Welcome to Ravenna’s Monday Mumblings!
Last week, we talked about what a registered nurse actually does here in the US. This week, let’s talk about what it’s really like to work as a server in a chain restaurant, and what it’s like to work in a fast food place.
My first job was at McDonald’s, before they served questionably real food, served you the wrong food, or served you food that had been sitting under those warming lights for far too long. Back in the day, we were held to a higher standard, and because most of us who worked there were in high school, it was good training for things like how to follow directions, how to respect each other, and how to take pride in a job well done. It’s different now. The world is different now.
So to tell you what it was like back then probably wouldn’t do you any good as a writer today. I’ll simply say it’s not as easy as it looks, and customers today are far more nasty, rude, and demanding than they were in the mid-70s. And they could be pretty ridiculous back then. My best advice for writing a hero or heroine today working in a fast food place is to sit in one for a few hours and watch, listen, and take notes. Or just ask someone who works there.
As for chain restaurants. I worked at Pizza Hut for two of the four years I attended Kent State University, Denny’s while waiting to start classes for nursing school, and The Brown Derby while I was attending nursing school. TBD was a chain restaurant that served a variety of food, had a bar, and was supposed to be midway between an expensive, fancy restaurant with a dress code, and one similar to a Denny’s.
I was a server at all three, so I can’t really speak to the cooking side of that work, but I can tell you it’s not easy work no matter what you do. Restaurants are always busy. They must cater to the needs of multiple groups of people – customers, district managers who make “surprise” visits, suppliers, local health ordinances, and their own employees.
A kind of sub-culture develops within one among the workers, usually excluding management. When the sub-culture does include management, it’s almost always because one of the workers is involved with a manager, and that’s a recipe for disaster in places like that. Bear that in mind for your writing.
Depending on who you work with on any given shift, it can be fun or it can be hell, just like in any job. The nice part about restaurant work is you’re not likely to work with the exact same group of people every single shift. The workers aren’t usually scheduled more than 40 hours a week, so you have a chance of not working with someone during any given week. By the nature of their business, they are open every day (some are still closed on US holidays), and they are open long hours. Today, most fast food places and some chain restaurants are open twenty four hours.
It’s busy, demanding work. I wasn’t treated much better as a server in any of the three restaurants above than I was treated as an RN, which isn’t saying much for customers in restaurants. And management at these places can be a nightmare. In fact, taking into account all the managers I remember from McD’s, PH, Denny’s, and TBD, I can’t think of more than a few who weren’t either angry at the world, batshit crazy, or both. There was also far more fooling around with employees than most Corporate HR departments would tolerate in this day and age.
At McD’s, because I was in high school, the people I worked with were my friend group, so that was nice. All of my fondest high school memories revolve around that particular McD’s where we all worked, because of my friends.
While I remember most of the people I worked with at Pizza Hut, Denny’s, and TBD, I can’t say I made any lasting friends at those places, nor was the work either rewarding or fun. If I had to return to it now in order to survive, I’d grit my teeth, act like a grown-up, and do it, but I would not enjoy it. The hours are long, the pay is not good, and like nursing, there are no weekend or holiday breaks.
At a place like McD’s, you’re paid minimum wage because there is no tipping. At the other places, servers make less than minimum wage. They have to declare tips up to minimum wage for tax purposes, and aren’t obligated to declare them beyond that amount. Even if you smile your face off and never mess up an order, you’re not going to get rich off tips. Customers are incredibly rude to servers, even when the service is excellent, and many people feel tipping is optional. I’m guessing those people never had to pay rent or buy groceries with a job at one of those places as their sole income.
Next week, we wrap up this series with what it’s like to work in an office.
Until next week… Happy Writing!