Let’s talk about just how “unskilled” my minimum wage labor
At IHOP, I had to memorize a vast menu of possible
breakfast combinations. Did you know the system contains more than thirty
different choices for how an egg should be prepared? Then choices of pancakes
or French toast, what kind of toppings, was this a custom order or was it one
of our seasonal specials? Oh, yeah, the seasonal specials. Every three months,
we had a four hour staff meeting to discuss the new food items that would be
added to the menu. Most of us came in and spent this four hour meeting in addition to the nearly twelve hour
shift we would work later that night or had already been working early that
Better memorize the seasonal specials, too, or else you’ll
be screwing up people’s food left and right. And screwed up food means screwed
up tips, especially when it comes to
breakfast. On that note, guess how similar all the dishes looked. When you work
primarily in a breakfast diner with infinite combinations of specials,
pre-designed plates, and custom orders, it is very easy to mistake your table’s
food for someone else’s when it comes out. You definitely don’t want to make
that mistake, though, since IHOP has a system where you might run another server’s
food out to their table. You have to be able to see what a dish is by sight and be able to distribute it to
a table whose order you did not take. Some of my coworkers who had been doing
this for years could take an order completely by memorizing it at the table.
When you are often expected to serve up to eight people at one table, often
several tables at a time, this is a truly incredible feat.
Oh, and dishes come out hot. At my IHOP, the dress code dictated a short sleeved collared
white shirt. The lack of sleeves meant that I had to balance a number of very
hot dishes on my bare arms, then walk to the table and distribute them without
dropping anything. If you’ve never had to successfully balance ten hot plates
on your arms at a time, I suggest you pop some in the microwave right now and
give walking across your living room a shot. (Might not want to try unless you
have carpet or money to spare for new plates, though.)
During football season, IHOP was the only restaurant open
late in my town with enough space for large parties. On these Friday and
Saturday nights I worked until 5 or 6 in the morning, having started my shift at
4 or 5 that afternoon. I took orders for parties of ten, fifteen, and twenty,
often at the same time, with smaller tables as well. I was expected to split
checks and understand how to divide incredibly complex orders, and then take
payment without losing credit cards, mixing up checks, or any other disastrous
thing that can happen when you are holding fifteen forms of payment in your
hands at once.
Even when the actual serving had ended, there were a
number of meticulous shopkeeping duties that had to be done at the end of each
shift. Sometimes that meant I’d be filling 200 tiny cups with salad dressing at
four in the morning, and others it meant I’d be taking meticulous inventory in
my short sleeves in the freezer, restocking from storage where necessary. Everyone
had to roll silverware every night, and when you’ve been on your feet for
eleven hours, you can imagine how it feels to have to roll two hundred forks
and two hundred knives into two hundred napkin and put the sticky tab on each
one, after you wash off all the water
spots and polish the utensils.
Did I mention there’s a lot of lifting in a minimum wage
service job? I’m sure that’s true in other areas as well, but even now that I’m
working as a soda jerk and not a server, there’s tons of lifting heavy objects.
I have to lift large boxes of supplies from the stock room in order to make
sure everything is, well, stocked. I lift gallons of frozen ice cream. I carry
bus trays full of solid glass dishes and half-finished drinks to the kitchen
(you think this job is unskilled? You try scraping all those plates without
actually touching someone’s half-eaten pancakes. It’s impossible).
Not to mention handling to-go orders without tips, people
who come in with coupons that slash their order to nothing and then tip
according to the adjusted total despite you delivering the same level of
service, the fact that the prices were already low because it’s IHOP so tips
were meager. I could complain to you for days about experiences with bad and
ignorant customers that took all my control, all my people management skills,
all my thickness of skin to get through, and I didn’t get paid any extra for
putting up with that shit.
Remember, I only get paid the equivalent of a meal at
McDonald’s for every hour of my work. I deserve better. We all do.