One advocate describes near-constant terror working at a restaurant

A restaurant I used to work at was run by seemingly brainwashed people who all thought along the same line. If you disagreed with them, they either fired you on the spot or they made life difficult. A lot of people quit.

Most of the staff (except the select) were miserable at work:

  • One employee was fired on a rumor that she said something unflattering about the owner.
  • Meanwhile one male employee failed to show up for a shift but he kept his job. When the female employee did the same thing (she had a flat tire), she was fired on the spot.
  • One employee was fired for making a mistake with a credit card. (This was one month after the brand new restaurant opened).
  • One employee was threatened with termination because she came in late when her daughter’s dental appointment ran late.
  • A rumor was started that two employees were sleeping together, and the female only was reprimanded.
  • Another rumor started that an employee was huffing hairspray. A raid of her belongings turned up pump hairspray (not aerosol), and she was publicly reprimanded. (Her only crime was looking good at work.)

At one point, the manager decided to test everyone on their menu knowledge, and a consequence of failure was immediate suspension until the employees retook and passed the test. When it was pointed out that if even one person was sent home, the workload increased for the rest. If more than one was sent home, it would be critical. Test day came, and a few things happened:

  • Two employees were so nervous and stressed that they quit.
  • Management learned they did not print enough tests for all employees to take the test on the same day.
  • There were questions on the test that only Back of House (BOH) would know, yet this was a Front of House (FOH) test on menu knowledge (but these answers were not on the menu.)
  • Answers were marked incorrect if they were “not right enough.” For the question, “What is a banger?” I answered “a banger is a fat, English sausage.” This was not considered to be right enough. The answer they were looking for was “a banger is an English sausage made with meat and whey.”

Our beer menu literally changed daily, yet we were required to know the beers in the flights (on test day, the current flights were different than the flights I had memorized. We needed to know the current flights.)

The test was much worse for the bar staff. Their recipes were literally removed days BEFORE their test. At least the servers could use a takeout menu at home.

Any mistake was exaggerated and distorted to the point of lunacy. Once, a table of mine had to wait 5 minutes before I got there to greet them. (I was busy with other tables.) The hostesses assigned that table to another server (a select). The server apologized for the ten minute wait (within my hearing range). The people at the table were unfazed, said they understood it was busy and it was only a five minute wait. This server took their order and went to the bar, telling the manager at the bar that the table she had to take over was unhappy and that they had a 20 minute wait. What this server was unaware of is that the hosts note the seating time, and it was only four minutes.

Once, the manager found all the servers rolling silverware (except the select) before shift. This angered her and caused her to immediately declare that servers were not allowed to roll silverware until they were cut from the floor. We told her very timidly (we did not want to lose our jobs) that such a policy would result in us running out of silverware during rush. This logical presentation of facts left her unfazed, and we ran out of rolled silverware during rush.

The conduct of the manager, BOH manager, and owner was unusual. The owner would take beer into the kitchen with him and drink while on the expo line. After the rush, he could be found listening to the band and getting very drunk. The manager would drink after shift at the bar, flirting with her boyfriend and getting drunk, frequently putting her head down and resting. The BOH manager was sadistic. He magnified all mistakes and hammered his point home, publicly calling out servers who made mistakes and making them appear stupid. Getting yelled at, having rumors started about you, and public humiliation were literally all part of a day’s work.

When workplace bullying remains unchecked, it gets remarkably out of control and borders on ridiculous. But we targets lived it. We went to work in near-constant terror. Would we lose our jobs today? Would the select start new rumors? What would we be accused of now? Would the owner get drunk and be mean? What new horror would find us unprepared? Truly, it sent me into therapy.


Share your workplace bullying story. Email to [email protected] in one page along with an optional photo:

Where did you work and what did you do?
How did the bullying begin? What tactics were used?
How did you feel?
How did it escalate?
How did your employer react (or not react)?
What was the impact on you?
What was the impact on the organization?
Why do you want workplace bullying legislation to pass?
What advice do you have for others going through bullying at work?

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