I’ve written extensively describing how difficult the restaurant business is. The hours, the unpredictable schedule, the difficult customers, heat in the kitchen, the pace, and the constant urgency are things that make it one of the more demanding industries a person can choose or be chosen by.
One of the things that makes it tolerable for a lot of restaurant folks is the friendships developed among the eclectic mix of individuals that come together to make up a restaurant staff. Or, perhaps just the appearance of friendships. Working together under such pressure makes many people grow closer and gravitate inward. The crew in any restaurant often becomes your group of friends out of convenience and necessity since they’re the people to spend the bulk of your time with. Also, these are the same people working the same hours. Nine-to-fivers are usually in bed on a Wednesday night when restaurant workers are just starting their social time. Unfortunately, there’s not much to do at that hour except for taking up space at a bar and consuming their liquor in exchange for the night’s cash tips or what’s left of a cook’s wages from the previous night’s adventures.
It has been my long-standing policy not to make co-workers my group of friends, and as a rule not to socialize with co-workers more than an occasional shift drink after service. It’s not that as the chef that I feel it’s below my social status, or even that I don’t enjoy the company of the people I work with. I have worked with a varied cross-section of the population and find most people fascinating. There have been many folks that I’d have enjoyed friendships and social time with.
The truth is, I have friends that I socialize with, long-term friends that are not part of the restaurant business and are my friends out of choice, not out of necessity.
My rule has also extended to Facebook in the past. I learned when I was in retail working under a great manager at Dick’s in Syracuse that there should be a barrier between management and staff. It’s a typically soft barrier, and on occasion slightly porous, but still a barrier nonetheless.
My first trip through The Wine Bar held fast to these standards, but I was too often the type of person that created not only a friendless environment, but an unfriendly environment. This time around I saw fit to change my policy to be closer to the people I work with and to get along better than I had in the past. I’m Facebook friends with most of the people I work with, I share stories, and am often engaged in conversations about personal situations in our lives. I truly try to make our workplace a palatable situation in the face of the challenges we face in this business.
One of the things I hope has helped is preparing a staff meal every Saturday night. Out of my valuable time, and at my own expense I have treated my fellow food jockeys to what I hope has been appreciated and enjoyed. The mac and cheese, the baked ziti, the burgers, and the fried chicken were all done to best create a feeling of family in the work environment.
Although I am firm on my edict of strictly limiting friendships outside of the workplace, I see no reason why on-the-job relationships cannot be fostered and enjoyed and extended to social media.
Like any family, there are always problems, arguments, and issues that cause unhappiness. Like being a member of any family you’re not always in control of who else is a member of the group, and not all members are good for the family. I’ve been that individual, and as a recovering bad co-worker I can recognize a bad apple in the bushel and spreading rot.
As in real life, the tiny slice of real society we call the restaurant staff, we need to pick and choose who are friends are going to be within the world. We can do that and still be a good member within the group where we spend a great deal of our time. Not everyone will be your friend, nor will you associate with every person on a friend-like level. That’s ok, not everyone is your friend just like in the real world.
The difference between me when I was not always a good co-worker and now is that while still I recognize that while not all people are positive members of the group, I am learning that I can still carry on as a professional without extending any social niceties, or even extending unnecessary barbs and unsavory replies to work-related questions.
I see you on Facebook, but don’t look for me downtown.