Let’s talk about just how “unskilled” my minimum wage labor is.
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 morning.
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.