The Restaurant Industry Made Me Crazy

I was prompted to write this post upon hearing from a coworker that restaurant workers have one of, if not the highest rate of mental illness. Before I go on about my own experiences, let me just outline the main reasons being a cook is terrible, reasons which I will go into more detail later in the post:

  1. Low pay (usually minimum wage or slightly over)
  2. High stress
  3. Expendibility, leading to performance anxiety
  4. No weekends/holidays
  5. (Usually) No vacation or benefits
  6. Inconsistent hours

Just about everything that can be wrong with a job. All of these things add up leading to poor quality of life and an unsatisfying lifestyle which encourages pleasure-seeking behaviour, at least for what little pleasure can be sought as a wage slave.

During the time I was writing this website, I have never done as much work in my life. I hit a peak in prolificacy which I have never been able to reclaim ever since I became a line cook. One person emailed me saying he believes me to be suffering a burnout, and up until now it was not clear to me what exactly happened to all my passion and motivation for this website, and for cooking, but now it is obvious.

I was young and stupid. I believed that cooking was the end all of passions and that this is what was going to make me happy. Up until I actually got a taste of what real kitchen life was like, not just being a cute little home cook, I legitimately believed that cooks were living the dream.

The kitchen industry is often glamorized in TV and movies being portrayed as a crazy environment where the chefs are yelling at everyone and we, as viewers, attain catharsis watching those little line cooks squirm around while Gordon Ramsay gives them post-traumatic stress disorder. In reality, Gordon Ramsay is hilarious. Real chefs in real kitchens that are not on camera are not so creative with how they put down their employees.

At the beginning of my career I usually walked in with a big smile on my face, eager to impress. 9 months later I was fired from my first kitchen for my “I really don’t give a fuck anymore” attitude. This attitude developed as a result of being poorly treated by chefs, coworkers, and the lifestyle I was forced to live. Upon getting fired, I wrote the following: (28/10/16)

Do I regret it all? No. I would have never learnt what hard work is had I not signed up for this job. The industry though, as a whole, was just not sustainable for someone like me. I’m the kind of person who’d rather not be yelled at every 10 minutes because something isn’t good enough or that I need to hurry up. The stress levels were high, and there was no time for asking anybody to do anything nicely. Chefs would yell at you to do things, and if you weren’t fast or good enough they’d threaten to fire you. They didn’t yell; I know chefs are always portrayed as being super angry and yelling all the time, but they don’t have to yell at you to get on your nerves. There was no time to sit down and have a proper meal… that became a huge problem. I spent most of my time there shoveling bits and pieces of everything into my mouth as I worked. The chefs would tell me to stop snacking and make myself a meal instead, but every time I actually did make a meal they’d tell me to stop eating and get back to work. That alone was the most frustrating thing I had to deal with, and it pushed me over the edge.

Is the restaurant industry really this terrible? Yes, but this is just my experience. Most of the people working there were actually very happy to do so, but we all have different tolerance levels, and mine were just not up to par.

It also only painted part of the picture, as there are many different types of management styles in the industry I had yet to discover. I do not know why I became a line cook again 3 months later, but thanks to this mistake of mine I spent the next 3 years learning what it is like to be young, broke, and all alone.

Low pay, and the lifestyle it forces upon you

It is incredibly rare to meet a line cook who does not suffer from some sort of addiction problem; we tend not to make a lot of money and the money we do make tends to go towards much needed rest and relaxation, usually with the use of drugs and alcohol. There is really not much else to look forward to as a wage slave. Some days you cannot even afford to eat, and then all of a sudden winter comes and you are let go due to lack of customers and living off of government assistance which does not even cover the increasing costs of rent, let alone food costs.

Besides the guests, servers were the worst part of our jobs. Mainly because not a single one of them actually cared about anything besides money. Often I would hear complaints from them some days on which they do not make a certain amount in tips, meanwhile the hard working, sweating, slaving kitchen team only ever saw a fraction of the tips. I often saw servers go on vacations twice a year, meanwhile I was lucky if I could make rent.

Stress, and how it molds your personality

Besides never having any money, the work was not worth it. We were on our feet all day listening to chefs/managers/owners yell at us under the heat, both metaphorically and actually as kitchens do tend to get pretty hot in the summer. Very often a snobby customer would send food back and expect a replacement right in the middle of a Sunday brunch rush and our jobs suddenly just got 10 times harder. Or a server who has no idea how to do her job waits 3 large tables and punches them all into the machine at the same time– and then acts sassy when we tell her not to do that.

This line of work requires a level of patience only the most spiritual of Buddhist monks could ever dream of achieving. All of the chefs who have actually made it usually hate their lives, because the only real way to “make it” in the industry is to work, work, work and work. And little else.

Performance anxiety, and why you don’t get an ‘off’ day

Upon joining the kitchens and realising how hard the work was, one of my first questions was “What if I have a day where I just didn’t get enough sleep or if I’m just feeling slightly more depressed than usual?” One of the sous-chefs responded with “You don’t get a day like that.” And it was the truth; this industry meant you had to be on your toes at all times, which turned out to be problematic for the type of stress we had to endure. Personally, I suffered severe insomnia so I often did not get a proper night’s sleep which greatly impacted my performance. This generated anxiety because I knew just how expendable I was; unless Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day was coming up, they could fire me at any given minute. They would tell me things such as “It makes you more of a man” or “The more stress you are given, the more you can take”. None of this was true, they were just trying to manipulate you into selling you their soul. Minimum wage is not worth anybody’s sanity.

You never get to spend quality time with your family on weekends or holidays

For the most part, line cooks are in their 20s and have little desire to see their families, but over time I realised how much I missed being able to spend time with my parents and with my sisters, one of which whom recently had a newborn baby that I have only been able to see on Christmas. I have already forgotten about trying to make a family of my own due to lack of funds and lack of time to find a girlfriend who was not addicted to cocaine. The reason for this is that unlike normal people, we do not get the pleasure of celebrating any holiday except Christmas because on most holidays people go out to eat, and it is our job to feed their needy snobby mouths. You may think, ‘well, why not just go out after your shift?’ Usually it is because the work I do is so exhausting that I have no interest in talking to anybody or doing any sort of physical activity whatsoever after I finish.

No vacations, no benefits

Here is how vacations in the kitchen work: You tell your manager which days you will be away, then go. There is usually no limit to how many days you can book off, but your expendability is still something to keep in mind. This sounds pretty straight forward, but bare in mind that unless you are on salary you only get paid for the hours that you work, and vacation is not work. Also salary is a terrible idea because it is usually in the owner’s interest, not yours. On top of that, there are no benefits. I have about 5-6 cavities at this point, I have lost count because I have not verified with my dentist since I became a line cook.

Inconsistent hours and a life that consistently has problems

I did not really mind working night shifts one day, morning shift another, or double shifts every now and then. What I did mind was being woken up by a phone call at 7am because one of my coworkers called in sick last minute. I had a lot of trouble sleeping due to the anxiety that was brought on by my job. My insomnia was to the point where I would stay awake for up to 5 days if I do not take any medication, which in my case is cannabis.

I made very few friends because on top of not being a people person I was decidedly out of my element; I came from an upper-middle class family and everyone around me usually came from a working class background. My standards of living were already set too high for the kitchen life to sustain. It also later occurred to me that I was the only one not in overwhelming debt, but in order to sustain that I refrained from ever going out. I never took a class, seldom went out drinking, and yet I still lived paycheck to paycheck. I rarely bought anything big, but when I did it was an event. Had it not been for my parents’ financial support, I would have no luxury at all.

In short, the kitchen industry is no place for anybody seeking anything other than temporary employment, and those who literally do not have another option. Personally after seeing up close how horribly restaurants are managed, I find it hard to bring myself to eat at one.

I am currently seeking to undo the damage done to my psyche. I have tried running my brain under cold water and it seems to be helping, but if anybody has any further tips for me I would love to hear them.

About Crisis

Ha nem lehet mind enyém, akkor nem kérek semmit.

Posted on May 20, 2019, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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