Oblivious to the Obvious: Front of House Vulnerability

A meal is a special time for most people, and for some it is sacrosanct. However, one thing is consistent among the general public: they have little idea of what actually goes on behind the swinging doors to make that magical meal happen.

 

Those who have never worked in the restaurant industry typically have a simplistic and ignorant view of what a “server” or “waiter" or "chef" does. Generally, yes, service industry workers are more than adequate at performing their tasks and motivated only to move on to something bigger and better. But how is that any different than most people in their jobs? The workers i know are passionate and caring. They are sensitive in their feelings just like the rest of us, but have to deal with infinitely more shit than “regular” job holders. I was only in the industry off and on for about a year total and I worked in back of house. Chefs have recently seen the spotlight, although the light does not linger too long on the work and lifestyle conditions. If they did, then we would all realize we should be paying a lot more for our meals and service than we do.

 

My girlfriend is a certified, seasoned veteran of the front of house. These are the people we feel are there only to carry our food and memorize what we want. In that group of sorely overlooked employees are the 1%. They are the type who earn more because they deserve more. They make money working around food and wine to then go spend money learning more about food and wine. All of this knowledge and prowess culminates in an incredible dining experience for their guests. However, it is often wasted on apathetic diners and gourmand wanna-bes. This lifestyle is far from a calling, but definitely a career.

 

It can be hard to watch from the sidelines as someone you care about bounces from place to place due to changing haute cuisine trends, seasons, poor management, or abusive conditions. What would never be okay in a traditional workplace squeaks by in this industry. And by squeaking by, I mean lazily strolling down the street completely apathetic to gawkers. Because that is what we do as patrons. We gawk. We saunter into restaurants relieved not to cook, or do the dishes that night. We are under the false pretense that the employees are there due to a lack of options or ambitions, and that they depend on us, which is false. The relationship is symbiotic. It’s an experience repeated over and over by both sides, yet I’ve seen good, bad, and the downright atrocious actions completed by either side.

 

True, there may be servers who are too jaded to care anymore, and there may be servers who swap stories about the terrible people who come in to drink all of their wine, tip them 0% on it because they "didn't do much", and then write a terrible Yelp review about them. And they should, because you sir/madam are terrible. However, most servers want to create an experience for you and keep things lively, light and enjoyable. They have to approach strangers 5-100 times every night and manage personalized orders, kitchen mistakes, spoiled wine, loud kids, special occasions, obscene PDA, etc. etc. etc. However, they take these obstacles as par for the course and focus on the guests who share their passion for food and wine, use their manners, and treat them as equals.


I cannot even get into the conditions front of house workers are abused with in this small article because the list is too extensive and too complicated. It's too common that lack of health insurance, pooled tips, and tipping out the house works against the employee. And then their tip is based on a less than lucid merry-goer late at night who is the commander of how he spends his salaried money. Next time I go to the doctor/lawyer/clothing store I’m going to give them the money I think I deserve to give them. If they can do that to service industry workers, why can I not return the favor?