Hey y’all, it's difficult to fully detail what has lead me to leave my first kitchen. There’s a part of me that wants to leave bits out, because any one of these reasons would have been enough, but if I did that I wouldn’t really be accomplishing what I set out to do with this space.
The scheduling problems I had written about were not resolved, and it didn't appear as though they would be any time soon. I discovered that I was being paid far less than another newly hired co-worker with a similar positions because I lacked previous experience, as if we weren't doing the same job now and the years I spent in coffee were worthless. And although I was told that I would be moved through the various stations and be encouraged to progress very quickly, this wasn't happening. I was running into the same roadblocks week after week with no variation.
Unfortunately one of these roadblocks was an interpersonal problem with a coworker. My job was to assist some who vehemently rejected assistance. This person was the embodiment of aggressive. He would stare me down and push me out of the way. I was ready to be underestimated and even unliked coming into this job, but I was not prepared for the constant battle of defending my personal space. I talked to a manager, I was told I need to stand up for myself, use my voice. That I was going to keep being targeted because I am “so nice.”
After learning to respond directly to this when I was feeling uncomfortable or needing to say that something was not okay, I felt the issue was almost resolved.
Then last week we had someone come stage on my station. From the beginning of our interaction he was a little too close to me, asked me a few too personal questions and kept tapping me to get my attention. I should have said something right away, I hope I won't make that mistake again.
He spent one hour on pizza and then another hour at a different station. When he changed stations I figured it was over and brushed off his intrusive nature. I had already put in my notice and figured I wouldn't see him again. But I was blindsided an hour later when he came over to me, wrapped his arm around my waist and pulling me into him, he, whispering, asked me to make him a pizza. I was stunned. I asked him please not to grab me and he laughed. I made the pizza. I hate that I made the pizza. I hate that in an open kitchen I felt so trapped and alone and watched all at the same time.
I reported the incident to management and as I did I felt overwhelmed not just by this one egregious moment but by all the times in the last three months that I had felt a man was trying to get something from me. All the times I've been called sweetheart, all the questions I'd fielded about my relationship and living arrangements. All the times some guy has said my name just to get my attention, a hello, a smile; whatever they wanted in that moment with no regard for myself, my time, my energy.
These things happen to women everywhere, everyday. I am not special. It may not seem like a big deal but these small moments add up. They weigh you down.
I got so upset, I was in tears. The general manager looked at my notice and offered me my last paycheck. No hard feelings or bad blood she said, just do what you need to do.
I took it.
I was able to talk to both the general manger and the executive chef about their experiences as women in the restaurant industry and it was insightful. Chef said if I stay in the kitchen there'll be days when you cry in walk-in and the come back out and pretend it didn't happen.
One of my biggest worries is that I'll have to change my expression of myself in order to make it. I asked the manager how she has gotten through and stayed so friendly. She shared that her go-to phrase was “I'm here to work, please leave me alone.”
I appreciated that they shared their experiences, but reject the idea that I was in one of the better kitchens simply because I could talk about it. That’s good but it seems like the minimum to me. If that's as good as it gets, than everyone needs to do better.
I want to be somewhere that goes beyond the “we’ll deal with it as it comes” standard. I want to be somewhere that will try their hardest to stop situations like the one I was put in from happening at all. Somewhere with people who will tell women their rights and tell men to keep their hands to themselves from the start.
Harassment training can feel silly and awkward, I know. But if that's where we need to start than so be it. It may be the best tool we have right now, but I'll be looking for better ones.
I am happy to have been given the opportunity to work in a kitchen. It certainly wasn’t all bad and there are people I'm sad to leave, but it's time for me to move along.
I do have another kitchen job lined up, more on that next week.