My Life In Food Service

Most of this blog has been about how to manage the money you already have, with the occasional detour into some ways to make more money, and general thoughts on “work” as it exists in our lives.

And lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how work exists in my life.

My Food Service “Career”

I graduated college in 2010, a few months before the Great Recession “officially” ended.  Things didn’t just go back to normal though.  Unemployment was still high (nearly 10%.  In late 2017 it’s 4.3%).  Underemployment was even worse.

That summer, armed with a newly acquired B.F.A., I moved back home and made plans to work for a year while making art and applying to graduate programs.  I wasn’t all that diligent about looking for work and had little interest in starting a “career” – I’d be gone after a year anyways.

So I ended up with a job as an associate at a fast-casual restaurant.  I started at $7.25 an hour, 35-40 hours a week.  I could start paying on my student loans (probably around $65,000 when I graduated) and save some money, and the job wasn’t too demanding so I had time and energy to make work on the side.

Fast forward a year.  I’ve applied to a couple of graduate programs, and saved a little bit of money and started paying down my loans.  I don’t know exactly what happened – probably a combination of things.  A shift lead position opened up, with an increase to $10.25 an hour, and I had come to the realization that the main reason I had considered graduate school was that for arts graduates, teaching is probably the most stable way to support yourself.

It would have cost another $30-40k that I didn’t have, and I didn’t really like the idea of teaching.  I’d made a ton of work on my own, and figured I’d be happier having a day job and making work in my free time.  It was great motivation – I’d leave work knowing that I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life – that I wanted to do, and leave, something more.

So I took the shift lead job and entered the world of restaurant management.

A year later, I became an Assistant Manager, and things changed.  I made a lot more money, but I was on salary so I worked a lot more hours – easily 50-60 a week, and plenty of times 70.  My side projects faded and my finances got slightly better – I paid off my federal student loans and was down to the privates (hehe).  I bought a new to me car and took on more debt but had a plan to pay it off early.  I was contributing to a 401k and was saving money by still living at home.  I’d met someone and was planning to move somewhere new – a fresh start….

That fresh start was life changing.  I’ve written about it before(link), and retelling it here would be too long of a detour.  So in short, I ended up back with the same company for more money.  I also discovered Financial Independence, which completely changed how I viewed my job.

It’s given me options.  When I was younger, I think I pursued my interests pretty freely.  As freely as I could with that much debt.  I didn’t picture myself working as a restaurant manager when I graduated college.  3 years ago I thought I’d get out for good – find an office job somewhere, maybe for the state government with nice hours and little stress.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel defeated when I came back to food service after my savings ran out.  It felt like the easy way out.  It felt like I was settling, like I didn’t take enough risks or try hard enough.  Maybe that’s still a little true now.

But I don’t look at my job the same way.  The more I save, the more temporary it feels.  God help me if I had to do this until I’m 65.  But it’s fine when I’m 28.  I like where I work.  It’s comfortable, even though a lot of days are still challenging.  It’s familiar.  In the last couple of years I’ve been able to compartmentalize it – to leave work at work, and get a lot more out of my free time than 4 years ago, even though I work similar hours.  I’m sure that comes with any job.  When you’re in it long enough that you don’t have to think about it too much, that you’ve seen pretty much everything, and you know it like the back of your hand.

Oh yeah, and I’m still an AM.  No desire to be a store manager, or anything more than that.  I know the money’s better, but the work/life balance is way worse.  I’ve thought about it, and even done a few months of it.  Not for me.  I know what “enough” is for me.  Enough money, enough stress, enough material possessions and time and energy.

I’ve said it before:  I don’t have an end date in mind.  No magic number I’m saving towards.  Just more freedom, acquired slowly, both today and years from now.

Food service isn’t the career I thought I’d have.  And it’s not the career I picture myself having in the future.

Right now it’s just work.  And it works.


5 thoughts on “My Life In Food Service

  1. Hey, whatever works, right? I never worked in food service, but Mr. Picky Pincher was a shift manager at Papa John’s for many years. He actually misses it compared to his white collar job, funny enough.

    1. For sure! And it’s weird, I totally understand Mr. Picky Pincher missing it – it’s a very different beast. I’ve never worked at a pizza place but I hear they’re pretty fun as far as restaurants go!

  2. I worked in food service before, hated it. But the biggest difference was how much I hated my manager and my coworkers. If I fitted better I would have liked it a lot more. I think the biggest thing with jobs is good pay and a ground base of co-workers/friends which my job lacked. If it works, it works!

    1. I agree, I guess it’s the same with any job where managers and co-workers are probably the biggest influence on your overall job satisfaction. I’ve been fortunate to have a string of really good store managers above me and my fair share of great associates. They definitely make all the worst parts about a job a little less stressful.

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