Food service can be quite the battleground. The people who work in food service battle customers who think working in food service can’t be all that bad. As a rule, we tend to side with the folks who have the power to spit in our tacos. But even then, we wind up accidentally making things worse for them. You’ve probably ruined a server’s day this week without even realizing it. Here’s how:
“All You Can Eat” Promotions Screw Servers Out Of Tips
We’re not here to hate on the idea of eating as many appetizers, breadsticks, miniature shrimps, and/or bowls of Mongolian barbecue as you can. We simply feel that it’s our duty to inform you that your intestines aren’t the only ones suffering through these glutinous promotions.
All-you-can-eat promotions bring in customers who normally don’t eat out because they generally can’t afford it. Many people spend most of the week eating asparagus and butter sandwiches. Then along comes Olive Garden with a tantalizing offer of never-ending pasta for ten dollars. So you show up with an empty stomach, consume roughly two meals’ worth of food, and then try to take what you can home. It’s a steal – especially from the servers who waited on you. Odds are if you were lured out of your home by the promise of a load of cheap food, you’re not going to be leaving much of a tip.
So all-you-can-eat patrons don’t leave big tips (partly because their bill is so low, which is the whole reason they went out), but another big problem is that they stay forever. It takes a while to eat your entire weight in shrimp, so these folks will camp out at their table for hours, which prevents their servers from getting new customers. Anyone who has ever waited tables before knows how important it is to get multiple tables in a night just to break even in tips by the end of their shift. A family of five gasping their way through a third round of plates at Golden Corral clogs up the flow of business.
Waiters have been complaining about these practices forever. Restaurant owners may claim that it drums up more business, meaning more money for the staff. The math on these promotions doesn’t add up. They work their staff harder, they get paid less to serve more food per billed line item, and the buffet gobblers keep tables from opening up and bringing in new customers. Restaurants with all-you-can-eat promotions both target customers who make less money and force their employees to work for less money.
And while we’re talking about tips, stop being cheap when you’re in a large party. Some restaurants are dropping the “automatic tip” usually assigned to parties of six or more. That was put in place because people were tipping as low as three percent when they were camped out in the big booth for hours, robbing their servers of opportunities to earn tips from others. In 2014, the IRS deemed the auto-tip a “non-tip income,” meaning it was subject to income, Social Security, and all the other taxes that are applied to income that doesn’t include tips. So if you don’t see the auto-tip for your big group’s bash, treat the server well and tip 20% since you took up so much time and space.
Children Ruin Dining for Everyone
You think your kids are delightful, but you’re really just annoying people everywhere you bring them. One of the most unnatural habitats for children has to be the restaurant. And who has to deal with these infant tornadoes when dining out? Their parents? Uh, no. It’s the servers who have to become de facto babysitters.
Small children make dining experiences categorically worse. They deface the restaurant by drawing on the walls or scratching them with coins. They bother diners by blasting their iPads at full volume. Parents will bring tiny snacks (Goldfish crackers, Cheerios, etc.) to distract the kids, only to have them thrown everywhere and ground into the floor. Aisles are blocked with high chairs and strollers, making spills inevitable. All this mess is harder to clean up, which raises wait times for tables. That means servers are getting fewer customers, and those customers are getting more annoyed. Kids tend to make the dining experience less enjoyable for every customer, which can impact their generosity when it’s time to calculate the tip.
Some diners may recognize how much their server is struggling with a particular table and its particular high-chaired obnoxious king and be sympathetic. However, the party that brought the child does not feel the same way. According to a survey of servers at Cornell, families with children are notorious for tipping below average.
Understandably, restaurants dislike allowing small children, but this has become a contentious debate. They can receive horrible backlash for even thinking about banning children. There are legions of mommy blogs that will happily point the blame for their disruptive children straight at the servers. They offer helpful “suggestions” for dealing with their darling children, including, “come back to the table often so the child doesn’t get restless” and, “don’t allow us to order a dessert and then discover that it’s sold out.” They include a helpful letter full of instructions you can print out and hand to your server as if you two are trying to coordinate a flawless meal for a foreign head of state instead of a group of children who are too young to be expected to sit still in a public setting for longer than five minutes. The general retort from both restaurants and servers is that Applebee’s is not a daycare, and waitstaff already have their hands full dealing with adults who behave like children. But parents still expect waiters to feed and entertain their children for $2.19 plus a terrible tip.
Unfortunately for servers, the messy ethics of banning children means they will have to deal with these little poop factories until the end of time. Sure, fine dining might get away with restricting children, but it’s not like Outback Steakhouse can pretend it’s too good for screaming toddlers. People show up there in sweatpants to eat fried onions.
“Hidden Menu” Items and Special Promotions are a Nightmare to Make
Viral posts about fast food “menu hacks” get tossed around the internet regularly, so odds are you’ve strolled into a Taco Bell armed with a Rolodex of “hidden menu” items you can’t wait to try. However, fast-food restaurants operate based on order and routine (hence the “fast” part), so while you may like being part of the Cheap Meat Sandwich inner circle, it’s the hourly servers who have to deal with the utter chaos of jury-rigging three different burgers into one bun for the benefit of people who think they’re too good to order from the menu.
Take the Chipotle quesarito, the unholy union of a quesadilla, a burrito, and boiling liquid cheese. As some Chipotle employees helpfully explained on Reddit, ordering a quesarito will cause them nothing but misery. They are a hassle to make, and they could give a poor server second-degree burns so that you could impress your friends.
However, even when an officially sanctioned “promotional” item hits menus, there is still chaos and bloodshed. When Starbucks rolled out its Unicorn Frappuccino, a pink and blue monstrosity that looked like a blended Lisa Frank folder, it made sure to point out it was only available for five days. Naturally, people rushed to get one, and the baristas were the ones who had to suffer. Braden Burson, a teenage employee from Colorado, posted a video of himself ripping Starbucks Corporate over his now-acute glitter intolerance. “My hands are completely sticky. I have unicorn crap all in my hair and on my nose,” he cringes. “I have never been so stressed out in my entire life.”
It wasn’t only Braden. The Starbucks Reddit page had a field day with the Unicorn Frapp, highlighting the plight of the broken baristas unable to keep themselves from drowning in a flood of pink sludge. Baristas had to deal with a constant film of unicorn poop clinging to their body like some kind of metaphor for the spoiled dreams of youth.
Working a Drive-Thru is Ridiculously Dangerous
Ask any server, and they’ll tell you the most stressful part of their job is the customers. The drive-thru seems like an obvious solution – you have minimal interaction with the customer who orders quickly, pays for the food, and leaves immediately. It’s ideal for customers too – most times you go to a drive-thru, you’re in no mood/condition/level of sobriety to really deal with (or be seen by) other people. However, a lot more of these customers are actively trying to kill you.
People commit armed robbery at a drive-thru all of the time. A drive-thru coffee shop in Kentucky was robbed four times in the span of two months. A McDonald’s in Florida was robbed twice in two weeks, which honestly seems downright restrained for Florida. There are lots of reasons for these sprees. The drive-thru tends to be open earlier and later, some even 24 hours. You’ll note that robbers aren’t huge fans of broad daylight. Also, unlike gas stations, which mostly get paid with debit or credit cards nowadays, people still largely buy their nuggets and fries with cash, and the cash drawer is usually right there at the window. Most fast-food joints are near major intersections or highway exits, making them convenient for getaways.
But even when they’re not going for the register, there’s something about being behind the wheel of a car that makes people angry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that workers in restaurants that had a drive-thru are twice as likely to be assaulted as workers at sit-down restaurants like Olive Garden or Red Lobster. If a Red Lobster is a better work environment than any drive-thru means having to be anywhere near a serving window is a violation of your human rights.
McDonald’s All-Day Breakfast Doubles Their Workload (So It Serves You Old Food)
There’s nothing we want more than what we can’t have, even if it’s a lukewarm Egg McMuffin at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. A monumental customer peer pressure history moment occurred when McDonald’s debuted a limited all-day breakfast menu. The resulting publicity was better than anything it could’ve hoped for from that Michael Keaton movie. And it’s great! Who among us can say they’ve never tasted the bitter defeat of arriving at McDonald’s at 10:31 A.M. to order a bag of breakfast burritos, only to discover that breakfast service ends at 10:30?
However, while customers might love it, the employees hate it. McDonald’s employees are the target of a lot of public ridicule, but that doesn’t stop the job from being thankless and hard. That has only gotten worse with the all-day breakfast, which requires employees to run the same extensive breakfast-to-lunch cleanup of their stations every time a stoner wants a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel at noon. At $7.25 an hour, how much could you be bothered to care about re-cleaning your station every time?
McDonald’s employees have, however, found a loophole (a word you never want to hear from the people who feed you). Many will cook up a bunch of eggs at the beginning of the day and stock them in food warmers for afternoon use. Hash browns are a quick and easy thing to throw in the fryer alongside the French fries. However, pancakes don’t make it to the griddle next to the hamburgers; they’re just microwaved. So know that at 10:30:01, ordering breakfast means you’re eating reheated leftover McDonald’s. Nobody deserves that.