The restaurant biz is infamous for its insane hours. I’ve spent time pining for nine to five. I’ve never attended a happy hour after work. A leisurely Sunday brunch is a rare thing indeed. I ring in each New Year at my job, and Valentine’s Day means a breakneck work night.
Restaurant folk toil when the rest of the world plays. And vice versa.
But it’s not just the weird timing—it’s also the sheer quantity of hours. My chef boyfriend leaves for work at 9 a.m. on many days—like many “normal people,” as we fondly call those who earn a living in offices. But come time for that happy hour, his day has only just begun. He wraps up at midnight, sometimes much later. Those normal people are tucked into their beds, perhaps have been for a while.
“It’s all how you look at it,” he wisely noted. He longs most for holidays off. But with every Easter or Passover spent putting out dozens—or hundreds—of meals, there is a corresponding perk or two.
Here’s some insight I’ve picked up during my career on how to handle the long and strangely positioned hours, and have some fun along the way.
Enjoy your mornings
I am happy when I don’t have to be into my restaurant until two or three in the afternoon. I’m a morning routine lover. I walk my dog, savor my coffee, go to the gym and make myself breakfast. This is when I read and write. Or browse food blogs. Or apply face masks. Me time.
After a long day chatting with guests, dealing with staff drama or looking at numbers until my eyes fall out, I’m too tired to do more than have a delicious beer or plotz in front of a trashy magazine at night. In the morning, the day is fresh and so am I. I relish this time.
Or revel in sleeping in
I asked a job candidate at an interview, “What do you love about the restaurant business?”
His response: “I don’t have to wake up early.”
He didn’t get the position, but I understood the sentiment.
Some days, getting out of bed is a herculean undertaking. We restaurant people are in luck. Usually our workday starts pretty well into the day. Restaurant staff are a notoriously nocturnal bunch. We know all the spots that keep their kitchens open late (3 a.m. bone marrow, anyone?), and all the bars that will let you sneak in after official closing time.
Likewise, we sometimes don’t see much light of day.
Weird days off are better
On a rare Saturday off, I walked into a clothing shop I like and right back out again. Oh my! My typical shopping hours are weekday afternoons, so I’m used to being the only customer. I have no love for crowds, so the store-to-myself situation is ideal.
Never having to wait in line at the bank, at the post office or for groceries is the way to go. I’m used to seeing movie theaters, gyms and pharmacies pretty empty.
Restaurant people know that dining out on slow nights makes for the best experience. Saturday nights are amateur nights. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays—our typical days off—are for serious, or at least savvy, diners.
Your restaurant friends hold the keys
When you do go out to dine, busy or not, you have friends to visit: pastry chefs, bartenders, general managers, fromagiers. Rich people, regulars, critics and big names are nothing compared to you—as a restaurant friend, you are the grandest of VIPs. People in the biz take great care of their own.
Even as a server, I was often treated to freebies, decadence and special treatment galore. The health and dental benefits may be lacking, but sometimes the champagne and risotto benefits make up for it. There’s nothing like a complimentary glass of rose and a dense, dark slice of chocolate cake to turn a bad day around.
Make time for non-restaurant people, too
With an unorthodox schedule governing your life, it can be easy to fall out of touch with the rest of the world. But doing so may result in loneliness, or at least the uncanny feeling that comes from existence in a bubble.
I meet friends and family for coffee or lunch before work; this is a great intersection where our lives both give us some time to catch up. My restaurant relationships are important, but so are those with college pals, old friends and people from other parts of my life.
Keeping close to them gives me a little bridge to the elusive world of the normal people. And they remind me that most schedules and jobs are far from “normal.” All of us navigate the challenge of working hard and long while making room for a joyful, wonderful life. It’s possible, even for us living in restaurant land.