At one of the busiest restaurant chains for families on Thanksgiving in America, you see both the light and dark sides of humanity as chaos sets in.
Photo via Flickr user Mike Mozart
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. In this installment, we spoke with a college-aged server at who works at a Cracker Barrel—the nation's busiest restaurant chain on Thanksgiving—in Texas.
I've worked at Cracker Barrel for two years, and I've worked one Thanksgiving. This will be my second. I was pretty mad when I first had to work on Thanksgiving, because it's a family holiday. I think if Cracker Barrel is so "family-oriented," then they should let people spend time with theirs.
Whenever people ask about having to work Thanksgiving, I complain. I just say it's not fair. I don't say, "Oh, its good. The money's good." Because I don't care about the money. Everyone couldn't care less on that day. Especially for college students—you haven't seen your family in a while and you haven't had a home-cooked meal. But everyone that works at a Cracker Barrel location has to work on Thanksgiving. I think it's the only day that's mandatory—you have to work no matter what, and if you don't come in you're automatically fired. They let you know the day you get hired.
Once November rolls around the restaurant starts prepping for Thanksgiving, ordering more biscuit flour, sugar, and stuff. In the back where the cook area is and where the food comes out, they have pies and boxes and it's just really crowded.
Before the week of Thanksgiving last year, I was pretty scared because they were telling us how people wait up to four hours in line, and people order to-gos like crazy. They don't order to-go just for a normal-sized family—they order for an extended family. So we're basically catering people's entire Thanksgiving dinner.
You know how we have the rocking chairs outside? On Thanksgiving, all of those chairs are full of people waiting, and people are standing up in line. The whole parking lot is full. People park everywhere, including the Walmart next door. They'll park pretty far away and walk. It's crazy.
Inside, it's chaotic. The retail store is full of people waiting and there's nowhere to get through. I get there at 9 AM, and it takes about an hour and 30 minutes to get set and get my first table. People start coming in around 11 AM or noon. A shift might last from 9 AM to 3 PM, but with cleanup, you'll be there until 6 PM.
I share tables with another server, because it's whole extended families that come in. We connect our tables together, so we have to share one family with two other servers. Let's say if there are 25 people, there are three servers on that table.
In the back, where the cooks' area is, it's worse than the floor. People in the back are screaming, they're stressed out. "Run this food, take this food, have you got that, have you got that?" It's crazy. When running food, there are so many times that people drop their trays because it's so crowded. I know there are a lot of dishes and glasses that are broken. And where people are sitting, it's pretty loud and it's messy.
You have to mentally prepare yourself, because there's going to be a lot of screaming, a lot of yelling. There's a lot of crying that day. Customers are going to be waiting, and they're not going to be patient. But there are people who understand and are really nice and tip you well. Usually people tip like three, five bucks, but I had a family of five last Thanksgiving and they tipped me $50, more than 20 percent. Another family of four tipped me $100.
But people wait two or three hours just to be sat, and then they order their food and it takes some time to get their food. They're not really patient and they get mad. You have to come in with a good attitude. You will leave with a headache because you're mad, stressed out, and you have to hold it in.
Overall, it's just a pain in the butt, mentally and physically. Especially the older people, they're tired, so they're pretty rude. They're in a bad mood. You're so overwhelmed it just leads to a really bad attitude.
People that order to-go can get mad, and some cuss at us. They've been waiting about three hours and they start to get really aggravated. They order in advance, but there's a wait list. We start taking orders about a month out. If a person ordered a week or two days before Thanksgiving, they're not going to get their food first.
But the Thanksgiving plate that we serve is so good! It's turkey and dressing, and it comes with the basic Thanksgiving food: mashed potatoes, dressing, corn bread. My favorite is the turkey. It also comes with a slice of pie—we start making those pies way beforehand because people order them like crazy.
I'll be working in the morning this year, so I'm pretty scared. I've been there for two years, and I've put up with so much, so I'm trying to mentally prepare myself. Physically, I'm trying to get a lot of sleep, because I know if I don't sleep well in the days before, I'm going to be grouchy, which is going to lead to me probably quitting my job. I'm in college right now, so I actually transferred to the store near school and transferred back to my hometown store this week. I haven't really worked, so I'm trying to get back in the groove.
I get to see my family on Thanksgiving, but not eat with them. If I didn't have to work, I'd spend the day with my family, eat, and just bond.
as told to Wyatt Marshall. This first appeared on MUNCHIES in November 2016.