Things I Learned During My Time in Food Service – #2

As mentioned in the previous installment, this column is dedicated to all of the things, useful or otherwise, that I learned during my two and a half year stint as a food service worker at a cafeteria.  Let me be clear about the record for a moment: this cafeteria was for adults suffering from no mental or physical problems.  All of our customers were generally normal grown men and women from this country.  Most of them were even educated.  They weren’t children, they weren’t mentally handicapped, and this wasn’t operating in a facility for people with disabilities or weren’t accustomed to American cuisine and culture.  Nor was it operated by anyone falling under these categories.

  1. You don’t get breaks. Unless you smoke.

In food service, it is fairly typical for just about everyone to smoke.  Or at least, this was true up until about five or six years ago; now, depending on the area and the business, smokers are getting closer to being split down the middle.  The culture’s changed and, of course, the stress on businesses in the last couple years to provide healthcare has incentivized a fair number of people to quit.  The premiums are just too high.

But that doesn’t stop some people.  The place I was until recently employed at would allow smokers periodic breaks to go light up their nicotine habits—the frequency of which seemed mostly up to the supervisor of the unit.  Want five minutes?  Go for it.  Want fifteen?  Well, if we’re busy enough, you might slip out for that long before anyone else notices.  Of course, you’re shifting your workload onto the rest of the unit in the meantime, but if you cared about that then you probably wouldn’t be smoking.  Or working in food service.

To be fair, it can be incredibly difficult to work in this industry without getting a good ten minute arsenic kick.  Working with food isn’t usually much of a problem, and generally speaking, neither is working with customers—yeah, you’ve got the handful of bad apples every day, but that’s nothing a seasoned professional can’t sweat off.  The stress mounts when you’re working with both.  At the same time.  All day.

“I wanted my burger medium-well not well-done.”

“Are you sure that’s done?”

“Why aren’t you serving wings today?”

“This stuff is so expensive.”

“I want the same meal every single day and I will always make the same retarded comment about it to you when you prepare it.”

Working in a cafeteria is bad enough.  The ones I really feel sorry for are the restauranteurs—the wait staff who end up having to take responsibility on the customer’s end for the most baffling of complaints, and—unlike in the profession I was acquainted with—had their wages dependent upon these sorts of things.  Didn’t suck up enough to the unreasonable moron?  Sorry, there went your tip.  Putting up with crap like this practically guarantees that you’ll need some sort of break once in a while.  What better way to do it than filling your lungs with tar?

Meanwhile, the nonsmokers, who still pay for your treatment when you come down with lung cancer, and who end up picking up the slack you’re creating with your breaks, grow ever more resentful.  Stress levels rise in the unit, productivity drops on all fronts, and customers, predictably, notice only inasmuch as they are inconvenienced.  In places like where I previously worked, they certainly wouldn’t have cared enough to go someplace else.

Want a break?  Take up smoking.  The amount they’ll get to hike your insurance premiums for should justify letting you take five every two hours.  You only have to live once, right?

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