Why I’m Breaking Up With Restaurants: A Love Letter and a Goodbye
I love working in restaurants. I don’t think there is anything more exhilarating than when your restaurant is slammed, you’re deep in the weeds, and you’re still making everyone happy. I go through a mental checklist of everything that I need to do “menus to 41 and get their water order, 50’s drinks should be up now, drop steak knives on 40 “ etc, etc; This is easy for me now.
When I was 16 my first job was at a homemade ice cream parlor in Queens. I worked there from 2008 to 2010. During that time I saw The Great Recession and how all these recent college grads were just waiting tables because it was the only work they could get. I also realized how many jobs were being outsourced to other countries. I knew I liked working with food and with people so it made sense to me to go get a degree in Hospitality Management.
When I was finishing up school and getting ready to move back to Queens I hadn’t landed my internship yet but I had set a major goal. “Make Sure People Know Who You Are.” I knew I wasn’t going to move back and become this world-famous restauranteur, but I wanted the world-famous restauranteurs to know me. By the time I was 25 I had interned for Master Sommelier Laura Maniec-Fiorvanti, managed Becco for Joe Bastianich, and opened up Sen Sakana as the Assistant General Manager for Alan Wartski and Chef Mina Newman. At 27 I helped open up Feroce a collaboration of Tao Group and Francesco Panella. Tao Partners like Noah Tepperberg and Jonathon Schwartz shake my hand and ask me how I’m doing. I accomplished my goal.
It wasn’t always easy, I used to be overwhelmed and make mistakes all the time but as with anything else you get better with practice. It takes 10,000 hours to master something, and there aren’t many industries that you can rack that time up quicker than in Hospitality. As a server now I choose to work 30ish but as a manager, I worked 50+a week. I missed out on birthdays, engagement parties, and just regular get-togethers for years. I also somehow had to turn down two free trips to Greece in the same summer. If there was a major event that I couldn’t miss, I either lose money by not working or had to work crazy hours before and after the event to make getting that extra day off work for the rest of my coworkers. That kind of existence is exhausting and makes it hard to build meaningful relationships with people outside of the industry.
As I get older so do my loved ones. In my mid-20’s I lost my grandmother and two of my uncles. I see how important time is, and how time as a concept is infinite but our time on earth most definitely isn’t. I don’t have an issue working weekends but I know that is the only time I will be able to see my family. I also would like to eventually start a family and be there for them.
This job isn’t as easy for me to do as it was a few years ago. I feel beat up more nights than not, doubles never feel like they’re worth the money. I barely have any savings, I’ve never had a boss offer me a 401k match. Instead of attending a company happy hour, I am working them. I will never have the ability to work from home. I see what my friends are doing and they all seem happy with their jobs that give them great benefits and I feel envious. I know that staying in this industry long term is not good for me and that I have to either leave it or open a restaurant myself.
I do love what I do. I love the freedom that being a server allows me. If I don’t work until 5:30 I have an entire day to run errands, cook meals or meet friends for lunch, go to the gym, all while most people are at work so lines are shorter(I never have to wait to get on the elliptical.) I love meeting new people from all over the world and getting to be a part of their life for this moment and help them forget about whatever is troubling them for the 90 minutes they are dining with me. I also really like the attention, I’m on record saying that my dream job is someone paying me to speak to them. I have made some incredible friends from this industry, co-workers and guests alike. My girlfriend was a guest who made the questionable decision of giving me her phone number.
Out of all the things that I love about restaurants and hospitality, the thing that I love the most is food. Growing up Italian, everything revolves around food. One of my earliest memories is making meatballs with my father. I love food so much that 2 years ago I began a food culture podcast (The NotAFoodie Show) which has become mildly successful. I met my Co-Host when he and his wife sat at a table in my section. We spoke about restaurants all over the city, different cuisines, and mutual friends that we had from frequenting the same places. My passion for food isn’t new, it’s been around my entire life.
Whenever I consider opening my own restaurant, I fantasize of this 2000 square-foot blank canvas. How my wine list would focus on affordable esoteric wine from countries like Greece and Portugal and less popular regions like Basilicata and Savennières. How it would be a neighborhood place where you can get fresh pasta made with local ingredients and when you see the bill, you pay it with a smile on your face. Then I remember that this is all just a fantasy, and when you open a restaurant not only you are married to it. Your wife is married to it, your child is married to it, the only times your friends and family will see you is when they dine at it. And that’s if it is doing well; you have no idea how many things can go wrong in a restaurant until you are running one. With razor-thin margins, increasing rent, and the city giving you no breaks, it truly feels like you already need to be a millionaire before you open a restaurant, and coincidentally every boss that I have ever had is either a millionaire or funded by one.
So to all the pre-shift meetings where we spoke about our game plan for that night’s service, to all the wine we drank when our guests didn’t take home their bottles, to all the laughter and all the tears. This is a goodbye to the restaurant industry. You’ll always be my first love but I have to move on and do what is best for me