One of the biggest culture wars being fought today is between the people who work in food service and the people who think it can’t be all that bad working in food service. As a rule, we tend to side with the folks who have the power to spit in our tacos, but even then, we wind up accidentally making things worse for them every time we eat out. You’ve probably ruined a server’s day this week without even realizing it. For example …
“Hidden Menu” Items And Special Promotions Are A Damn Nightmare To Make
Viral posts about fast food “menu hacks” get tossed around the internet like discuses at an Olympic trial, so odds are you’ve strolled into a Taco Bell armed with a Rolodex of “hidden menu” items you can’t wait to try, such as a chili cheese burrito or a Dorito shell chalupa. The thing is, fast food restaurants operate based on order and routine (that’s why they’re “fast”), so while you may enjoy the feeling of being part of the Cheap Meat Sandwich inner circle, it’s the hourly servers who have to deal with the utter chaos of jury-rigging three different burgers into one bun for the benefit of some rando who thinks they’re too good to order from the menu at fucking Burger King.
Take the Chipotle quesarito, the unholy union of a quesadilla, a burrito, and boiling liquid cheese that could strip the bark off a California redwood. As some Chipotle employees helpfully explained on Reddit, ordering a quesarito will cause them nothing but misery. Not only are they a total hassle to make, but you’re also about to give a poor server second-degree burns so that you could order a burrito that almost certainly won’t wrap properly just to impress your friends.
However, even when an officially sanctioned abnormal or “promotional” item hits menus — something customers are encouraged to buy — it creates chaos and bloodshed. When Starbucks rolled out its Unicorn Frappuccino, a pink and blue monstrosity that looked like a blended Lisa Frank folder, it made sure customers knew that the colorful drink was only available for five freaking days. Naturally, people rushed to see what liquid candy disguised as coffee tasted like, and the baristas were the ones who had to suffer. Braden Burson, a teenage employee from Colorado, posted a video of himself ripping Starbucks Corporate a new one over his now-acute glitter intolerance. “My hands are completely sticky. I have unicorn crap all in my hair and on my nose,” he cringes. “I have never been so stressed out in my entire life.”
It wasn’t only Braden, either. The Starbucks Reddit page had a field day with the Unicorn Frapp, highlighting the plight of the broken baristas unable to keep themselves from drowning in a flood of pink sludge. Blue and pink powders combined with mango syrup choked the air and coated everything like instagrammable napalm. Baristas had to deal with a constant film of unicorn shit clinging to their body like some kind of metaphor for the spoiled dreams of youth. Seriously, this photo of an order of 56 Unicorn Frappuccinos will one day be shown as part of a trial in the Hague:
“All You Can Eat” Promotions Screw Servers Out Of Tips
We’re not here to shit on the idea of eating as many appetizers, bread sticks, miniature shrimps, and/or bowls of Mongolian barbecue as you can. That’s the American Way, goddammit. We simply feel that it’s our duty to inform you that your intestines aren’t the only ones suffering through these glutinous promotions.
You see, all-you-can-eat promotions bring in customers who normally don’t eat out, because they’re generally pretty cheap. We’ve all been there: You spend most of the week eating asparagus and butter sandwiches because that’s all your broke ass can afford, and then along comes Olive Garden with a tantalizing offer of never-ending pasta for ten goddamned dollars. So you show up with an empty stomach, consume roughly two meals’ worth of food, and then try to take what you can home. It’s a steal … especially from the servers who waited on you, whose earnings are disappearing at the same rate as the pasta bowls. Odds are if you were lured out of your home by the promise of a buttload of cheap food, you’re not going to be leaving much of a tip. After all, Oliver Twist didn’t slip a 20 into the jacket of the guy serving the gruel.
So all-you-can-eat patrons don’t tip big (partly because their bill is so low, which is the whole reason they went out), but another big problem is that they stay forever. It takes a while to eat your entire weight in shrimp, so these folks will camp out at their table for hours, which prevents their servers from getting new customers. Anyone who has ever waited tables before knows how important it is to get multiple tables in a night just to break even in tips by the end of their shift, and a family of five gasping their way through a third round of plates at Golden Corral clogs up the flow of business.
Waiters have been complaining about these practices forever. Restaurant owners may claim that it drums up more business, meaning more money for the staff, but the math on these promotions doesn’t add up. They work their staff harder, they get paid less to serve more food per billed line item, and the buffet gobblers keep tables from opening up and bringing in new customers. Restaurants with all-you-can-eat promotions both target customers who make less money and force their employees to work for less money. It’s a delicious double-edged sword.
Large Parties Leave Terrible Tips (Which Get Taxed)
When you go to a restaurant with a large party (whenever you’re able to wrangle more than half a dozen of your friends to be at the same place at the same time, so either you’re going to the prom, a wedding, or a funeral), there’s often an “automatic tip” added on of 15, 18, or even 20 percent. The reason for this is that, despite it being a lot of extra effort keeping track of ten people ordering completely different entrees — some with tomatoes and some with don’t you dare put any tomatoes anywhere near this fucking thing — something called the magnitude effect kicks in, which basically means that people tend to tip less percentage-wise the larger a bill becomes.
The auto-tip was supposed to combat the magnitude effect, and for a while, it more or less did its job. Then in 2014, servers got slapped with an IRS law which says that any automatically added gratuity is now considered earned wages instead of tips, and that’s a huge difference. We apologize in advance for the upcoming math.
Say a party of ten puts together a bill of $200 and there’s a 20 percent auto-gratuity of $40. That $40 is already used to tip the busboy, cook, and the guy whose job appears to be chain-smoking and occasionally wiping off some menus. That means that, for handling a large party over the span of probably an hour or more, the server made maybe $10. According to the IRS, that $10 tip isn’t a tip at all, but “non-tip wages,” which are subject to Social Security tax, Medicare tax, and, of course, income tax. Not only does that dent their income, but the server also probably didn’t get a chance to work many other tables, because large parties require a lot of attention and tend to stay for well over an hour, meaning that they couldn’t earn any non-automatic tips from other tables with smaller parties. The government is apparently so hard up for cash that it needs to nickel-and-dime people who are already making less money than the “street artist” standing outside the restaurant.
Not that servers have to worry too much about figuring out the taxes of their auto-gratuities, because you can’t tax zero dollars. One of the major effects of the IRS law is that, rather than having to report extra income from auto-gratuities to the IRS, chains like Outback Steakhouse and TGI Friday’s have eliminated the auto-tip altogether. Which means the magnitude effect is creeping back in, with many servers seeing their biweekly pay drop from about $1,000 to $600-$800. But maybe there’s a silver lining here. Maybe IRS employees like having spit in all of their food.
Working A Drive-Thru Is Ridiculously Dangerous
Ask any server, and they’ll tell you the most stressful part of their job is the customers (and their hair perpetually smelling like old bread caught in a grease trap). Drive-thrus seem like an obvious solution — you have minimal interaction with the customer, they order quickly, pay for their food, and leave immediately. It’s ideal for customers too, because honestly, most times you go to a drive-thru, you’re in no mood / condition / level of sobriety to really deal with or be seen by other people. However, while it’s true that you might have less interaction with difficult customers while handing food out of a window, a lot more of them are actively trying to kill you.
This resembles the opening of a horror movie for a reason.
People commit armed robbery at drive-thrus all of the time. A drive-thru coffee shop in Kentucky was robbed four times in the span of a couple months. A McDonald’s in Florida was robbed twice in two weeks, which honestly seems downright restrained for Florida. There are lots of reasons for these sprees. Drive-thrus tend to be open earlier and later, some even 24 hours — you’ll note that robbers aren’t huge fans of broad daylight. Also, unlike gas stations, which mostly get paid with debit or credit cards nowadays, people still largely buy their nuggets and fries with cash, and the cash drawer is usually right there at the window. Finally, most fast food joints are located right near major intersections or highway exits, making drive-thru robbery really convenient in terms of getaways. Drive-thrus are essentially magic windows full of money and delightful food — a combination robbers find irresistible.
But even when they’re not going for the register, there’s something about being behind the wheel of a car that makes people angry — especially if they’re only going 5 mph and waiting for a stack of burgers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that workers in restaurants that had a drive-thru are twice as likely to be assaulted as workers at sit-down restaurants like Olive Garden or Red Lobster. The fact that a Red Lobster is a better work environment than anything with a drive-thru means having to be anywhere near a serving window is a violation of your human rights.
And if the risk of getting shot isn’t enough for you to consider, then there are the endless streams of dipshit YouTube pranksters trying to spook you to consider. Drive-thru workers should start robbing the customers.
McDonald’s All-Day Breakfast Doubles Their Workload (So They Serve You Old Food)
There’s nothing we want more than what we can’t have, even if that something is a lukewarm Egg McMuffin at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. One of the greatest moments in customer peer pressure history occurred when McDonald’s decided to start offering its customers a limited all-day breakfast menu. McDonald’s saw sales spiking, and the resulting publicity was better than anything it could’ve hoped for from that Michael Keaton movie. And it’s great! Who among us can say they’ve never tasted the bitter defeat of arriving at McDonald’s to order a bag of breakfast burritos, only to discover that breakfast stopped being served minutes ago?
However, while customers might love it, the employees hate it. McDonald’s employees are the target of a lot of public ridicule (there’s an entire political party and accompanying news network that revolves around thinking up reasons to deny burger-flippers minimum wage), but that doesn’t stop the job from being thankless and hard. That has only gotten worse with the all-day breakfast, which requires employees to run the same extensive breakfast-to-lunch cleanup of their stations every time a stoner wants a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel at noon. At $7.25 an hour, how much could you be bothered to give a shit about re-cleaning your station every time someone orders an egg, cross-contamination be damned?
McDonald’s employees have, however, found a loophole — which is not a word you ever want to hear concerning the people who feed you. Many will cook up a bunch of eggs at the beginning of the day and stock them in food warmers for afternoon use. Hashbrowns are a quick and easy thing to throw in the fryer alongside the french fries, but pancakes don’t make it to the griddle next to the hamburgers; they’re just microwaved. So know that the second after 10:30 a.m., ordering breakfast means you’re eating reheated leftover McDonald’s. Nobody deserves that.
Children Ruin Dining For Everyone
Kids are like ironic mustaches that you can’t shave off — you think it’s delightful, but you’re really just annoying the shit out of people everywhere you bring it. One of the most unnatural habitats for children has to be the restaurant, which to them looks like a playground with glass and knives. And who has to deal with these infant tornadoes when dining out? Their parents? Ha ha, no. It’s the servers who have to become de facto babysitters..
Small children make dining experiences categorically worse. They deface the aesthetic of the restaurant by drawing on the walls or even scratching them with coins. They bother diners by blasting their iPads (meant to pacify them) at full volume. Parents will bring tiny snacks (such as Goldfish crackers or Cheerios) to distract the kids until the food comes, only to have them thrown everywhere and ground into the floor. Aisles are blocked with high chairs and strollers, making spills inevitable. All this mess makes it harder to clean up, which raises wait times for tables, meaning servers are getting fewer customers and those customers are getting more irate. That’s actually the most important point: Kids tend to make the dining experience less enjoyable for every customer, which can impact their generosity when it’s time to calculate the tip.
Some diners may recognize how much their server is struggling with a particular table and its particular high-chaired bastard king and be sympathetic. However, the party that brought the child almost never is. According to a survey of servers at Cornell, families with children are notorious for tipping below average, meaning kids probably possess the most disparate effort-to-reward ratio of all diners.
Understandably, restaurants dislike allowing small children, but this has become a contentious debate. They can receive horrible backlash for even thinking about banning children, and there are no shortage of mommy blogs that will happily point the blame for their disruptive children straight at the servers, offering helpful “suggestions” for dealing with their darling children, including “Come back to the table often so the child doesn’t get restless” and “Don’t allow us to order a dessert and then discover that it’s sold out” — the latter of which you may recognize as something that is literally impossible to avoid. That link also includes a helpful letter full of instructions you can print out and hand to your server, as if you two are trying to coordinate a flawless meal for a foreign head of state instead of a group of children who are too young to be expected to sit still in a public setting for longer than five minutes. The general retort from both restaurants and servers is that Applebee’s is not a daycare, and waitstaff already have their hands full dealing with adults who behave like children, which is frustrating for parents who expect you to feed and entertain their children for $2.19 plus a shitty tip.
Unfortunately for servers, the messy ethics of banning children means they will have to deal with these little poop tornadoes until the end of days. Sure, fine dining might get away with restricting children, but it’s not like Outback Steakhouse can pretend it’s too good for screaming toddlers. People show up there in sweatpants to eat fried onions.
Isaac actually kind of enjoyed working at Chipotle while he was in college, and still has the guacamole recipe memorized. Follow him on Twitter.
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