I should have known better than to read Slate's cover article this morning on the horrors of running a coffee shop. But fifteen years ago I was managing a bakery/coffee shop and it nearly ruined my life, too. So I read it, hoping it would yield some amusing stories from the trenches.
Instead it was the annoying whine of some annoying yuppies who bought a coffee shop without realizing that they might have to, you know, work at a coffee shop. As soon as the author started waxing poetic about his fantasy of owning a cafe, and how it would be like "throwing a perpetual dinner party," I knew this was someone who had never before set foot behind the counter of a cafe or restaurant. I'm sure there are food service workers who fantasize about owning their own food service business, but the ones I knew (including myself) fantasized about having a job where they weren't on their feet all day.
What really honked me off about the article was the author's shock and resentment when he and his wife found themselves working the cafe full time to save money on labor. What the hell did they think they would be doing all day? Sitting out front receiving compliments on their cappuccino? Sitting in back counting their money?
Running a food service business is grueling. I remember a particularly bad time at the bakery when I was having trouble staffing weekends: I had to be there at 6 am to open on Saturday morning, work until 2, go home and take a nap, come back at 7, then stay until we closed around 11:30. Go home and fall into bed, then be back at 7 Sunday morning to start all over. Granted, the fact that this happened more than once says a lot about my poor management skills. (In fact after the bakery I decided that I just wasn't cut out for management jobs and should avoid them at all costs, a decision which has worked out pretty well for me.) But the point is that every cafe manager has stories like that. Running a restaurant or cafe means working very hard for very little money. Anyone who's ever worked in a place like that knows it, and anyone who doesn't has no business buying one.
And while I have no sympathy for someone who buys a cafe thinking it will be a perpetual dinner party, I have nothing but contempt for someone who thinks it beneath them to work in a business they own:
"The psychological gap between working in a cafe because it's fun and romantic and doing the exact same thing because you have to is enormous.... Two highly educated professionals with artistic aspirations have just put themselves--or, as we saw it, each other--on $8-per-hour jobs slinging coffee."
Oh my god, they had to wait on customers! Ask them if they want regular or grande! Make change! Smile when they didn't feel like it! The horror! No highly educated professional should ever suffer so!
These people had to buy a cafe to find out that working in one is hard. And now they get paid to write witty articles about it. Oh, boo frickin hoo. Maybe next they should open a sweatshop staffed with illegal immigrants. That way they'll never have to do the work themselves. They're already well practiced at feeling superior to the people who do.
ps: my story from the trenches: how about the time a customer -- a regular, but not one we knew particularly well -- found a rusty bolt in her home fries. Actually she found it in her mouth, but it got there from the home fries. When confronted with said rusty bolt, the grill cook said only, "So that's where that went! We couldn't find it when we put the grill back together!" The customer demanded money, but when we countered that we would pay for any medical or dental bills but no more, she backed off. I can't remember whether she ever even came in again. I wouldn't have, if I were her.