Why is working in a restaurant so hard?

No matter where you are in the restaurant, you'll be on your feet all night, either carrying heavy plates and moving between tables, or hunched over in a hot kitchen with hardly any time to go to the bathroom. And then there are the customers, who can harass or abuse you. Marie Billiel, who has worked in the restaurant industry for 10 years, talks about having to wear a “mask” for eight straight hours. For The Atlantic's series of interviews with American workers, I spoke with Billiel about her work as a waitress, the challenge of dealing with her unpredictable incomes, and the prevalence of sexual harassment in the restaurant industry.

While waiters' jobs don't always change that much, they should be aware of what's happening throughout the restaurant. When people generally think of sexual harassment in the restaurant industry, they think that it comes from customers, which is undoubtedly very real. Many flee restaurants entirely to work in universities or companies or in the sale of food, where schedules are predictable and lifestyle is simpler. Last month, a survey conducted by the Restaurant Opportunity Center among workers in the Boston metropolitan area revealed that more than a third of the complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission come from the restaurant industry.

They don't have to do as much side work as I had to do in the past at other restaurants. It's very easy to pick up a bottle or a cigarette, says Kirsten Amann, a veteran of the restaurant industry who organizes weekly yoga sessions for the staff of Trina's Starlite Lounge. There's nowhere you can go and take off your mask for a minute like I tried to do in other restaurants. The sense of brotherhood in many restaurants is very strong, and many people stay a good couple of hours after their shift, having a drink and laughing with their co-workers.

Customers at the Asian fusion restaurant in Richmond, Virginia, where 18-year-old Kat Combs works, are generally nice, she said. Research has been conducted into the fact that employees who receive tips in the restaurant industry use public assistance at a higher percentage than in almost any other occupation. Ever since I joined Gourmet Society Philippines, I often think of the days when I prepared it in the kitchen, behind the bar or in the restaurant itself as a waiter. Instead, also consider rolling up your sleeves and standing shoulder to shoulder with some of the most motivated and passionate people in a restaurant.

In corporate restaurants, they're very specific about how they want things done and what exactly you should say. To top it all off, operating the restaurant when there are diners adds a whole new dimension to this challenge.

Ernest Dargatz
Ernest Dargatz

Freelance food geek. Bacon expert. Certified internet buff. Typical coffee nerd. Avid coffee evangelist.