Welcome to our new column, Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments. This is their space to sound off on all of the crazy shit that goes down while you're busy stuffing your face. These interviews are completely anonymous to protect our sources. Oh, and yea, don't forget to tip your waiter.
With the American economy still growing at a snail's pace, finding a full-time gig straight out of a university can be a challenge. Every five minutes, a college graduate takes a job that they're overqualified for with the intent of not feeling like a total loser. But for some—like the Ivy League grad I had the chance to speak with below—working in the service industry has evolved into a new career path where one's college degree hangs beside a bartender's school certificate. Most of his customers think he's a completely incompetent idiot. Cheers.
Male. 36. Bartender at an upscale NYC cocktail bar.
MUNCHIES: You graduated from Yale University. How common do you think it is for people working in restaurants to have college degrees today? Bartender: The growth of New York has required more FOH and BOH jobs, or restaurant jobs in general. And you have a lot of people moving here from out of town and gentrifying places. You can work at night and make money to pay for all your other shit.
Why do you work in the restaurant industry? I guess you could say I'm part of the cliche of being an artist or creative person in NYC. When I graduated from college, I knew that I wanted to be pursuing an artistic career. I realized it might be a necessity to make ends meet, so it was my best option for the flexibility.
Have you seen a pattern of certain archetypes in this industry? Yeah, I think there are several. There are people who do it because their main career-objective is something else, and it's a means to an end. Then you have the restaurant people—you have to watch out for them—they're the ones who work in restaurants because they eventually want to be a manager, a sommelier, a beverage director, a chef, or want to end up owning their own places and not work for anyone else. And then there's the "rover," someone who wants to work the minimum amount of time to start making money. They make a nice chunk of change and bounce, move on to a new job at another restaurant, and the cycle continues.
Do you have any etiquette tips for customers on how they shouldn't act? Impatient customers. This type of person shows their impatience by physically gesturing on a deeper level, and they'll even reach out and touch their bartender or server and yell, "Hey!" Any of that stuff makes it clear that they're completely unaware of how this experience works. In any quality restaurant or bar, it's an orchestrated experience. The flow of service is based upon a bigger algorithm, and the staff set up a vibe. If someone comes into the restaurant with high-energy and you undercut them, then it's going to be an uphill battle for the rest of their meal. It's simple human nature. When someone shows up and they're a loudmouth, and you let them continue that way without reflecting it back to them, you invite them to let that behavior go. They'll blow harder and make more of a scene if you approach them all meek. There's no reason to react in any way but kindly, simply, and calmly. If I let two loud people ruin the experience of 30 other diners, I'm also economically unsound and I should not be doing what I'm doing.
That sounds emotionally exhausting. What you have to do is watch the group and stamp out bad behavior, or invite everyone to be rewarded with congenial behavior. That means awareness of space, volume, and of your surroundings.
Have you had any interactions with customers who treat you like an indentured servant? Well I can't speak for them, but I would say that people have definitely presented themselves in such a way that would make me think that they underestimated someone like me. But that's human nature. I'm not saying that these diners should or need to know everything about their server, but it's more about the mutual respect that should be more in play if customers imagined that they weren't necessarily being served by someone who is a complete dumbass.
What constitutes a bad restaurant work environment? Having to work in a room with a big screen TV.
You've worked at a few restaurants that many people consider to be superstars in the culinary world. What are your thoughts on celebrity chefs in the industry who are building these mega empires? The Ronald McDonald complex. In a way, these people have no business being in the business. Sadly, they are the business, so they have every right. At the bottom of their kinds of approaches is money, and I don't really buy that it's about the food or culture. I don't believe that they believe in the food, but they believe only in what they can do with the food.
What do you mean, exactly? How can they believe in the food when all of the evidence I've ever come across shows that expansion lowers quality? I've never seen a chef or company that's been able to defeat that probability. If they have, let me know. One or two restaurants is fine, but having restaurants going into ten different cities while calling yourself a "chef" but you don't cook… I don't get that. They're just businesspeople at that point.
Are you suggesting that there are celebrity chefs out there who aren't actually cooking in the kitchen? Yes, they're not chefs. Chefs are people who cook all the time. Perhaps it's a naïve interpretation, but when I think of the word chef, I imagine someone who actually cooks everyday. The title chef has an artisan ring to it, and you picture a person wearing some whites with a knife somewhere while they're working hard on the line in some stressful kitchen environment. They're not sitting with a microphone clipped to their lapel somewhere making money off some speaking engagement or modeling in some photoshoot.
Thanks for talking to me.