The Life Sentence of the Service Industry: Brunch


*Clap* *clap* *clap* my eyes open and fix themselves on the bustling blinds next to my bed. My window is slightly open and the October breeze is licking my face and biting my ears, begging me to get up. It’s not early for most, but my usual wake up time of 11:24 has made it difficult to adhere to an alarm set for 8:30 a.m. This is every Saturday.

I began waiting tables when I was eighteen-years-old, a decade ago. I was in a conservatory, gaining (I would say earning, but it doesn’t seem to fit the memory) a sheet of paper that states my ability to sing, dance and act. I needed work that would pay me in half time as much as I would be paid for full. My brother pointed out a sign in the window of Phebe’s on East 4th and Bowery, asking for help. Having zero experience in New York perpetuates itself. No one wants to hire a person with no experience, so I did what came most natural to me. I walked in three days after my interview and met with a different manager. I told him that I was hired three days ago, but wasn’t given a starting date. With great skepticism he told me to come in to train on Friday. Thus began my life in the service industry, like most, with a lot of crying in the bathroom and panic attacks in the kitchen.

As the years passed I worked as everything from a hostess to a manager in numerous bars and restaurants in the city. With every move forward there was always one thing I had tried to avoid: brunch. Also known as the punishment shift as it is early, grueling and teeming with demanding, hungover and impatient guests. My first experience working brunch was at a “casual fine dining” establishment located in TriBeCa. There was nothing that could prepare me for the experience. By noon there was a line out the door, a waiting list more than an hour long, baby strollers blocking the way of the servers and runners, trays of food over the heads of rampant toddlers. I would look up only to see hands in the air gesturing for another drink, more coffee, “I asked for these eggs to be scrambled soft!”, “Miss! Miss! I changed my mind!”, “Excuse me, ma’am!? Where’s the toast I was promised?!?”

Brunch, I feel, is society’s way of telling us service folk how they really feel. “Oh, you want to work 3-4 days a week, make great pay and not wake up until noon every day? Well, fuck you, we want breakfast. Now. And so do my children and if I see my coffee cup empty, I will kill you.”

I quit the job in TriBeCa and began working at a quaint wine bar in Brooklyn. There was no kitchen, no brunch, and no table service. A well deserved treat to myself, I thought. The calm could only last so long, though. I was soon approached, by a regular of mine, with a job proposition. He wanted to me to come manage his restaurant in the West Village. When I asked for details, he stated proudly, “We are primarily a tea and brunch spot!” It was then I accepted that life in the service industry cannot come without the weekend ritual of Eggs Benedict and Bloodies.

I throw the covers off of me and prepare myself for the shift, hearing my own words in my head that I had exclaimed over and over when I left the TriBeCa restaurant to bartend in Brooklyn. “No more brunches! No more waiting tables!” I laugh to myself as I prepare for the shift at my new place of work-a farm to table restaurant in Chelsea. I bend over and stretch out my lower back, which is aching from the shift the night before, quickly brush my teeth, throw some clothes on and leave the house.

There is a calm hovering over the empty restaurant. At 10:30 all of these seats will be full. We will run out of coffee mugs, we will then run out of coffee, we will enter thirty two orders each, we will be met with ridiculous requests, we will have to recite which menu items are gluten-free, dairy-free, low in fat, low in calories and then we will look at the clock and it will only read 11:15. I try to ward off the negative anticipation and enjoy family meal with my equally surly and sleepy coworkers. 3 p.m. will be here soon.

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