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Restaurant work is skilled work.

restaurant work

Among many amusing changes, the pandemic has changed the experience of visiting restaurants, causing those who think restaurant work is easy to put their money where their mouths are (and sadly sometimes launch projectiles where their bartenders’ are).

Many places have switched to contactless ordering, offering more efficiency and social distancing. Of course, this has riled up certain customers who ironically don’t see hospitality as a respectable occupation, yet can’t seem to navigate placing their own orders. They are—of course—very wrong. Restaurant work is so hard physically, mentally, and sometimes emotionally.

Despite meeting so many great people and learning so much in the service industry for 15 years, there are downsides — like every industry. But one that was particularly aggravating is how certain people would disparage my career. Society likes to act as though being in service is easy somehow. People generally look down on the field itself and see it as beneath them. However, of all the industries I have dipped my toe into or done temp work for, it is by far the hardest.

It is one of the only jobs that require both your body and brain to constantly go go go without a second to yourself for hours. It is perfectly normal to zone out at a desk job for a moment, but in the industry, one moment is all it takes for everything to make a turn for the worse. We must always be on our game.

The service industry is also one of the only jobs that call for both computer proficiency and customer-facing skills. We must schmooze customers and communicate with coworkers all while navigating an ordering system. Service industry workers learn to be meticulous and proactive while staying humble with the simple aim of giving diners a good experience. Whether it’s a quick and casual lunch or a memorable special event, service workers are working diligently to ensure that a small portion of people’s day goes well.

During part of the pandemic, I managed a sandwich shop. With limited staff and covid, they had decided to have the customers put their orders in for themselves on tablets. I would get sooooooo irritated and yet satisfied that the same people who (no doubt) call service industry workers “unskilled workers” could not understand how to work the tablet and got very frustrated.

While we were ten minutes behind making hundreds upon hundreds of scheduled sandwiches we had to also walk someone through basic computer skills. And in the blink of an eye we went from “food service jobs are unskilled! How hard is it to get an order right?!” to…

“It’s not working. How do I order a turkey sandwich?”

“You hit the turkey sandwich button.”

“Oh! Well now, how do I add it and move on?”

“You hit the add button.”

“Okay, now how do I pay?”

“…You hit the ‘pay’ button.” Is this real life?

With the many changes COVID brought to the restaurant industry, I hope at least one of those includes certain demographics learning to better respect customer-facing jobs and how difficult they can be. I hope those who visit restaurants have learned basic computer skills/common sense and leave the workers to do their already difficult yet very rewarding jobs. If nothing else, I hope industry workers know their own value. Don’t let people tell you the skills you learn in restaurant work aren’t transferable or beneficial — they will, but they very much are! Work hurdles and life’s daunting tasks, in general, will feel simple with your unique and valuable experience.

Seekers

Olivia Breting

Olivia Breting has spent more than half of her life working in the service industry. Being a big-time food and beverage nerd played a significant part in her landing in Portland. In her spare time, she likes sketching, fiddling with clay, cuddling her cat, watching/quoting The Office, riding her bike, planning events, being chaotic, and oversharing on social media.

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