Being the twenty-something going through a career change that I am, I’ve found myself working in a Mexican restaurant to scrape by for the time being. I’m in a regular state of desperately holding onto every penny I receive in cash tips at the end of each shift. Every coin and every dollar bill gets deposited into my bank account for safe keeping in hopes that one day I’ll have enough saved to live in an apartment where there isn’t a large clunky control panel over my bed and a hole in the kitchen ceiling.
I wont bend the truth; I used to be a person who didn’t look very fondly at food service jobs. I was always polite towards the workers of course, but I never understood until I became one.
I wondered why the baristas at Starbucks were always so sugary sweet at 7am, or why cashiers are sometimes a bit curt with their customers. I used to dislike very young children, but now I often times despise the ones who come in to the restaurant and the parents who clearly aren’t parenting them.
The truth is, food service workers get stepped on every day. One nasty comment from a customer who woke up on the wrong side of the bed can ruin your entire day and leave you with a short fuze. Baristas and waiters are known for being sugary sweet because they work for tips, and quite frankly tips can at times be the difference between paying your rent and not paying your rent. On top of that, many of us don’t even receive any sort of benefits so if you get sick and need to go to the doctor, then tough luck.
To put it bluntly: American food service workers are paid to kiss ass.
Perhaps we should make note of the European system, in which waiters have a higher base pay and are therefore less reliant on tips from their customers. In some countries it’s even considered insulting to tip the waiter. Though unfortunately I’m not qualified to make the call of whether or not this kind of thing would work in the United States. I’ll leave that to the economists.
Despite my above commentary, the food service industry isn’t all bad. My coworkers are diligent people who work busy shifts for relatively little money, all the while managing to stay calm and collected most of the time. You also have opportunities to meet a lot of incredibly interesting and compassionate customers. They can change your perspective on things. They can help you out because you help them out.
Above all, working in the food service industry has made me much more humble and appreciative of people who work to please people. It’s impossible to look at a person and know exactly where they stand in life, or what kind of person they are solely based on their job. And while I don’t plan to be in food service for the rest of my life, I do believe that those who are deserve to make enough money to survive and to be respected.