdowns.

If they say that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity, try doing the same thing over and over again while never expecting to succeed in life and having customers yelling at you that their steaks don't look medium-rare enough. Which reminds me...

People will yell at you and you will feel like less of a human being.

I don't know where these entitled, rude, disastrous human beings come from, but I'd like to guess the depths of hell.

I've had people snap their fingers at me; I've had people flail their arms at me; I've had people scream at me from across the restaurant while I'm talking to another table; I've had people grab me -- all because their french fries didn't come out at the same time as their burgers did.

Grow up. Stop acting like a spoiled little baby and have some patience, you see that the people who work in restaurants are usually young and don't want to be doing this for the rest of their lives -- have a little sympathy.

Or at least have enough respect not to scream across a crowded restaurant at a person. Where did you learn that screaming, snapping or grabbing a person is acceptable behavior? Have some manners, people.

Sometimes you won't get tipped.

This is one of the most frustrating things about this industry: Your payment in dependent on how generous your customers are feeling. It is subjective and the customers determine what is good service and how much you should be paid for it.

You can be an all-star server, but because the people you are waiting on don't realize the excellent treatment you just gave them, you can end up getting the shaft -- and there is nothing you can do about it. It's just the way it is.

You can objectively do your job fantastically and still end up with a big fat zero at the end. That's perhaps the harshest reality in the industry: You can be the best and still end up with nothing to show for it because other people didn't feel like you deserved it.

I feel like every person should have to work in the service industry at some point in his or her life just to learn what is appropriate etiquette when dining in public and how to treat other human beings with respect.

It could be like the draft; people should receive conscription papers that require them to work at least one service industry job in their lives in order to realize exactly how terrible humans can be.

If everyone were required to do this, there would be fewer terrible human beings in the world and it would be a much more polite place. I guess we all can dream.

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