I once made a post about the downfalls of being sick while working in the service industry. Now I’d like to expand on that and talk about all the little things that can make serving a living hell. I’m aware that every job comes with it’s own set of bullsh*t, headaches, and frustration. But the restaurant business is unique in a lot of ways that I don’t think many people understand.
Being a server means you’re never going to have a steady income. When you literally rely on the kindness of strangers to make your rent, you’re always going to be a little on edge about your finances. If you find a good place, there are nights when you’re going to go home with upwards of $200 in your pocket. A good week could mean that you can pay all your bills, buy a whole new winter wardrobe, go out to eat several times, buy groceries, and afford all the cigarettes you need.
Conversely, a bad week could find you eating only at work, buying Pall Malls instead of Spirits, and having to borrow money to afford a roof over your head. I won’t even mention medical bills and any loans you might have to pay off. You learn to just expect things will go into collection. And you never know which kind of week you’re going to get. Even if you’re good at saving money (which I wouldn’t pretend to be under threat of death), you might just have to clear out your savings to afford to live.
Working in a restaurant means you’re never going to have the same schedule as anyone else. If your friend works a 9-5, the only way you’re going to see them is if they come in for a drink and you serve them. If your parents need help on a certain day, and you haven’t requested it off, chances are you won’t be able to assist them. Vacations? Forget it. Spontaneous roadtrips? Not if you want to keep your job. You forget that weekends are meant for relaxing.
And chances are, even if you manage to make plans with someone, it’s going to be after work. And what do most servers want to do after work? De-stress to the max. For me, this means Netflix, couch, hot tea, and no human contact. After a long day of pretending I like people, I don’t have it in me to actually like anyone. (This might just be my issue as an introvert, but I think others can relate).
This also makes relationships difficult to manage. I’m lucky in that when I met my boyfriend, he and I worked in the same place and had similar schedules. We could see each other at work, we could go home together, and head back in the morning. I think a big part of why so many people in the service industry end up dating the people they work with is because their partners GET IT. Not to mention, you just don’t have time to go out and meet someone else. Yeah, you might be able to head to the bar after your shift but the people you meet there are less than desirable for long-term companionship.
If you’re a server, you’re on your feet all the goddamn time. Sitting happens on the toilet, and it’s usually a rushed experience. So you’ll be hard pressed to meet a server without back problems (or leg, muscle, joint problems). Even I, at my tender young age, feel like I’m 115 years old after a long week.
You’re also constantly at risk of exposure to injury or illness. Sick people come in, and you have to clear their plates and glasses. You might slice a finger. You might be carrying four burning hot plates at once, and plate burn is no joke. I have scars from three years ago all over my arms. And then there’s the heavy lifting. Have you ever tried carrying three ice buckets up a flight of stairs? It’s not easy, and more often than not, it’s painful. This circles back to the back. My spine is probably missing a couple vertebrae at this point.
Serving takes a huge emotional toll.
And here’s where it gets kind of serious. I’ve found that most people who work in the service industry will have some kind of addiction. Nicotine is most common, and I know I wouldn’t smoke nearly as much as I do if I didn’t have a serving job, but that’s not nearly the worst of it. It can be really easy to start de-stressing with a drink after work, and it can become such a habit that soon you find you can’t do without it. There is a similar story with other depressants. Or you might try a stimulant one day because you’re just so exhausted that you feel like you might die. And do it again the next day, and the next. (Disclaimer: I am not personally addicted to anything besides cigarettes and coffee, but I know enough and have seen enough to be able to put myself in the shoes of a service industry addict.)
There are benefits to working in a restaurant (look forward to a companion post!), but oftentimes they are overshadowed by the exhaustion of being broke, sick, tired and emotionally drained. It’s not an easy job, and anyone who thinks it is hasn’t done it.
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