Let’s get the ugly bits out of the way.
My first job-related breakdown (no promises it’ll be my last) happened sometime in early January, over 3 months in. The novelty had worn off. The “I quit my job to chase my dream!” glitz was long gone. This shit was hard. And it was real life. And it was my life. It was a Friday night, and because it was foreseen to be a particularly brutally busy night, which would be close to 200 covers for us, I was scheduled to work dish along with another dishwasher.
I’m not sure why this continues to surprise me still even today, but dishwashers are not historically known for their reliability. Perhaps something my sous chef Jess, who handles HR matters for Legume, said yesterday to me frames it best. Regarding the process for advertising for and hiring a new dishwasher, she said, “This is how it’s going to go. I’ll put an ad up, and I’ll receive something like 600 responses. Out of those, maybe we’ll bring in 6 for an interview. Out of those 6, maybe one will show up for a shift.”
This particularly busy Friday night, my co-dishslinger decided not to show up. This is not atypical for her. As an individual with four children and no car, there was a lot that could spring up to prevent her from arriving at her shift. Halfway into my shift, close to restaurant close and the line cooks’ breakdown routine, with the stacks of dirty plates and plans mounded up tall on a dish station I could no longer discern the stainless steel surface of, I began to feel hopelessly overwhelmed. This was the first, and hopefully last, time I showed my distinct displeasure for the situation. I banged down the clean plates that came out of the sterilizer. I threw dirty silverware into my hotel pan with a vengeance. I raced around the corners of the kitchen with no regard for whomever was coming the other way, neglecting the proper kitchen etiquette words of “behind you!” and “corner!” It doesn’t sound like much typed out now, but my displeasure at the time was real, and you could see it on my face.
So much so that when breakdown actually arrived, Jess herself came over to relieve me. “Why don’t you take a five, ten minute break,” she suggested. She wrangled in the nearest unlucky line cook to help her catch the clean dishes, and I walked off to the family-style bathroom for a quiet moment to catch my breath.
Honestly, that was the break I needed to get through the night, and I came back ready to finish my shift with my usual gusto. That night, I came home and bawled my eyes out in the shower. My concerned fiancee was at a loss as to what he how he should help, but I told him, “Let me just cry it out.”
I realized that night that the worst part of this job, the part that really gets to you on busy nights when the servers are in a rush, the cooks slammed, and everyone is at their worst, is the general lack of respect. I had never had a job before where my contributions and my general person were not treated with the upmost respect, even as a lowly analyst on the bottom rung. Here, though, I was at the bottom of the totem pole, and I felt it. I felt it every time a server threw silver into my tray of dirties hard enough to splash me two feet away. I felt it when turned over glass racks dribbled on my head. And I felt it when cooks sent me dirty piles that would include paper liners, used rags, labeling tape, and a whole host of other items they ought to have taken care of or discarded before throwing their used dishes my way.
As a dishwasher, you work in the kitchen, but you’re not really part of the cooks’ club, and you are definitely in the FOH club. You are by yourself, at the bottom. This is the ugliest aspect of my job.