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Slainte - A Tale of the Highs and Lows of Service Industry Employment, and Why Everyone Should Experience it.

Karen is from Connecticut. She has a degree in education. She loves game shows, animals, the beach, and her family.

slainte
slainte

Slainte

I think that everyone should work in a customer facing service industry position at some point in their lives. It really shines a light on humanity and can teach some important lessons about how to treat people, especially those who are serving you.

I worked at a Bennigan’s for a year while I was in college. I think they are all closed by now, having killed off most of their loyal clientele with fried Monte Cristo sandwiches. But, please let me know if anyone knows of one that’s still open. I’d travel just to take in the ugly signature puke green ambiance. I remember when the movie Waiting, with Justin Long and Ryan Renyolds, came out. I almost had to pick my jaw up off the ground. The similarities to our restaurant were uncanny. It was like they scouted my old hostess stand for a back drop and watched us college-aged employees fuck around for content.

This Bennigan’s probably wasn’t unique, but it felt like it was to me. It was right outside of College Park, Maryland in Greenbelt. This wasn’t an upscale area. It wasn’t even up and coming with gentrification like Silver Spring, Maryland was. This was the early 2000s, and it began with me filling out an application online. I showed up for the interview at the appointed time, I had a pulse, and I was hired. In practically no time at all anyone could qualify for a front of house position. You too could have been earning a base rate below legal minimum wage, plus college town level tips.

Obviously it wasn’t just about the money. I mentioned the lessons. I learned some important ones that still resonate today. For example, “Don’t argue with fools. People from a distance, can’t tell who is who.” Also, there’s the ever important, “Pick your battles.” Grown ass man asks for fruit punch? Bite your tongue and simply tell him that you’ll check to see if you have any. Heavyset woman needs ever more honey mustard for her chicken tenders? Apologize for the insignificant up charge and fill a soup crock up of the stuff for her.

Yes, the lessons were important, but a second consequential reason I suggest this trial my fire at a local casual dining establishment is the people you will meet and the friends you will make. Your comrades in arms. There will be a lot of strong personalities and high turnover, but there will be a strong thread of being in this together; against the manager, who is obviously a douchebag, and the customers, with their unruly demands and desire to be served. Figure out how to get one another cut from the schedule early and you can expect to cheers to that with a drink afterward. Take a table for someone who’s just been double sat and you can expect the courtesy will be paid back.

If my Bennigan’s were a movie, despite its premise having been totally ripped off by Waiting already, it would, of course, have me at the center, the ingenue. The hostess stand is the motherboard of the whole operation after all. It would be one part failed romantic comedy, but also with elements of horror, and maybe some x-rated stuff in Dry Storage. Totally not me. Relationships were volatile, at times fleeting. Try to sneak out of your shift early if the restaurant is slow and you’ve made enough to cover a burger and a bar tab. Expect to drink too much with a group of your colleagues way into the wee hours of the night at whichever place is open the latest. Bonus if someone knows someone who works at that bar. You’ll share too much. Maybe get too close. Puke in a bathroom stall. That was me. Tomorrow there may be a knowing nod of the head in passing, but little else, until you can do it all again next closing shift. And that’s part of the fun of it all. There are definitely no HR rules about fraternizing outside of work here. It was largely what made the job tolerable. What else but a secreted crush on the shaggy hair covering the two tops in the 90s?

I definitely didn’t like the food. I didn’t find the work particularly fulfilling, although I was lucky that I didn’t have to wear one of those heinous green uniform shirts. It had its moments though. I felt like a little crew boat coxswain, directing my trusty team of servers, leading them to profitable evenings, and maybe earning myself a free drink. I remember the smell of a bussing tub, the stench of the mats under the bar, the thrill of getting cut early, only to lament your earnings, and get ready to do it all again the next day. And that’s the service industry. So put in your time, and learn the hard way, through experience. Slainte.


© 2022 Karen Michelle C