Contrary to the popular assumption that an aspiring writer and performer must also have a PhD in waiting tables, after four years of living in New York, I’d never had a restaurant job.
Fresh from moving and starting college, my first job in the city was at my University’s Art & Design Library, then I tutored for two years, barbacked at a neo-liberalist coffee shop, and last year I worked at a website. In between everything I babysat everyone from skater kids on avenue D to blonde princes accross form Central Park. Mind you, I’m just talking paid jobs to get by. In 22 years, I’d never actually been exposed to the work that lies behind the service industry. I’d been taught how to go to a restaurant, but not how they worked.
I claim now with much pride that the shittiest job I’ve ever had is being a busser. Not only because I am able to make twice as much -for half the physical demand- while babysitting, but also because I’ve never been exposed to such a stimulating yet stressful, yet numbing, work environment. My awareness of the hierarchies, the policies & the politics, appearances & aspirations of the people in this industry have been blown’ off the lid.
Sure, a job is a job is a job, but this is an industry that, according to the Restaurant Opportunity Center of New York (ROC-NY), employs over 200,000 people in the city. ROC-NY is one of the few organizations that actively manages workplace justice campaigns for low-wage workers. In fact, on Wednesday July 24th, Workers at The Capital Grille organized against illegal and unfair conditions, including racial discrimination on #J24 National Day of Action.
When my family asked me why I took the job I said it was for the experience. But really, about two months ago, I had just moved and was basically living on a couple of dollars a day, so I took it. I am very aware that my circumstance is very different than the average person working in the service industry (on or off the books); or perhaps it is not so different, perhaps my experience falls between the cracks of the categorization schematics. I’m a daughter of naturalized immigrants who was not only qualified to apply for Federal Aid, but could also count with their support for the remaining costs of attending a private University. I feel blessed.
But I feel even more blessed to have taken it and to know that my circumstance is only one in two-hundred thousand ones. The variety of food is rampant, as is the people who are consuming it. And you know what? Half of them don’t really know where their food comes from and none of them are exempt from the possibility of having bad manners.