From the restaurant staff’s perspective, service during the holidays increases the stress level
So now that it’s over I can talk about it. First Thanksgiving, then Christmas, and finally New Year’s. Pardon the cliché, but the whole thing is stressful. This six weeks breeds expectations whether reasonable or not (depending on whom you ask), and the awareness of these expectations breeds a self-centeredness. In other words, I love my family and friends and trying to make them happy. I spend more money than I should and worry about whether or not they are going to be happy. Also I am aware that buying stuff has little to do with love, and I know that many people don’t have the option of feeling conflicted about consumption. Still, I do it.
So what does this have to do with food? Only, that customers are ruder during the holidays. There is a noticeable change days before Thanksgiving, but it doesn’t reach fever pitch until that Thursday. The first week of December is slow but then it’s hectic for the next month or so. As you get closer to the twenty-fifth of December it gets more and more frantic. Customers go from saying “Hello, I would like” to saying “I need this, now” all in the span of a few weeks.
It’s not so much that people are evil bastards, they just get lost in their world of plans and presents, dinner parties, and Christmas bonuses. This, apparently and sadly renders all service staff an inconvenient waste of time. Of course there are exceptions, just as there are some sincerely mean people. During the holidays people forget about being polite. It’s amazing how important the words “please” and “thank you” are. It’s the difference between human interaction and being treated like a machine (and, I feel it needs to be said, no one wants to be treated as a machine).
I currently work in an establishment that lets me interact with the public. This is a bit of change for me, as I have always worked in closed kitchens. I do all right, I get a lot of recipes and meet other cooks (who tend to sit near the kitchen if given the chance) both amateur and professional. During the holidays I tend to hear a lot about others’ plans, or how great their time off is going to be.
At first I thought it was just me. Maybe I have an entire sack full of complexes that I am not conscious of, or I’m just really paranoid, but after having discussions with a random cross section of others in the industry I can confidently say that it’s not just me. In fact, in one of the more memorable rants, a friend described, the week before Christmas, he felt like he was “being mobbed” at work. This person is a butcher and I can just imagine shoppers pushing and jostling like a mob of rioters (or, more appropriately, pigs fight for space at the trough).
There is this sense of mob mentality around Christmas. Everyone is working toward a common goal, but there’s a difference between the holidays and a riot. Frantic people with one thing on their minds make difficult friends also.
Before anyone says it; no, I don’t hate Christmas. I love the idea; it’s all about compassion and family (and a virgin giving birth to the son of God, if that’s your thing). The problem is that people get so wrapped up in themselves that they don’t notice the people who make the things run. I like what I do. I have had some great conversations with people about food (as well as, music, politics, culture…) and I even consider some regulars friends in an odd way. I also like these people’s money which allows me to keep doing what I like. Both my boss and I thank you.
When you get to the bottom of it, everybody wins. We get to keep making food (or at least pay rent) and everyone else gets to eat well even if they can’t cook. I am not going to tell you to be nice to people, as you should already know that, but I will ask you to be aware. And to the “machines” that had to cope with the unrealistic expectations of holiday shoppers, I say “Thanks for keeping it together”.