For most hardened, service industry lifers, the the grind eventually devolves in to it’s insidious yet beloved state, where your twenties seemingly overnight give birth to your thirties, and – gulp – beyond. That grind is: a chronic routine of pre-shift (followed by post-shift) debauchery, “progressing” to a prone state, naked and unconscious state, wallowing away the daylight hours, nursing a seemingly more and more tolerant, mild hangover. Resistance is building. Wake up at sunset, pop a few Ibuprofen, maybe drop off a load of laundry, grab two slices of pizza, Hair-of-the-dog to polish of that headache, and it’s back to work having accomplished nearly nothing during the day.
It’s that fairy-tale, charmed life we all dream of, don’t we? It’s also a well oiled machine – a massive fucking fraternity. In New York City, the service industry – though employing tens of thousands – is extremely incestuous. Many lifers have worked for, under, besides and behind many other well-known establishments and management companies. Many of us in The Biz know many others in this city personally and often intimately. It’s not unlike the organized crime life that’s portrayed in mass media (obviously to a much less violent and less wealthy degree). But the relationships and politics have striking similarities.
One of the worst aspects of the game for the select few (like myself) who are attempting to (a) survive/thrive in the business and/or (b) extricate themselves from “the life” while doing so, is that you will suffer and suffer badly. You’re on outsider – the weirdo.
I started working in the service industry at a regional chain restaurant back in 1987. I was in High School. Aside from my boyhood paper route delivering The Daily News, and a short stint as an illegal 12 year-old, deli boy stock clerk for $2.50/hr, dishwashing at Ye Olde Sizzler Steakhouse was my first on-the-books job. Back then, I was earning minimum wage – $3.35/hr – and was pretty damned happy about it. I didn’t wash dishes for more than a few months before my work ethic, promptness, and friendliness landed me promotions to more prestigious (for a kitchen) positions. My upward professional trajectory coincided with my – umm – personal trajectory in terms of relationships with several of my fine-feathered co-workers… those ever-so-lovely F.O.H. waitresses and cashiers. Let’s just say high-school and college were very entertaining.
Fast-forward about 30 years to my present station in life. Yes, I’m still working in the service industry full-time. I’ve never not worked in the biz even during the decades I spent as a corporate American Information Technology desk jockey. I finally quit about a year ago and went back to bartending full-time.
In my twenties, my lifestyle was not unlike what I describe in the beginning of this article: party all night, sleep all day, go back to work in the evening. Folks, that gets old very quickly. You get old very quickly. I know and work with many 40 and 50 year olds who are still living that life. Their days off are little different in that they do little but get wasted and attempt to bed 22 year olds nightly (with less and less success as the years tick by). Unlike many of my colleagues, I managed to (not necessarily in order) pop out a couple of offspring, maintain a steady relationship, buy and keep a house, as well as work on other business endeavors. Some of those endeavors had limited success while some were downright failures. Regardless, I’ve had and continue to have visions and legitimate attempts and turning those visions into reality. Some folks are content living the “hospitality dream” I guess. I’m not criticizing them for their choices. I’m all about Liberty – live and let live… MYOB. I am pointing out my own experiences and sharing however.
Through the thick and thin of Hospitality over the decades, there has been one dominant and unavoidable factor playing the lead role in my successes and failures – mostly behind the bar; the big-ass elephant in the room. It will likely dictate your success (or lack thereof) also, more than any other factor including skill, experience, familial/political ties, looks, etc. That factor is: how often and how well you party like a rockstar. Yep. More specifically, if you want to succeed and prosper in this business, you must (a) embody a Type A personality (b) drink and smoke and snort routinely and excessively and (c) sleep with your co-workers and bosses. In other words, you must “live the hospitality life.”
If you’re not drinking, snorting, popping, and toking a little something with the best of them; if you’re not licking, sucking, and fucking your colleagues, Floor Managers, GMs, and Regional Managers, there is a high probability you will be viewed as a very, very strange and suspicious type. That view will manifest itself primarily schedule-wise. You will suffer. Being an outsider can even get you shit-canned eventually, depending on where and to whom you pledge your allegiance.
You’ve been warned.