There is a single mindedness about hospitality that can be pleasantly numbing.  The only way to survive is to make people happy.  Not just customers (guests) unfortunately; managers, fellow servers and cooks all need to view you favorably or you will perish; not die necessarily, but you certainly won’t make any money.  Talk to an experienced server and ask them if they’re “on” at the moment.  If they’re still in the field, the inevitable answer will be, “yes”.  The state of “on” can make it difficult to interact with people you know should they happen into your section or rotation, but after a while your style takes over and you address them as if you are an intermediary between the person they know and the person who is bringing them drinks. 
Some people are quicker to learn how to employ the layers of “on”, these people generally become bartenders.  You’re essentially an actor, or a prostitute (who is also an actor of sorts); you generate a persona that yields the highest net income per customer interaction.  There are lots of servers; the last I saw hospitality was the number three employer behind government and medicine, so much of this information is probably already known or at least understood on some level.
Once you’ve undertaken concurrent sixteen to twenty hour shifts during times of high volume, you have changed; maybe not PST (could be depending on where you work), but definitely the feeling of having passed through a gauntlet.  You are certainly not really you again until you’ve had a few days off.
Morals are constantly tested as well.  Do you tell the truth, or do you lie.  You quickly learn that lying is the best way to go 95% of the time, which is added to the “on” persona that eventually bleeds into your nonworking self; one eventually becoming indistinguishable from the other.  Maybe you don’t work in a meat grinder though.  Maybe you work for a sleepy mom and pop restaurant  whose owners love you and give you semi-managerial responsibilities in these lean times.  They might tell you that people can no longer take their credit card tips at the end of the night because of tax reasons.  They tell you that you can’t take any tips home and you need to turn everything in to them so it can be added to your pay check, and then you show up one day and the locks have been changed; mom and pop are gone and are drinking your money somewhere in Texas.  Coworkers who you repeatedly assured would receive their money call you a few times a day.  Mom and pop have changed their number and likely their identities.  What now?
What now?  Work for corporate restaurants as a mercenary server; viewing your job as that of an independent contractor hired to push a product until a better opportunity presents itself.  View your former coworkers you may wait on with the cold indifference that you might regard a squeegee man at a traffic light.  You are “on”, they are your marks, your only goal is to act in such a way that will cause them to give you their money and come back again to give you more of their money.  Of course, it would be great to have a drink after your shift is over, but you know, it’ll probably be late and you have to open tomorrow morning.  Work sucks, you have bills to pay etc… Wow thank you so much for the 100% tip, you just saved my whole day.  You’ll totally stop by the restaurant they work at on your day off and return the generosity.  But you won’t.  You’ll keep the money and give away another little piece of your soul to keep it. In the end, when and if you’ve escaped the industry, you won’t remember these things, and if you do it will be so much later that no one else will remember them either; these and countless other acts of extreme moral ambiguity undertaken by hospitality industry employees (assuming you’ve undertaken most of them) emerge from your memory as your “off” persona comes back to the fore.  The question becomes; did you survive the industry or are you now so “on” that you don’t even know what it is anymore?


About christophermwilt

Design, invent, write, parent, cook, create View all posts by christophermwilt

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