“I love being on the floor.” “I can’t wait to get off the floor.” “I can’t wait for a time when I don’t have to be on the floor.” “I can’t wait to get back on the floor”. What is this “floor” that we’re always talking about? Is it a job or a part of a job? Is it something going on in a restaurant that you may have overheard of a time or two?
The “floor” encapsulates a lot more than what may have been overheard by a patron and more importantly, than what it means to us, industry folk, than we realize.
It means we work at night. We, night owls, rebels, or however you’d like us to be called, don’t want to work from 9 to 5. We feel trapped by routine and jailed by an idea that we should ever pray to FrÏge’s Day. We have never quite understood what TGIF means. It’s more along the lines of Thank God the Shift Is Over or Thank God I Have Off on Monday (TGSO or TGOM).
Tomorrow, I’m in at 4, the next, it’s 11am for paperwork, it’s 10am for a seminar, 12pm for a work meeting, and then I’m closing on Saturday at 7:30pm. PM. Post meridium. Based on my scientific background, I’ve deemed this also PJ. Permanent Jetlag.
It means our jobs take a toll on our bodies. It means we get home after a long shift and put our damn feet up because we ran a marathon, carried cases of wine for stocking, and my knees. My God, my knees. They need extra care and I have a permanent crick in my back from washing out wells that were too deep. I’m 31 years old.
It means we’re on stage. That no matter what the hell happened to you that day, you had to put your cat down, your car wouldn’t start, your girlfriend broke up with you, you get your shit together, put a smile on your face, and take other people’s bad days and give it all you’ve got to make THEM feel better.
It means we’re an extrovert (even when we’re not or don’t want to be). I’ve become more introverted the older I’ve gotten and there are just some days I want to bury my head in Word documents, books, maps, or notecards, or maybe an episode of Orange Is The New Black and just forget about everything. This is not an option on the “floor”. It’s almost like answering a dreaded two-hour-long phone call from an unknown number- to an introvert anyways.
It means different hours than the rest of the world. The upside to this is no lines or waits in any possible errand you may want to run. The return line at Target was a godsend but my inability to take weekends off to see family or friends who planned things on Saturdays or Sundays was heartbreaking. I missed a lot of my nephews’ birthday parties.
It means it is what we’re good at and it’s hard to break out. How do you translate these skills when you’re ready to leave? You have to build up the other skills when you’re not on the floor which adds to your work day, your work week, and before you know it, you’re working for 80 hours, hopped up on five cups of coffee, a half-pack of cigarettes, and you forgot to eat, or really, you just can’t be bothered to figure out what your calorie count was that day.
It means you work on tips. Budgeting is a bitch. One month you’re rich and you think it’ll last, the next month, you’re scraping what you can. You can always make more if you turn that 50-hour week to a 70-hour one. Just to equal out what you did in a 20-hour week during OND (October, November, December).
It means you generally don’t have healthcare. You break your ankle and you’re on a peg leg struggling for three months to get people their glass of Chardonnay. Enough said. I’ve been there.
It means you’re surrounded by alcohol. Something that is just beginning to be discussed as somewhat of a crutch (no pun intended) or way of life in our industry. It’s a point of pride. Sometimes you succumb and sometimes you don’t want to do it anymore but it feels in some cases, that you don’t have a choice.
It means you have to be really good (and I mean extraordinary and somewhat popular and really great at self-marketing) at what you do in order to find a way out.
This diatribe may seem like I’m complaining or that this job of a service industry just sucks and I’m persuading you not to do it.
But that’s not true.
Listed here is every reason why you should.
There’s freedom in your schedule. It’s exhilarating, and it is a perfect option for those of us who don’t like to feel confined to the rules. There’s options to make a lot more money to allow us to do other things in life we’d like to do. Sometimes, you want to hole up with a book but the people you meet along the way become lifelong friends. I attended a wedding for my old regulars that I wouldn’t have met if I didn’t have a bar job.
There’s something to be said about choosing a job in the service industry.
Hospitality is a virtue, one that I respect and value greatly after my time in the industry but all these other things listed above have stomped me until I wasn’t exuding and breathing the value that was the most important thing about this career that I chose.
There are people who love it and find it satisfying, find balance, who do it well, and will strive professionally and personally to maintain. I’ve watched them and I admire them but I, myself, didn’t and I’m speaking to those who might just be feeling like me. Granted, I've moved away from the ins and outs of working in restaurants and live in Mexico but one of the major reasons for taking that leap was for self-healing so maybe one day, I can do it again.
In my conversations and in my research, here’s what I found out:
For example, there’s been a lot of articles on being sober. I don’t think this is the answer. It isn’t that black and white. There are themes and dots and a lot of interesting connections to be made that seem to run through our industry like a string. A string that allows us to read article after article and be glad that someone is actually trying to talk about them whether we feel as if we’re in solidarity or if it just enrages us. Either way, it invokes a reaction, because you know, like I do, there are issues to be fixed and to be dealt with.
There needs to be care of employees, there needs to be budgeting for an inconsistent income, there needs to be healthcare, and possibly, working off of a non-tip based system. There needs to be more talk of staff meals, staff snacks, and alcohol, and not in a cute, gathering kind of way but in an air of sustenance for those of us who serve you food when we can’t eat. There needs to be talk about stress and anxiety and how to quell and balance, and a voice for sexual harassment for both women and men.
My love for this industry runs wide and it runs deep and it’s my motivation for wanting to make it better and aim to improve it everyday.
There’s a lot of political turmoil these days. A lot of which we follow as industry folk and a lot of which has to do with our working wages, our working taxes, and our working way of life. There’s a lot of action happening and a lot of people speaking out for many work environments and for political change. This is my anthem to say that what personally affects me and the people I work with also affects anyone dealing with these same issues day to day. Those things happening in our government affect this industry. It takes speaking out.
Here are some links below to some of the stories that speak towards the things we can do to take care of our employees and take care of each other:
Stressed by Success a Top Restaurant Turns To Therapy - NY Times
Chefs with Issues
Speaking Out by Daniel Patterson - MAD Feed
This is only the beginning of some work I'd like to do. Let's go. Please comment if you have additional articles to share!