Two students share their struggles and successes of working in food service.

Two Days [From Hell] in Food Service

By Molly Schiff, Contributing Writer

This past summer, I was given the honor of working as a locker girl at Long Island’s Clearwater Beach Club, which I soon discovered may or may not be a front for some shady business dealings. My duties mostly included hauling people’s stuff from their storage units to the waterfront and then back again, all while the sun set and the temperature dropped dramatically.

It was physically taxing work, so when they told me that I would be spending a few days during my last week working in the “restaurant”—which is really just an elaborate concession stand—I was elated. I had long thought that the restaurant employees had it easy. It seemed like that the workers around my age just pressed buttons on a register and prepared iced coffees for stressed-out moms.

I quickly learned that stressed-out moms take their iced coffees very seriously. When one such customer asks for skim milk, she would know that her coffee will not be as light a brown as it would have been had she asked for full-fat milk, which is really what she wanted in the first place. So, I soon resorted to making half coffee, half skim milk concoctions with more fake sugar than a normal human can imagine. As a self-described coffee purist, I felt this was a devastating blow to the glorified beverage.

Just when I thought I had a handle on the stressed-out mom archetype, I met her future: the complaining grandparent, an incredibly specific group who can find fault with even the most carefully prepared orders. One patron in particular must have been the most difficult customer on earth. This may not seem important now, but at the time, the fact that he wanted grilled chicken on his salad when he, in fact, did not order grilled chicken could have sparked a minor war.

The stress level in a busy kitchen is something that I had never experienced before this summer. When your boss is an overqualified liberal arts college grad, a certain level of existential ranting is bound to be involved, on top of the sticky heat and line of backed-up orders. However, I am sorry to report that making iced coffees and swirling frozen yogurt (an art, as I now consider it) does not have a deeper meaning.

Luckily, there was one ray of sunshine cast upon the decidedly bleak two days spent behind that counter: the children. All they ever wanted was some ice cream or chicken nuggets, and they will be perfectly satisfied with that. Kids meals all cost the same price, which also made my job a lot easier.

Upon finally returning to my locker post that weekend, I could not have been more relieved. Each chair felt lighter than the next, and each evening much warmer than the previous.

It’s pretty clear at this point that my romantic notions of working in the food service industry were completely dashed by this experience. From now on, I think that I’ll stick to being the customer as far as my involvement with restaurants goes.

From Hell to Happiness in Food Service

By Samantha Lau, Contributing Writer

This summer I worked at a boardwalk restaurant in New York. It was both my first time working and my first time being a part of the food service industry, and my first day was absolute hell.

I had a friend who had already worked there for some time, and she warned me that the workers liked to give the new employees a hard time to see what their endurance was like. I was hired as a food server and cashier, so I would be taking people’s orders, handling their money, and giving them their food and drinks.

But that wasn’t the difficult part. Throughout my 11 hour shift—yes, it was 11 hours long—I was constantly juggling between serving people their food, managing rowdy customers, yelling at the cooks to make sure they heard my order, grabbing the food that comes out of the kitchen before another employee took it, refilling things that needed to be refilled, and basically running around like a lunatic all over the place.

Mind you, I had never worked a day in my life before, so this was all very overwhelming to me. I learned how to refill the ice cream machine and make sure the ice cream came out smoothly. I also had to refill the fridge with drinks, which meant carrying about 20 bottles of soda at a time all the way from the back freezer to the front counter. Lastly, I had to figure out how to use the beer tap without getting too much foam, and it wasn’t until the tenth cup of beer that I finally got the hang of it.

When closing time came around, everything needed to be spotless, and I was given the worst job of them all: dishwasher. And this didn’t mean just washing the trays. This meant washing all of the odds and ends in the kitchen, including pots, trays, butter-covered brushes, greasy tongs, utensils, the ice cream machine parts, and anything else a person can possibly imagine. The total washing took about an hour, and following that episode, I had to wipe down everything from the counters to the fridge doors.

I was finally allowed to leave at 1 a.m. My father had been waiting for me in the car since 10 p.m., having wrongfully assumed that that was the normal time for a shift to end. When I climbed into the car, I started crying hysterically. I never wanted to return to work. I needed to quit.

My father agreed that I should quit, but my mother told me to suck it up and give it at least another week. I heeded my mother’s advice, and I gradually started falling into the routine. I even informed the owner that the latest I would stay was 11 p.m.

Work was much easier after that first day. My shifts were at most eight hours, and I was no longer targeted as the newbie. I enjoyed yelling out orders and making fun of customers with my co-workers. I enjoyed refilling the slush puppy syrups and running to the back to get more cups, straws, and plates. I enjoyed learning how to shuck clams and found it very calming.

However, my sudden change in attitude didn’t happen within a day. It was gradual, and after two weeks, I genuinely looked forward going to work. It was a place to interact with other people and to reflect on my state of mind and my feelings about certain customers without being judged. It was a place to learn about how dumb some people are. “What does gratuity mean?” “Can I get a cheeseburger without cheese?” “Yes, sir, it’s called a hamburger.”

Working in the food service industry was a wildly new experience for me, and I’m glad I stuck with it. It wasn’t love at first sight, but I’m excited to work there again next summer.

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