I used to be considered the sweetest person in the world, but after ten years in the restaurant business, I've broken bad. I will cut you if you cut me.
Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments.
From a Los Angeles restaurant owner:
Owning restaurants will give you insight into having a criminal mind. Surviving in this business is not for those without the ability to accept certain moral ambiguities. At times you have to do things to stay open or get people paid that you could have previously never imagined. You have to threaten people; sometimes with legal action, and sometimes with bodily harm.
You have to have thick skin.
Once upon a time, I was a very sweet person. Earlier in my life, I used to be labeled as "the sweetest girl in the world" by many a teacher, classmate, relative, friend, and lover. I was known for my kindness, compassion, and fairness. I was a people pleaser who genuinely loved to be of service to others. In fact, this characteristic is what attracted me to the hospitality business in the first place. I wanted to serve people great food that was good for them. I wanted to open a place that made people happy while using their hard-earned dollars to make a positive social difference in the world.
Fortunately for me, it was something I was able to achieve. I opened several well-received places that are beloved daily stops for Angelenos seeking breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They enable me to contribute to the community in a productive manner. I've built a brand that will ultimately be greater than the wildest aspirations I had years ago.
I actually don't care if I'm liked anymore. I prefer if I'm hated.
However, this success has come at a cost. And that cost was my sweetness. After almost ten years of owning restaurants, I have broken bad. I will cut you if you mess with me. I actually don't care if I'm liked anymore. I prefer if I'm hated. Now few people perceive ever me as being sweet, and the ones that do are probably scared of me. That being said, I wouldn't have it any other way.
When I opened my first restaurant, I did not envision a day when I would temporally kidnap a local printer who screwed up my take-out menus until he gave me my deposit back. I didn't think I would be threatened with a serious lawsuit by a major grocery chain for using their name in a lazy analogy describing my business in the press. I didn't think I would be haggling with a litany of food delivery tech startups over the percentages they take from my orders and blurt out: "Motherfucker, you're racing to IPO on the teat of small business."
Owning a restaurant has given me a perpetual potty mouth. Even with customers, I find that every other sentence contains some kind of swear word. There is a permanent intensity added to your personality which comes with running a business where you are committed to doing the right thing but are then constantly inundated with bullshit. You acquire quite a "Fuck you," attitude. It is a product of trying to form the required semblance of politeness with your customers but then getting trifling email complaints and bad Yelp reviews. After this, any saintly qualities you might have possessed are out the window.
Unlike lots of restaurant owners and chefs who ignore bad Yelp reviews or respond graciously to them, I mostly respond to them with insidious logic and mild verbal abuse. But if it is a legitimately poor experience with the food or customer service, I go above and beyond to make things right immediately. I have found our experience with negative Yelp reviews to often involve truly miserable, impotent people who give one-star reviews for things like the 80s music playing the day he came to eat was not ironic 80s music, but 80s music that the staff seemed to be seriously enjoying; the perceived sexual preference of a staff member, who she witnessed interview a new hire, had too much "flamboyance;" my wearing a hat with a dress was disheveled to her. One should wear a hat with pants only; the prices at Food for Less for a soup and sandwich packaged combo are less.
Unlike lots of restaurant owners and chefs who ignore bad Yelp reviews or respond graciously to them, I mostly respond to them with insidious logic and mild verbal abuse.
Most of the people who write negative Yelps have talent as writers and they shroud their nitpicking analysis with some cleverness, but they are tools in my book with too much free time.
There are certain truths I've learned about human nature from owning and running restaurants. They may not be universal. But they are things that I have witnessed or experienced with enough consistency to have merit for me as an undeniable reality.
1. Most people are assholes.
2. Most people think their shit doesn't stink.
3. Most people not only think their shit doesn't stink, but that it smells like blueberry muffins fresh from the oven.
4. If you are serving blueberry muffins, your customers will prefer them vegan and gluten-free.
5. If one asks your staff member to confirm that these gorgeous looking muffins are indeed gluten-free and that staff member has to double check with a co-worker, the customer will deem the worker idiotic and purposefully belligerent - worthy of a complaint email and/or negative Yelp.
6. Hangry is a real condition. Hangry will turn people into Satan spawn. A late order or missing item will send the most mild-mannered customer into Cujo territory. Seeing a muffin that has gluten can do the same.
7. In terms of cheapness and cost-consciousness, it skews towards more affluent customers. The guy with the Audi will bitch about the price of a bag of chips nine times out of ten.
8. People who take the time to write negative Yelp reviews suffer from mental illness.
9. People who take the time to write positive Yelp reviews suffer from mental illness.
10. Most people are racist, sexist, and homophobic and yet, remarkably PC. If you eat at restaurants and you don't acknowledge your busboy as you would your server or host, you're a subpar human being and hopefully, will be one of the first to go in the zombie apocalypse.
As told to Javier Cabral
This article previously appeared on MUNCHIES in October 2015.