I gave my two weeks notice at what will hopefully be the last food service job I ever work. Food service and I have a relationship, and as with any good relationship there is horrible emotional turmoil. Mostly I have worked as a barista. It is a noun, it is a verb, it is even an adjective in the title of this blog entry, but it is rarely a profession. It is a job that some people take way too seriously and end up in competitions because of, but it is a job. Most people who do it don’t want to do it any more, but have addictions to food, rent, and art – mostly art. They deserve our tip money. They are good people.
Last week a woman ordered a Large Iced Americano. The Americano at our cafe involves two shots of espresso and then water. The amount of water changes depending on if you order a small or a large. This means that a large involves a lot of water. So I wasn’t surprised when she sidled awkwardly up to the counter and politely demanded that she get to cut in line to politely explain that her drink was watery.
I hate barista stories about shitty customers who don’t understand what the drink they order is. It’s okay to not understand the drink you ordered because you don’t spend 8 hours a day in a coffee shop like a barista does. Our job as food service employees is to politely explain the food that they ordered so that they understand how to order it better next time.
I politely apologized for our policy on including two shots of espresso in all sizes of our Americanos and politely offered to add additional shots to her Americano for $0.50 – which is this cafe’s unreasonably low price for an additional double shot of espresso. She politely explained that she did not want to pay extra money because we gave her a watery drink. I wanted to politely explain that I didn’t want to give her free things because she ordered a shitty drink and then politely stick my fingers in her mouth and make her deal with the taste of my dirty fingertips on her tongue the rest of the day, but instead my fellow barista saw the cartoon steam billowing from my ears and stepped in to solve the problem by giving her free things for ordering a shitty drink.
Working in food service often does mean that parts of your life are not what you want them to be. It indicates a certain amount of failure. Especially in New York. All of us baristas, servers, bartenders, etc. have come to terms with that and talk about it to each other. But this life decision failure does not imply that we are worse at everything than those we serve. Especially serving food and drink. Because we’ve been forced to spend so much time serving that food and drink, we are better at it then our customers. That’s why we get paid the big bucks/change you didn’t want to keep in your pocket.
I truly believe in the draft – a common experience for entire generations to talk about forever where they dedicated themselves to bettering the world around them. I don’t believe that war betters the world around us. Food does. I truly believe in the food-service draft – where everyone from ages 14-22 must work at least 9 months in food-service. One must understand what it’s like to pick out stranger’s half eaten food from a drain pipe in order to understand how to do dishes correctly when you live with people. One must understand how to organize an efficient list of tasks that are both menial and degrading that a higher up has given you to make it seem like you are busy in order to understand how to prioritize your laundry and check cashing tasks for the day. Most importantly, one must understand how to serve people and maintain an environment in which people enjoy being in order to understand how to be a member of a community.
The laundry for our apartment building is in the apartment building two doors down in a building owned by the same management. 66 people use these three washers and three dryers, but because the people who own them are a reality management company and not a laundromat, they don’t clean the laundry room very often. Our laundry room is dirty – there is dust everywhere, a pair of panties that has been sitting on the ground for two and a half weeks, and the trash bin, which is tied to a heating pipe with a piece of string, has been overflowing for a week and yet people keep stuffing their dryer lint on top as though someone is going to take out this bag of trash. I don’t think I need to go over the cultural implications that someone is more worried that a plastic trash receptacle gets stolen by criminals too lazy to untie a knot than worried about getting rid of the trash the receptacle holds. What I’m more concerned by is the attitude taken by us tenants.
Each time I go down and think: “this is disgusting. Somebody better clean this up.” and then I think “I should clean this up.” and then I think “it’s not my job to clean this up.” and then it stays messy. It may not be my job, but I’m affected by it, and it’s not that hard to fix. Just as I get frustrated when someone sees a napkin next to someone else’s spilled milk and dances around the spill with their coffee as though it is a radioactive e-coli strain searching for human flesh to eat through, forcing me to walk all the way around the counter and wipe up a bit of dairy, I need to take out the trash and replace the trash bag instead of forcing some guy who lives in Bay Ridge to drive all the way to my apartment building to take out some trash.
So I did.
I didn’t sweep the floor or pick up the panties, but… baby steps. Maybe I’ll do it out of nostalgia now that I’m leaving food-service.