Early Jobs; Restaurant Subculture

One of the earliest posts I ever wrote was one documenting my very first forays into the job market. Unofficial jobs that were better characterized as ‘childhood hustles‘.

Two of them are prize winners, literally, they won a Rockstar Finance contest for craziest side jobs.

It’s time to move on to my first Real Jobs.

I have always had a good work ethic. Employed steadily since the age of 15 (back when you had to get a work permit just to be able to sell your labor while school-aged.) I have also had as many as 3 jobs at a time to make ends meet. I have done a lot of different types of work, but by no means all types of work.

My first real job was as a busboy and later fry cook at a local (but still chain) family restaurant. I was totally serious when I said that every boy and girl after high school should go to boot camp and then work as a server for 6 months before going off into the big wide world.

The job is the job, but the workplace culture is the perfect environment for a young man. There are responsibilities, crazy rushes, downtime, paychecks, and other humans from different places than you. The Restaurant Business is a subculture onto its own.

In no particular order;

I met and hooked up with girls my own age. I also hooked up with older women who cruelly tease young men as their personal playthings fully knowing we are subject to raging hormones (hostess vs waitress). This is OK with us because it still counts and we learn things the girls of our own age can not teach us or will not tell us.

Because this was a RESTAURANT first and foremost, the hook ups are with coworkers (horizontal) and the drugs of choice are mostly legal. This is as opposed to working as a young person in the BAR industry. Where the hook ups are mostly with your bosses (vertical) and cocaine tends to play a more important role.

At age 16, my restaurant closed down for 6 months to make renovations. I got UNEMPLOYMENT.  In exchange for waiting in line every 2 weeks, my summer was funded by the taxpayer.  I was 16 and getting paid (enough) to not even be at work. This is the pinnacle of teenage economic existence.

As a line cook, I learned to perform under pressure and that being ‘in the weeds‘ could be oddly satisfying.

Humans probably inherently enjoy working more than they think, change my mind.

I ate a live spider for the first time in order to intimidate an adult male coworker. Consequently, I also succeeded in intimidating an adult male coworker for the first time.

I flexed my worldliness for the first time and even wrote into a well know magazine about my experiences at that particular workplace. (Reader’s Digest used to accept submissions for ‘At the Workplace‘ and I tried to win, I did not win.) Apparently, the anecdote was good enough, I just was not first in submitting that same material.

Later in life, I did worker as a server proper, but I am not sure that really counted because…

The restaurant was set up that I took orders, got drinks, and explained the Mongolian Stir Fire process, but the customers did a lot of their own work. Still, living off tips make you a better person later on in life. I often find myself naturally busing the table after I am done eating and I have never tipped below 20%.

After working as a server, you are more empathetic to the plight of the worker.

The restaurant subculture jobs are team jobs. There is a group of people working in a symbiotic relationship and you either sink or swim together.

There is always some workplace drama in the restaurant subculture.

But you often end up with friends beyond just work friends. Late hours, especially in the BAR end of things make you hang out together, if only because nobody else is up and that drunk that late at night.

The relationship with the customers is a complicated one. I would make a far better server nowadays than I did when I was young. My thinly veiled contempt for pretending to be pleasant all the time was probably pretty transparent. I could be much more genuinely happy to engage with my customers now that I have matured, but alas that way a lifetime ago.

This is probably a good segment moment into another kind of job. The one where it is just you and the customer and you get paid the same whether or not they are happy (so screw them). Stay tuned for the next ‘Early Jobs‘ installment.

This post is part of a series about ‘Early Jobs’;

9 thoughts on “Early Jobs; Restaurant Subculture

  1. I was a waiter at age 19. I loved it. The restaurant world truly has it’s own culture and was a fun place to be in my youth. Would not trade that experience for anything.

  2. those restaurant jobs are pure gold for life training. i was a fry cook in a really busy place too. embrace the other degenerates is all i can say. i tip really well too and try very hard not to be “that” customer even in a nice place. all that being said i was one of the worst waiters in the world when i got my shot. i would just freeze up along with spilling a lot of stuff. i found my groove at a lobby hotel bar in new orleans. you didn’t get down with the coworkers so much there but with the hotel guests. i remember a time where i woke up in the hotel and rode the elevator down and went to work the next day.

  3. I worked as a busboy at a pizza joint for my first job. I quickly advanced to pizza cook. Pretty sure there was a bit of cocaine use going on – it was the mid-80’s after all. The lead cook was probably a pedophile based on several comments he made about extremely young patrons. Despite this, I agree that everyone should spend time working in a restaurant. If for no other reason it keeps you motivated to work hard in school so as not to have to work in a restaurant again.

    Have you eaten any more spiders since that first one?

  4. Cook at Chick-fil-A was my first job. It was a good learning experience, especially since I exited the job by getting fired. They will fire you and press charges if you try to take food home at the end of your shift lol. I wasn’t the “thief” just got roped in with the person who actually did it.

    Chick-fil-A is the last restaurant I’d suggest anyone to work at. Worshipping the customers means treating the employees like peasants.

  5. I taught Sunday school from age 16 through college, spent a summer as a camp counselor during college as well. Great gigs, loved the kids, still have a rainbow haired troll in my office as a gift from a third grader from back in the day. No doubt made me a better father today.

    Camp counselor gig was great in the ways you describe kitchen culture, different people, highly sexualized (for most others, I was spurned then but years later dated the counselor that got away when she reappeared in med school… Delayed gratification for the win!).

  6. Ah young Othalafehu living the dream of being with older women as a raging teenager 🙂 My first job was actually in college where I was a cashier at a local deli (I initially worked there because I thought the owner’s daughter was very pretty only to find out a little later that she was like 15 or so (I was 19) so that put an end to that. LOL

    I did stay on for a couple of years and it helped fund my entertainment expenses.

Let's get things nice and sparkling clear