A little Independence Day appreciation for my friends in food service

WARNING: Salty language ahead.

Today, on America’s birthday, I want to thank the servers, bartenders, caterers and everyone else in the food and beverage industry as they do so much to contribute to the greatness of this nation and their efforts go relatively unsung. But what about the _______, you ask. Why not celebrate the _______? The _______ are great, indeed, but I guarantee they are earning attention elsewhere on the Internets today, and so on this independence day, I sing to the unsung.

These are my people, my brothers and sisters, and they have been contributing to the aforementioned greatness from the start. It is now well known that the philosophies of our formation, and the movement to revolt and make for ourselves a new nation, were born in part in pre-American pubs and cafes. Our forefathers would come together, lubricate, and discuss the possibilities of starting something fresh, and when we discuss the outcome, we often forget the folks who put those pre-American ales into those pre-American hands, so thanks for that, my friends.

I have worked with the best and worst of them. I have folded linens with the upscale, and I have been up until dawn with the low and everyone in between. I have worked alongside parents, children, people studying medicine, convicts, daytime professionals. I have seen every stripe represented in this work, and it is my work in this arena that has put me deepest into the supposed melting pot that this country is. I have had champagne with the best in the industry, and partied for weeks at a time with some of the biggest-hearted, hardest working people I know.

These are, of course, our day-to-day heroes. When we think of heroism, we typically consider it in the abstract. Heroes are the people who, often far from our view, deter disasters before they start, or minimize their impact when they happen, but they often exist outside of our daily lives. However, when we want to elevate our days, to celebrate a feat, or to dull some pain, what do we go after more often than not? Like you, I look for a cold beer. Like you, I look for a well-cooked meal. I look for a place to get these things that has a decent atmosphere and offers competent folks to make these things and friendly folks to bring them to me. These are our everyday heroes and for many, our extended families, sets of friends, collaborators, artists, musicians, co-conspirators.

I am not suggesting that one’s position in this industry makes them immune from being an asshole, or troubled, or flawed. It doesn’t, I know, as I know plenty of folks in the industry who are, at the end of the day, flawed. This said, when I find folks who have worked in food service on either side of the house, they are more often than not tremendous, strong, self-aware people. They are likely driven, resilient, smart, and beautifully souled, and they got to be this way in part because working in these environments and going largely unappreciated for serving large swaths of the population can be hard and tremendously unforgiving. But at the end of the day, as a community we have each other, and we love each other. We appreciate each other. There is community, and fun, and love in this hardship, and out of it are forged some of the very best people I know. These are the people I would take with me on a desert island. These are the people I would want by my side in the zombie apocalypse.

Just last week I met this young woman who was smart as all get out. She works for an exciting and prestigious young company, and before she got that job, she was working for a prestigious young human rights campaigner. She and I chatted over the course of an event and while our professions are wholly different, I felt that she and I shared something in common. There was a familiarity to her that I liked, that I trusted. We finally realized that it is restaurant work that we shared in common, each of us having a decade in the industry under our belts. “You know what I think,” she asked, and I knew` exactly what she thought before she told me. This is the same un-American, anti-liberty tenant on which the platform of my imaginary benevolent dictatorship is based, after all. It was exactly what people who were once in the industry and are now working some other job tell each other when they remember their days in kitchens or the front of the house. “I think everyone should be required to work a year in the food service industry just to get a sense of what it’s like,” she said.

Absolutely, I agreed, remembering all of the character-building shit I learned in both the front and back of the house. Absolutely.

I used to know this bright young woman who had a job in HR hiring folks for a well-known foundation. When two candidates were neck-and-neck for a job and they were both equally as qualified, my friend would check to see if they had restaurant industry experience as a means of tipping the balance. Why? That person with industry experience had to hear some snotty asshole who has never had to deliver or prepare a plate complain that this medium rare is actually too rare, and that the replacement is actually too medium. They have forged bonds with people they have come to love, but don’t necessarily like all of the time. They have experience working long, tedious nights and then coming in early and bright-faced the next day. They have had to apply everything they know, every honed instinct, every muscle, actual and figurative, to surviving this real-world gauntlet. They thrived, made it through to the other end, and are here applying for this job. In other words, this is a person who gets shit done.

Indeed they do. So happy birthday, America, and many thanks to all of you who bring the aforementioned greatness to us day after day. We don’t say it enough, but we on the receiving end appreciate it.

(And everyone who doesn’t, after all, should be deported.)

Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.