Compassion and the Food Service Industry

Behind the scenes of every restaurant, from fast food to fine dining, is a team of real people with an intense job to do.

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Behind the scenes of every restaurant, from fast food to fine dining, is a team of real people with an intense job to do.

Laina Gustafson

When was the last time you or your family went out to dinner? Maybe it was a quick drive-thru before soccer practice, or a sit-down restaurant with your grandparents. Chances are, you don’t remember the handful of workers who served you – waiters, waitresses, hosts, and hostesses. You definitely don’t remember the cooks, food runners, bussers, managers, and cleaning staff that kept the restaurant afloat. 

All of these employees have responsibilities far beyond those we see as customers. The public must be more understanding and compassionate towards workers of the food service industry because they have to deal with difficult customers, address quickly changing priorities, and keep a positive atmosphere. 

Especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, many restaurants and their employees have been struggling to stay in business. These establishments are pillars of our communities, and the workers who run them deserve a measure of politeness and human decency that they are often denied. 

In a food service setting, a lot of us have probably heard, “How could you mess it up? You literally have one job.” But this perspective fails to account for the difficult customers and quickly changing responsibilities that workers face. 

Journalist Kristin Hunt interviewed several current and former hostesses for inside info on the job, who explained, “[Hostesses] don’t just spin around in a circle and point. Hostesses have to map out the seating arrangements so that servers have a fair share of tables, but can also handle the workload. When it’s slow, they’ve gotta spread the love across sections. And when it’s busy, they’ve gotta make sure they’re not overbooking one unfortunate waiter.”

This system is constantly thrown into jeopardy by customers —rudely or unknowingly – demanding specifications tailored to their desires. Although it may not seem like a big deal for the customers to change their party of three into a party of five, it can quickly become a headache for the servers and hostesses, messing with seating rotations and wait times. 

Former waitress Natosha Kreamer explained the system in her popular blog, Tales from a Waitress,“When a server gets two tables at one time, we call that ‘double seating.’ A good server can handle being ‘double sat,’ but for new servers or the less-talented among us, double seating can be tough, because you are essentially dealing with two tables wanting the exact same things at the exact same times.” 

Picture you are a server: your first table orders two slices of pie and your second table orders a cupcake. Since most servers prepare their own desserts, both tables have to wait twice as long. 

While balancing all of these factors, food service workers also have to deal with keeping a positive attitude. Fred Langley of Restaurant Systems Pro explained, “Adopting a positive attitude improves restaurant success. A positive attitude can’t be delegated. The owner has to set the tone, look forward and look for the positive.” 

This is not always easy: hosts and servers often have to endure being berated by a customer, then have to answer the phone with a shiny, happy tone. 

Workers of the food service industry have their hands full with difficult customers, quickly changing priorities, and do it all with a smile on their face. So the next time you visit a local restaurant or grab lunch between classes, just remember that the workers are people too – people who have shifting and complicated responsibilities and who deserve politeness and respect.