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by SixFigureStart | July 02, 2009


In times like these, when jobs are scarce, one area people commonly turn to is the restaurant business. I have pulled this move before myself, and while the obvious benefits prevailed - flexible hours and cash money in my pocket - I learned a thing or two about attempting to jump into the hustle-bustle "glamour" so often attributed to restaurant industry jobs. The simple fact of the matter is this: Free food and getting paid in cash are great, but real life in the kitchen is nothing like going supreme with Paula Deen, which is just stinkin' wonderful.

My unemployment food service stopgap of choice was a position called "food runner," a role I had previously never heard of and never even stopped to consider. I figured it's a restaurant job - I'll take the cash and run, and not think twice about it because, hell, it's only a temporary stopgap anyway. For anyone out there right now considering a similar move, allow me to demistify the coveted role of restaurant food runner. The food runner is the guy who isn't the busboy and isn't the waiter, but nonetheless delivers your food from the kitchen to your table, then cleans and boxes up the leftovers after you've finished. He may even bring you the odd napkin or salt shaker. Sounds like a waiter, you say? Well it ain't. Know how I know there's a difference? Because I was a food runner, and I didn't get tipped jack diddley, which is ridiculous, when you consider that the food runner's job entails all the actual work. So the waiter schmoozes you for a minute, maybe suckers you into that bottle of the house red or the cheese plate appetizer, then disappears until it's time to come out and ask, "So how is everything?" Big deal. The food runner is the guy hustling plate after plate of scalding hot sauces and ornately garnished presentation pieces to all corners of the restaurant, all while being screamed at and beckoned for by agitated waiters and chefs (Side note: Another thing I didn't know about the restaurant business - all of these individuals are either coked out or completely hammered, and they absolutely will cut you over a misplaced piece of calamari).

Like I said, it was just going to be temporary, so I really didn't pay any mind to the particulars of the job. I just wanted to get in there and start taking my cut of the cash. The biggest issue that I quickly encountered was that this restaurant wasn't your run-of-the-mill, a la carte style dining experience. This place served its food in the grand obese American tradition - Happy 4th of July! - of "family style dining," which meant that each dish was actually meant to feed a small army, who, I suppose, would then set sail for home in the small boat used to serve said dishes. And the lucky guy who got to haul out those boats, two on each arm, often filled to the brim with no less than a gallon of still-boiling sauce? "Can I get a runner over here?!?"

So, to recap, a checklist of the finer points of glamorous life in a restaurant: Tweaked out waiters talking patrons into the heaviest, most obscene family style plates on the menu, then laughing about it in the kitchen while flicking bread at you? Check. Borderline psychotic (and unquestionably drunk) head chef screaming at you to carry out more enormous boats of food than you have limbs? Check. Burn wounds from grossly oversauced giant plates all over said limbs? Check. Having to become best friends with Nacho the salad maker because you're not quite a waiter but not quite a busboy and therefore don't fit in anywhere in the workplace social scene? Check. Maximum effort for minimal reward and zero credit? Check, check and check.

But there is one very valuable thing I learned from all of this: It can always be worse. As much as I hated the job, I was taking home a decent wad of cash each night, my forearms got jacked, and now I can carry upwards of 12 items at a time over a short distance (which is so much more useful when cooking for oneself than you'd think). Hell, I could have been the busboy or the dishwasher, toiling away at much sloppier tasks for substantially less coin. It's easy to lose sight of the fact that your temporary tales are meant to be just that - temporary. When the job market is the way it is currently, and it seems like you might never find the job you desire (and deserve!), it can conversely seem like the menial job you take in the interim might never find its end. Just remember - it's not forever, and it could be worse. Much, much worse. Now if you'll excuse me, my 7 pounds of piping hot fettucine alfredo just got here.

We'll see you again after the long weekend. Happy July 4th, Pink Slipped. Now get me to a drive-in!

--Posted by Steven Schiff, Asst. Producer