Don't Sit Down
Back pulsing. Legs aching. I can’t feel my feet. My ankles feel swollen.
Ok. Just a few minutes. Check my phone. Return some texts. Well, I may as well have another glass of wine. Whatever’s open is fine. The bartender is offering and there really aren’t many people here so I’m not in the way or anything...
To Sit or Not To
I’d try to tell myself not to sit. I listened to myself probably five times total in the seven years I worked in restaurants.
If I sat at the end of a six, eight, 10 or 12-hour shift, I wouldn’t leave for at least another hour. For the 10 or 12-hour shifts, it was more like two hours. This is how a part-time job can feel like an unhealthy full-time one.
I’m a slow drinker compared to most people. After running around for hours, serving others, I often was dehydrated. I’d drink water during the shift, but with all the running and talking over loud music and the random sips of wine, I still ended up dehydrated. I shouldn’t have been drinking alcohol at all, at any point. I should have been drinking water. But if the just-scraping-by income you make is based on how much strangers liked your brand of “service,” when alcohol is free and plentiful, you say yes.
Soon the bartender wants to do shots. Then when the cooks are done, another one. One more before we leave.
The “shift drink” is treated as a reward for completing a restaurant shift. But I often noticed that the drinking wasn’t happy drinking. Inevitably someone would start talking shit about customers or coworkers.
Not enjoyable, yet not utterly terrible, because there was more alcohol to drink that would, in theory, make it a little better. It was definitely better than running around serving other people.
My first restaurant job was at “the circus,” as my friends/former coworkers and I call it. We were ringmasters at a bizarre place that had a movie theatre, bridal suite and coffee shop attached. The coffee tasted oddly similar to the paper cups it was served in.
Our friendships grew during late nights drinking beers on the rooftop, walking home or cabbing it together and commiserating over the idiotic shit we dealt with daily. These friends are still family, and even the ones we aren’t as close to are extended family. It was strange, exhausting and terrible, but we had fun.
At my most recent restaurant job I tried to not drink that much. We all drank during the shift. Again, in theory it made things better. But when it came time to go home, usually around 11pm-midnight, I was torn. Did I really need another drink while feeling so exhausted? At this point I was also more motivated to work on my freelance career and have the restaurant job as truly a part-time job. I’d generally stay for the shift drink I had earned, but not any longer.
Why? If I stay for more wine, there will likely be shots. Then, I’m more likely to join the crew once the dishwasher and bartender are done — and the restaurant is finally closed — down the street at another bar. Or, I’ll feel awkward and guilty for still being awake and not going. The bartenders at the other neighborhood bars know all of us. This means more cheap, easy drinking. More shots. Suddenly ‘one more drink’ turns into 2am on a Wednesday.
It may be difficult to see free booze as a problem. I wasn’t waking up at 6am for a breakfast or brunch shift. So why did I care if I was out late?
Working brunch is another beast. Restaurant workers often survive it thanks to the “hair of the dog.” Eat some barely-cooked (or dry, brown and too salty) scrambled eggs for family meal. Start drinking again.
To Write or Not To
Once I hit my 30s, I realized that lifestyle was a losing game for me. If I was working brunch I tried my best not to go out — or at least come home early — the night before. Again, the work seeps into your time off.
I was trying to be a freelance writer and felt like a fraud. I spent half my time running around to get people condiments and assure them their margarita wouldn’t be too sweet.
I had to be up early to start my days as a writer before another restaurant shift. That’s what real writers did, right? Otherwise I felt so much worse, both mentally and physically, before, during and after my shifts.
I remember feeling like a zombie in the 4pm-5pm hour of setting up the restaurant. I was digging out last night’s candles while it was still daytime. I wished so badly to still be at my desk writing — or at least doing something at a desk.
When you work in hospitality people expect you to be a walking smiley face at all times. The customer is always right, even if they complain every time that their steak is too well done. You have to wonder, why do they keep coming back? Meanwhile, no one else sends their steaks back. You notice certain people like having something to complain about more than they like enjoying a meal.
You grab drinks on your day off with coworkers. You try to talk about other things. You commiserate.
As women, you’ll always be treated differently as restaurant workers, both by the customers and by bosses and chefs who claim to be woke. Even by female bosses. No one is immune. Sometimes being good at your job is a problem.
The stress of it trickles into your life. You have to move on before you drown in it.