“Constantly tired,” Jared said about his life in the restaurant industry. “Not making enough money and just being exhausted.”
Seven years of hard work allowed Jared to move steadily up the fine-dining success ladder: He went from food runner to waiter to barback to bartender to head bartender to restaurant manager and soon approached the point of financial stability in an industry with little. But then he looked at those above him - the lead managers, executive chefs, and restaurant owners - and saw that they were somewhat miserable.
“I wasn’t going to be a happy person if I stayed on the path I was on. I would have been broken.”
He started to experience depression and alcoholism. He witnessed sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and a growing wage gap between front-of-house employees and back-of-house employees. Some of his female coworkers were harassed at staff parties, he was often discriminated against by customers searching for a white server after he’d already established that he was their server, and he saw immigrant employees in the back of the restaurant come into work earlier than everyone else but also make less money and leave later. What kept him going, he said, was the companionship between his coworkers, all experiencing the same world together, most of it out of their control.
“You are all sort of brothers and sisters in arms in this performance that goes up every night. Every night it is the same script but it never plays out the same way.”
Jared originally moved to New York City to chase his dream of making it as a musician. He played gigs at bars at night and taught in the New York City Public School system during the day. When summer came and teaching stopped, he needed money to pay his bills, so he took a job as a runner in a restaurant. He considers himself fortunate to eventually have found a way out of the industry, recently taking a job as an office manager at a design company where his friend helped him get an interview.
Even though he is no longer working in restaurants, he hopes that people start to listen to the stories of those who work in the food industry. Not all food workers have a way out. Most live paycheck to paycheck, tip to tip, shift to shift - sick or healthy - and do so in order to survive.
This piece was filmed in 2017.