I’m in the food porn industry

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine inadvertently made me feel worthless.  We’d just shared a lovely meal at a local restaurant, and I was reaching for my wallet so that I could pay for my portion of the bill when this friend emphatically shook their head and motioned for me to put it away.

“No, no, no,” they said through a final mouthful of food as I put on my quizzical eyebrows, even though I knew in my gut what would happen next.  The insistence in my friend’s voice was all too familiar.  “Let me get this.  I have a real job.”

[Cue: awkward laughter, reluctant acquiescence;
Exit: dignity.]

Now, maybe I’m just being overly sensitive.  As someone who works in an imaginary restaurant, who sets their imaginary alarm, and rides their imaginary bike to go set up imaginary chairs so that imaginary patrons can enjoy the imaginary view out an imaginary window strung with twinkle lights that don’t actually exist, I should just learn to graciously accept this sort of offer from my more successful peers.  They do, after all, have real jobs.  Yet, bear with me, friends; for, here is the unexpected twist in our little tale of whimsy!

I do have a real job.

oh my god, agave exists, really?

oh my god, agave exists, really?

Yes, it is true!  That money you paid me so you could eat a burrito this afternoon was real money!  Try to stifle your shock and awe!  I have a real job, and–get this!–I actually kinda like it.  When I work, I wake up in the morning, and, instead of sitting in bed waiting for my day to start, I look out the window and decide on weather-appropriate clothing.  I check the mail and take a nice stroll past the art museum and the square.  Sometimes, if I’m early, I will walk through the Conservatory so I can listen to the choppy, beautiful sound of art in the works.  Then, I go around back and enter through the kitchen.  I say “Good morning!” to my boss, hang up my coat, grab an apron, and I’m on my way.  On busy days, it can be hours before I get to start a conversation with something other than “I can help whoever is next!” or “Is that for here or to go?”  Sometimes I burn my fingers on hot tongs or pans.  Sometimes my fingers freeze as I repeatedly plunge them in diced tomatoes fresh from the fridge to replenish our stock on the line.  One time I sliced my finger open on a take-away container edge.  I have bruised my hand and made my hip bleed from running into the beer cooler while bringing an overloaded bus tub back to the kitchen.  This is the work I do.  It’s hard work; it’s real work.

That said, I will acknowledge that my salary is about half of what many of my peers are earning at their current jobs, and I understand that my friend’s desire to pay for my food originated out of thoughtful consideration for a financial situation that is, in many ways, far from ideal.  However, what hurt was not the offer.  Phrased differently, I might have accepted graciously with an easy smile.  What hurt was the condescension that accompanied it.  What really hurt was the general assumption that I don’t understand how to manage my own affairs, that I’m somehow less of a person for the way I earn a living.  Believe it or not, my work matters, even if the people I serve don’t realize it.  Oberlin students are amazingly talented.  For better or for worse, I am feeding the Future.  The Future can’t happen if it doesn’t get an A on that Econ final, and it’s not going to get an A if no one is there to make it food.  Because, let’s face it, the Future can program computers, but it sure as heck can’t make its own bed or do its own laundry.  Even if the Future treats me like I’m dirt, I have to smile at it and continue to serve it.

So thank you, friends, for the meal (and all future meals).  I enjoyed it.  Really, I did.  And I enjoy you.  But next time, pick up my tab because we’re friends and you want to treat me, not because you feel bad for me and think I’m too poor to afford it simply by the nature of my work.  (Head’s up: I also do research for a professor.  Bet ya didn’t see that one coming.)

agave sells food??  no way!!

agave sells food?? no way!!

Really, though, this isn’t just about an unintended but unfortunate offense from a friend.  It’s about how that one simple misunderstanding plays into a larger discourse.  The way society views (i.e. looks down on) food service jobs and the people who hold them is total bullshit.  So, to end this public service announcement, here are five easy ways you can treat your server at a restaurant like a human whose work you value, rather than some nasty vermin wearing gloves and an apron.

1) Put your cell phone away and look at me.  I am a human being.  My name is Jen.  I am not a machine.  And even if I was I could still be your new friend or your soul mate.  Haven’t you seen that Robin Williams movie?  Anyway, I just wanted to let you know, as a future friend and/or soul mate, that your “LOL” text message can wait to be sent until you’ve finished placing your order.  It’s not like you’re sitting through the whole Lord of the Rings series.  It actually doesn’t take more than two minutes to make a burrito, and I will be asking you clarifying questions when you are unnecessarily vague (i.e. asking for “salsa” when we have up to 10 different options).  I will feel bad for interrupting; you will feel awkward for being a douchebag.  No one wins so just put it away and pay attention.

2) Respect the sneeze guard and use your words.  There are plenty of ways to communicate that do not involve reaching over a barrier with an obvious purpose to point to something you know very well are tomatoes.  (Even if you didn’t know those were called tomatoes, there aren’t many other juicy red fruitable options.  We’d get there eventually.)  Likewise, tell me what you want.  Don’t say you want “like, all the veggies over here,” return to your phone, and then moan like the world is ending when I put spinach on your food.

3) Be flexible.  We have the food we have for the prices that are listed.  We do a lot to try and give you the best deal we can.  If you order nachos, but only get queso and pico de gallo on it, we’ll probably ring you up differently.  But sometimes a decree of “No substitutes!” has been issued from the upper echelons of management, and we must obey.  We have souls, and we are genuinely sorry you feel the way you do about a lack of ground beef, or the fact that our avocados didn’t come in on time so we’re out of guac.  Similarly, if you order nothing but mush on your burrito, your burrito will be mushy and hard to eat.  if you forget to order salsa, then there will be no salsa on your nachos.  I will be sorry and feel bad, but it’s not my fault.  There is nothing we can do but listen to you and do our best to get you exactly what you wanted, so please don’t make that a chore.

4) Tipping makes you look sexy, but not if you are gross about it.  If you have to ask if the thirteen cents you’re so generously dropping into the jar is turning me on, and if you’re going to ask with a creepy grin on your face and follow that with a wink, the answer is NO NO NO.  As a female-bodied human, I am, like my co-workers of other genders, there to make you food.  I am not there for you to call “honey” or “sweet thing” or “baby doll.”  Do you like the drink I mixed for you?  Tip me.  Do you like my boobs?  Fine, you can tip me.  I like money.  But don’t even hint to me that that was your motivation.  I am a burrito roller, not a hot Natalie Portman look-a-like.  (And even if I was a hot Natalie Portman look-a-like, I am my own person and have a variety of awesome qualities other than who I may/may not resemble.  Get to know me!)

5) Ordering something to go and eating it in the restaurant is a huge faux pas.  You may think you’re being clever, avoiding a tax and all, but I can see you.  Do you think I’m an idiot?  You’re eating out of a shiny, aluminium box with a plastic fork.  It’s pretty conspicuous.  If you want the carry-out container because we give you a crap load of food, let us know.  You can have it instead of a plate.  It doesn’t matter, but you have to pay the tax.  Also, it makes me feel stupid when I put the lid on and smush all your chips and smear all the guac and salsa for no reason.

BONUS: If it’s not a sit-down place, remember to bus your own dishes.  I don’t care how drunk you get at the bar.  I am not your mother, and you shouldn’t treat your mother like that anyway.  Also, let us tell you that guac costs $1 extra, and don’t make us feel stupid for saying it the 1,000th time that day.  If we skip the 1,001st time, that is guaranteed to be the one customer who didn’t know and who will put up a fight.

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4 thoughts on “I’m in the food porn industry

  1. knockety knock knock to all of this! When I read the first line I was afraid this might be about me, since we just ate at Lupita’s the other night…haha, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t offer to pay for you, and your employment has always been far more substantial than mine 🙂 I totally agree that this is not simply a misdirected effort from your friend, but symptomatic of a general disdain in our society for service industries. One of my dream jobs growing up was to be a waiter; I used to carry plates of food up on one hand over my head when I was little and then my mom would yell at me. I get the feeling that if I told my academic advisor at this here prestigious liberal arts college that I really want to be a waiter, I would be pretty quickly dissuaded…

    • Exactly! I love the wonder with which children approach EVERYTHING adults do, no matter what it is. I wish we could somehow retain that magic and wonder with regard to our fellow humans. And not even just humans! Hell, I wanted to be a caterpillar when I grew up! I actually get that reaction from all my old professors and some friends/family when I tell them what I’m doing. Like, what is so wrong about living and working in Oberlin? Why do I have to go to New York City or Boston and work at a computer and live in a ~*flat*~ to be considered successful or worthy?

  2. Ditto. When I was little, in my heart of hearts, I wanted to be a cashier. That and a dolphin trainer after I went to Sea World.

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