We’ve talked a lot about the current exodus from food service jobs, and how restaurants are having a hard time staffing up because of the difficulty of the job versus what it can pay. Who wants to be challenged to a fight by an unhinged customer when there are jobs out there that don’t require putting oneself in direct danger for comparable (or better) wages? Still, since The Takeout is so often focused on restaurant workers, we must acknowledge here and now that people wake up every day and head to many, many other equally difficult jobs—a lot of which happen to be in retail. To that point, Twitter user @bluehoodiebaby recently posed a question that caught like wildfire:
“If you have worked in food service AND retail which is worse,” the tweet reads. Several thousand replies later, it’s clear that the answer to this question is far from straightforward.
To be clear, “working in food service” can mean a hundred different things: ringing up salad bar purchases, waiting tables, cooking on the line, etc. Similarly, “retail jobs” is a category that encompasses working at the register, stocking shelves, and a range of other roles. And for some people, those distinctions help determine which job is ultimately harder.
“From my experience: Non sales retail > food service > sales retail,” one user said. Many others agreed: stocking is hard work, but at least you didn’t have to answer to angry customers. Similarly, one user added that non-sales work is best, and that driving a forklift at a supermarket “was way better than cashiering which was hell on your feet all day dealing with jerks.”
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But many others put food service squarely at the bottom of the hierarchy. “Food service is worse,” wrote one user, “and my hypothesis is that it’s because people don’t care that much if you fuck up ringing up their clothes or whatever but if you fuck up their food they will kill you with a rock.” It’s true that hangry customers can be downright dangerous, as we’ve unfortunately seen time and time again.
And here’s a response that puts things in perspective:
“I have worked in *hella* hard jobs,” writes one user. “Landscaping. Construction. The laundry room of a nursing home. I lasted like 2.5 weeks at McDonald’s when I was 17 and I can still hear the fryers beeping.”
The discourse around fast food jobs is often reduced to the term “flipping burgers,” as if to suggest that the work can be done by anyone, and is nothing more than robotic movements carried out for commensurate pay. But anyone who has been in these kitchens, or at these customer service counters, knows better. Reading through these thousands of tweets is like being a fly on the wall at a support group full of service industry veterans. It’s a good reminder that such jobs actually demand an uncommon combination of patience, multitasking, and constant grace under pressure. It takes a thick skin and quick reflexes. It takes physical and mental fortitude, all with the knowledge that you could be getting paid more for the trouble. Sifting through the replies, you can’t help but leave with a greater sense of empathy.
For those of you who have worked such jobs in the past, or currently hold these roles, do you have your own opinions about which type of work is better (or worse)? Let us know what you think—we’ll brace ourselves for the responses involving monumental jerks.