When I was 13, going on 14, my parents opened a restaurant in Sutter Creek, California, the town I would later go to High School in. The first family photo that we ever took in front of the restaurant is engraved in my mind, partially because I was wearing a denim skort (yikes!), but mostly because it was a turning point. It marked the beginning of something big, and the end of my childhood. I had no idea the day that photo was taken how much the restaurant would change me and the course of my life.
I started working there before the place even opened. For weeks, we would stay there late at night and go there early in the morning, getting everything ready for opening day. It was a really special time for my family, a time where we all worked together and got in lots of arguments; but we always showed up the next day to do it again. The biggest and most rewarding project of all came when we ripped up the ratty, old carpet to expose the beautiful, original wood floor underneath! Then, we got on our hands and knees and covered all the big wholes with aluminum flashing and tin can lids. The finished product was stunning — a patchwork floor, crafted by my loving, little family. By the time we opened the doors to the restaurant, it’s safe to say that I was 100% committed to the place. It may have started as my parents project, but it quickly became our family’s project. I worked as much as I could while still being in school, and I wanted to learn how to do every single job. I was a dishwasher, a pizza chef, a hostess, a busser, a runner, I helped my Mom with filing and payroll and I couldn’t wait to be old enough to become a waitress. I wanted to be the kind of employee who could do anything. I wanted my parents and everyone else on the staff to be able to count on me when it was busy or when someone called in sick.
Oh, yes, I convinced my parents to hire all of my friends — that way I could be there all the time, with all my favorite people. The place became a home to me. I loved everyone that worked there and I loved being there. And I wanted everyone else to love it, too. To say I cared too much would be an understatement. The restaurant was more than a job; it was an extension of me. If a guest had a good experience or someone around town told me they loved the chicken fettuccini, it would feel so very good to me. But, if someone had a bad experience or said something bad about the place, I would be crushed. And I would do everything in my power to make it better the next time around. When I was 18, my Dad finally let me be a full-fledged waitress, because I was old enough to be allowed to serve beer and wine. I was hooked from the beginning! I got to make people happy at the place I loved, and I made a bunch of cash doing it. And then, after every shift, I got to sit down, eat delicious food and talk to all of my friends and family. And I’ve been hooked ever since. When I graduated from high school, I moved to San Francisco and went to college. Of course I waited tables the whole time. After I graduated college, I tried to get a “real” job, but ended up back in the service industry pretty quickly. And that is where I’ve been ever since. I’ve worked in restaurants/bars in San Francisco, San Diego, Amador City, Sutter Creek, Fair play, Los Angeles and now in Pasadena. Every single service industry job I’ve had, I’ve cared too much about. I enter every single one of them with the same attitude I had at my parents’ restaurant. It’s in my blood. I’m unable to just leave work and forget about the day. I’m always thinking about what I could do better, what ideas I can come up with to make the restaurant better. I wake up in the middle of the night and realize I forgot to bring water to table 25 during the late rush, and I hope it didn’t ruin their experience. When I’m making my morning coffee, I think about the folks at table 9 who were on their way to see a movie and I hope they enjoyed it. Or I think about the couple that was on their first date on table 32 and I wonder if they will go on a second date. And you know what? I love that part of me. I love the part of me that cares about other people and worries about their feelings and can’t turn it off. That empathy and vulnerability and nurturing side of me serves me well in most parts of my life.
But, the problem is, some people are very rude.
Over the years, I’ve served thousands of great people, but I’ve also served quite a few assholes. And lately, the rude ones have been almost too much for me to bear. I’ve been working in the service industry for almost 20 years now, and I’ve tried with all my might to do it in the most thoughtful, genuine way I can, just like my parents taught me at their magical restaurant so long ago. But the rude people kill that for me — a little bit at a time. They take something that I love and hold dear, and they try to kill it. Every time a man corners me to hit on me in an aggressive way, a little part of me dies. Every time a person accuses me of something I didn’t do, a little part of me dies. Every time someone tells me they don’t like the way I look, when I didn’t ask for their opinion, a little part of me dies. Every time someone is unhappy, or writes a poor yelp review, or says they’ll never be back, a little part of me dies. Every time I have to apologize for something that wasn’t my fault, or clean up a drunken person’s vomit, or take food off of a check because they hated it, a little part of me dies. And, I just don’t have much left to give! Over the course of all these years, I’ve told myself that if I could just be a little more resilient, have a little bit thicker skin, everything would be ok. But, I cant. If I haven’t become more resilient yet, it’s not going to happen. It’s time to finally see myself for what I am, a person who cares too much. A person who is empathetic and vulnerable and sensitive. It’s time for me to get out of the abusive relationship I have with serving. So, I’ve given up all my serving shifts for the next month (!!!) and I’m going to see how I feel. I know that I’ll be poor, but hopefully I’ll also be happy. Hopefully I can hang on to some of my passion for restauranting while I’ve still got it. And hopefully those tender parts of me that I’ve been trying to push away for years can finally have their time to shine.
P.S. Be kind to your servers, please, I beg this of you.