Dishin’ That: You can work in hospitality and be happy, too

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The past 10 days have consisted of a grueling duel-job work schedule unlike any I’ve foolishly agreed to in eons. With one last consecutive restaurant shift looming before a day off, I am in desperate need of an Ashiatsu Oriental massage, and 24-hours of uninterrupted sleep.

But honestly, this rare occurrence of double shift-days on end has been an eye-opening reminder. Once again, after all this time, I remember why I am so drawn to hands-on restaurant work, and the good, bad and ugliness it entails.

I’ve been working so much that even my BFF and family question my sanity (as well they should). Certainly, I already have enough material for a spirited book of categorized columns. (This undertaking ranks high on my pipe-dreaming bucket list and all benevolent backers are encouraged to apply.)

And certainly, I am working two demanding jobs when other chronologically mature women are slowing down.

However, the set-schedule hours and shenanigans of my restaurant job work well with my awesome newspaper job; the latter of which offers adulting stability, and a tiny bit of wiggle room for creativity.

Still, the question remains: Why, for example, am I slinging shots of Jack Daniels Honey Whiskey for an appreciative regular named Beauregard, while simultaneously nursing advanced bartender’s elbow?

Contrary to popular belief, and considering today’s oppressive tip reporting policies, it isn’t about the money. For me, it’s about something more, because I’ve landed in a restaurant environment that fits my current lifestyle.

The concept of the “right restaurant employment fit” is a counter-intuitive, simple-in-theory mantra that few seem to fully grasp. Sure, the right fit is key in any field, and few of us have the good fortune to find a gig that is perfectly, mutually beneficial.

The reason? Because most of us equate “making the most money” with the “being best fit.”

That myth simply isn’t true. What about a job, even in the hospitality field, that gives you time to hang with your friends and family for truly important stuff? To take off for a Red Sox game on your birthday, and your third Springsteen show in a year? You know, the things that usually fall by the wayside in restaurant work, often considered impossible or irresponsible.

Once career restaurant people take a hard look at what job satisfaction, and day-to-day happiness means, it will become easier to find that “right fit.”

I know I’m going to hear from owners and managers who will tell me I’ve lost touch with reality and should stop instigating the troops. But I’m sticking to my guns. In the right job, with the right manager (shout out to G-Lish), it can be done. The stigma of having to work 24/7 in a high-end, trendy place, to be dedicated and professional, is pure bunk.

The place I tend bar and serve isn’t consistently high volume and the average check is low by any measure. Our kitchen copes with the Portland line-cook shortage epidemic, and we have layers of decision making that boggles the mind.

And, like any restaurant, we have drama worthy of day-time television. There’s passive aggressive, not always intentional, backstabbing; hints and false rumors of romance; favoritism that changes with the weather; broken trust; near-nervous breakdowns, and more.

But, like all restaurants, we also have the uplifting stuff daytime Emmy awards are made of. Simply put, the place is the bomb. It took a leap of faith, and a long haul of voluntary shifts to embrace the place as the right fit, but I’m glad I did.

I’m ready for the flack, but I encourage my restaurant brothers and sisters to take a look at their own happiness-to-right-restaurant-fit ratio. Do the math, consider life’s tip-outs, and the answer just may surprise you.

Peas & Q’s

I want to thank The Weatherman (new to our cast of characters) for the much-needed time-out last night. While having dinner at one of Freeport’s best, I was reminded that good company trumps average food and disappointing service every time.

Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to nladd@theforecaster.net, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @Nhladd.

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