Posted on October 6, 2013
An Open Letter To Darden aka Quitting my First “Pretty Person Job”
In late August/early September when I first applied to our local Olive Garden (in operation for less than a year, we are far behind the times in this small town), I wanted to be a server. I had two interviews with nice bosses. The second ended in a “We’ll call you”. According to my online research this is usually a nice brush off from this company.
So I kept up the job search even though I had my heart set on OG. I’m a fan of the food and atmosphere. Plus I was keen on a job involving tips. Not long after that, I had a quick, easy interview/job offer at a fast food place not to far from where I live. That part was ideal even though I’m not huge on working in a fast food environment. I only lasted shortly at a McDonald’s years back.
Or course, while I was waiting for the fast food restaurant to order my uniform I actually received a call from the OG welcoming me to “the family”. I want to say this was about 10 days after the initial interview. I was a bit torn but went with Olive Garden, my dream at the moment (not all of my dreams are big).
My initial worries as a server stem from my health issues, I’m not great with maps (the seating outline) and am incredibly clumsy. However while training I never dropped anything and felt that I was making real headway on learning the table numbers.
Unfortunately there is a 16 page test administered to servers pre-hire. You get about a week to study. This was not enough time for me to memorize most of the menu (which is what’s on it). I did study, hard, I even took online quizzes, however my memory is not the best. As I filled out the test I felt like I knew about half of it, if that. my trainer sadly told me that I’d have to take it again. I asked if I could just be a hostess or busser. I’m not lazy, mind you, but that stuff wasn’t sticking and I was starting school concurrently, which to me, is more important than remembering the entire contents of each dish. I was told to contact another manager later.
When I talked to the manager that hired me she was very nice, even offering to proctor a verbal test, I knew that with my autism (PDD-NOS, Aspergers, high functioning, ASD, whatever you prefer), that would actually turn out worse. She offered me a hostess position with the possibility of trying as a server again in the future.
My hostess trainer was very informative. She was obviously the type of person who gets everything done. I admire that. That is the type of worker that I am. I am not lazy and I never have been. (That’s a fallacy due to my issues with people). I was most worried about interacting with customers but that went quite well for the most part. I could turn on an easy smile and a script, occasionally a compliment and put them at ease.
It would seem that all was going well. However not too far into my hostess training I met B (let’s just use her first initial). She was overly bossy and domineering. I had a severe panic attack knowing that I would just be working with her the next morning. I had to go see a doctor and get an excuse for this.
After this I psyched myself up. I got into it. Many of the other hostesses, servers, cooks, etc. are very easy to be around or at least cooperative. There is a difference between trying to get a job done well and barking orders at others. I did not get that impression from the rest of the staff.
In high school (far prior to my diagnosis) I was bullied by girls much like my new, petite 19 year old greeter who caused my quick downfall.
I was on lunch yesterday which turned into dinner, which is fine, more money is great, but what wasn’t fine was my two hour extended panic attack that I tried to hide (yay, I didn’t cry until after I clocked out and left the restaurant for the night). This was due to B coming in and overwhelming me with unnecessary barkingly loud orders. When someone yells at me I go fight or flight (mainly flight).
Looking at the schedule I saw that I’d be working with B again, tonight and tomorrow morning. Suffice to say I was scared shitless. That’s how anxiety works. Everything’s amplified. Between remembering how she barked orders both directly to me and overly loudly over our headsets last night I was very worried about two full shifts with her.
I had to try. I’m tired of letting others step all over me. I went in. Nothing had changed. Yesterday wasn’t just a bad day for her. I asked a couple of coworkers, she’s always like that. At one point she physically pushed past me, needlessly, keep in mind that she’s a size 0/2, she could have easily gotten around me. This is how bullies act. It’s not size, it’s character. I was only there about a half hour, as in that time she actually had me so on edge that I made a stupid mistake (not a biggie) because I couldn’t concentrate. I was berated for that and other mistakes that I didn’t make but had to deal with while seating guests. At one point she did that chilly preppy, Mean Girl stare right into my face and put me down. I apologized. Then I backtracked because this is ridiculous. I muttered “fuck this” to her and went in the beverage area to put away my walkie talkie. At over ten years out of high school I’m no longer letting a preppy teen girl put me down constantly.
I walked out. I knew I’d be fired and I understand the reasoning for that. Nonetheless I needed to call my boss and explain what had happened. He was very nice about it (he’s in customer service, after all). He mentioned strong personalities and different personalities. He also understood how it might bother me because of my past. SO IS IT OKAY FOR AN EMPLOYEE TO BULLY OTHER EMPLOYEES WHO DON’T HAVE MY PAST? I tend to disagree. At one point he let slip that he had mentioned something to B about this type of behavior before. “She’s very serious about her work”. Yeah, lots of people are but they don’t treat ya like scum. Then he said that if he said something to her he’d have to say something to others if something similar happened. Umm, yeah that’s why companies have HR, they even had that in the last retail environment that I worked in (not that I needed it, but it was there). He stated that the restaurant business was rough. I got the feeling that he was trying to say that I wasn’t cut out for it.
Physically, probably not. The other hostesses were mostly bleached blonde, short, thin and very young (about 18-20). I’m taller (though not tall at 5’4″) and curvy. The only thing I had in common was the long blonde hair (though mine is curly). I did try to acclimate though. The official rule book states that long hair should be tied back even for hostesses but these girls had to show off their blowouts. So eventually I started putting a lot of product in my hair to let the curls flow. Plus I started wearing makeup daily to work (I don’t normally do that). I also only wore my contacts as glasses must be pretty unpopular, only one hostess wore them.
But mentally I was doing well aside from her. I loved interacting with the guests. Helping parents seat their children and seeing them get excited over their special menu and crayons (I’m studying childcare, btw). Many people are out to have a good time and are in a good mood. Even if they weren’t though I was very gracious and helpful. I take everything seriously. However I’m not…a bitch. Would you go to high school again for $7.35 an hour? Yeah, I just couldn’t. It broke me the first time.
I feel that the what I took away from this is that Darden condones and in fact nurtures bullying employees. Sad, especially in 2013.
P.S. When referring to Darden I should point out that Darden Restaurants owns Olive Garden, Red Lobster and many other well known restaurants.