VanArts Radio

"Can I Speak to a Manager?"

Oct 29 by Braedon C.



I’ve recently escaped from working in the restaurant industry after being held captive for ten years.

I began my career working as a barista at eighteen at a swanky hotel in downtown Vancouver. Once I got sick enough of waking up at 4:45am to be yelled at by a woman in a pantsuit about my lack of foam production in a dry cappuccino, I applied at a local restaurant chain that had recently succeeded in penetrating every heavily-populated neighbourhood in the city.

Getting a job as a server can be tricky. Most places won’t hire you without experience, and moving up from a support position into a service position can be a grueling long wait. It’s much easier to lie about your work experience, which is exactly what I did. I also learned that restaurants in Vancouver thankfully don’t check applicants’ references.

“You HAVE done this before, right?” I remember my trainer saying on my third training shift, as I ping-ponged back and forth between the kitchen and my maze of tables, forgetting another side of ranch, table 64’s food order and some asshole’s sixth diet coke refill. (Seriously, people that drink diet coke, DRINK diet coke. They consume enough aspartame in one sitting to incapacitate a rhino.) Hey, it was their fault for not checking my references.

On my first solo serving shift I somehow stumbled through and later learned that I had served a “secret shopper,” which are basically people who lie about once working in the restaurant industry so that they can eat for free. I must have really charmed these ones because I ended up scoring a perfect 120%, a first for that location. (Restaurant groups like to use percentile that doesn’t exist. “Give them 150% better service than the competition!” What the fuck does that even mean?)

They made a massive deal about it and singled me out at a meeting in front of the entire staff. Even said that I had set a new standard for everyone to work towards. My successful con, plus the nightly walk home with a pocket full of cash, made me think I could really make this whole restaurant thing work.

And I did. 5 years of serving and bartending later, I literally stumbled into my new position of assistant manager. I had one too many drinks with my boss and accidentally agreed to take the job. I don’t like to back out on my word.

Once again, I had no idea what the hell I was doing. It didn’t help that my training was basically “show up in a dress shirt and slacks instead of the all black uniform, and here’s a card to discount people’s food”. The rest I figured out through trial and error.

I think it’s important to point out here that managing a restaurant is a LOT harder than people think. Not only do you have to “run the floor” operationally; ensuring people get to their tables in decent time while not overwhelming the kitchen, coordinating reservations, dealing with complaints, helping the service and bartending team, being a liaison between stressed out grabby servers and the dozens of hot plates getting literally thrown into the pass-through window by hungover cooks; but you also have to ensure you are making a profit. You order too much food, it goes bad and you look bad. You order too little, and some woman named Karen is pissed off because she can’t order her usual. Result: you look bad.

At most restaurants staff don’t even have an end time. They start at 4 or 5 and work... Indefinitely. You, the manager, are father time and get to decide which Lindsey or Jessica you want to torture with closing duties on a Friday night. But with that power comes consequence… if you get too distracted dealing with Karen not being able to order her gluten-free pizza crust and Jessica and Lindsey both work an hour later than you projected 5 days ago, you’re fucking paying for it Monday when you meet with your regional.

Once guests are done yelling at you, your regional is done yelling at you, and your staff is done talking shit behind your back for cutting Jessica before Lindsey, you drink enough so your body stops twitching while you try to fall asleep at 3am. Then wake up to the Yelp reviews.

Sweet jesus, the yelp reviews.

Or Facebook, or Google, or whatever platform these terrible people want to voice their terrible opinions. People lie through their teeth, people are entitled, people exaggerate extensively. Sure there are legitimate complaints, but often regular, adjusted human beings tell the manager or server in a restaurant what the problem is and any competent manager fixes it, then and there. Yelpers don’t speak up when something wrong happens, which is inevitable, especially during a crazy busy rush. They don’t let anyone try and rectify the situation, and instead go home to become keyboard warriors and begin a public onslaught of the restaurant. I’m about 98% sure they get off on it.

Then you, as the manager, have to pretend that you’re the worst piece of shit ever, you and your employees screwed up so hard, you’re so sorry, you’re scum of the earth and next time Karen is in you are going to personally wipe her ass and give her a $50 gift card. So now Karen has learned that being an obnoxious, entitled human gets her free stuff, and I’ve lost a bit of my soul in the process.

Fuck you, Karen.

Ten years later, I just wish they had checked my damn references.

Do you have a restaurant industry related story? What do you dislike about your job? Leave your take in the comments below.