Better to quit my job or get fired? Restaurant edition.
January 8, 2013 6:46 AM   Subscribe

I'm afraid I might be fired soon, but want to stay in the restaurant industry.

I recently got hired at a restaurant (1.5 months ago). The restaurant hired a lot of people at the same time as me and mentioned a few times (in subtle ways) that they'd over-hired so they could weed people out.

When I first started I got "written up" (unknown to me at the time) for an incident in which I was slow helping a table because I ended up with too many tables at once. (I was too new to know I had too many tables and asked for help ineffectively). Yesterday, I got written up again because a table moved into my section while I was putting away my sidework and I was too slow to seat them.

Anyway, after three warnings we can be fired. At this point I'm demoralized, nervous, and unsure (am I really super bad at my job, or has training been kind of insufficient, since I have no previous restaurant experience?). Today management showed me both documents and asked me to sign them and I did.

So, should I wait until they decide to fire me, or should I quit? I know, they might not fire me, but the last two incidents were so non-major to me (the first one was very very early on the job and the second one was a confusing thing where our sections were switched and I wasn't informed) that I doubt my ability to prevent future incidents and keep my job. Like, if there were something I could focus on and work on, I absolutely would-- but both of those situations kind of surprised me (as in they were both a one time thing and I didn't see them coming). Plus, it sounds like they were planning on firing a few people and are not going to hesitate.

On the other hand, I actually really like my job, and I'd like to continue to work in restaurants if possible. I assume that getting fired will be terrible for my future employment. I'm pretty certain I wouldn't be eligible for unemployment (haven't looked it up, but less than 90 days) and I have no other serving experience.

So, what do you think? I don't have a ton of savings but if I quit now I could get by. Would it really help to have two months of restaurant experience on my resume anyway? Also, if you've been fired from a restaurant job before I would appreciate any commiseration, I feel quite bad about myself for getting two warnings in such a short amount of time at something I actually really like.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total)
Get another job. And don't take it super seriously. In the restaurant business, people get fired, quit on the spot, leave on short notice (like, hours not days), get re-hired after they've got their shit straightened out, &c &c all the time.

It was your first job and it sounds like a place that shouldn't be hiring people at that experience level because it doesn't support them. Don't say that in your interview, though.

A lot of the time, you can get a new restaurant job just by talking to the manager when it's slow and he needs somebody. I've seen a lot of interviews that are exactly this long: "Ever waited tables before?" "Yes."

So get out there today and start asking around. You could have a new job waiting tables tonight.

And try to think about what you could do differently to avoid letting people wait that long. Not that you necessarily did anything wrong in these two instances, but that ultimately a good waiter sees to everything at their tables. Everything. So get into that mindset.
posted by gauche at 6:58 AM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have a lot of friends in the F&B business and the turnover there is huge. It is not uncommon for someone to get fired and have a new job within a day or two (at least in my town where restaurants are plentiful). I also have a friend from high school who worked his way from dishwasher to GM of several chain restaurants, so if you like the work you can make a career out of it (he did have to earn a business degree along the way). If you enjoy the work don't get discouraged even if this job doesn't work out. Consider it a learning experience and move on. Also, it sounds like you are a server, and that is one of those jobs where experience is important; you can't really expect to be good at it until you have done it a while, especially at a restaurant with a steady crowd and a big menu. So if you enjoy the work try not to let these setbacks get you down and know that there are plenty of other restaurant jobs out there if this one doesn't work out.

Also, in many restaurants the people who work there are pretty tight-knit and will help each other out if they get slammed; try to make sure you are on good terms with your co-workers and help them out whenever you can (but don't let them take advantage of you).
posted by TedW at 7:01 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thirding "It won't matter." You have to mess up hugely, like criminally hugely, to be unemployable in the restaurant industry, and even then, if they're desperate, someone will likely hire you. I once worked with a person who was accused of... erm, depositing bodily fluids in the food. She stabbed a customer on her way out the door. She was hired at a different restaurant in the same chain owned by the same franchiser two weeks later, went to jail for the stabbing a little while later, and got hired back at the original restaurant where she stabbed a dude as soon as she got out of jail.
posted by Etrigan at 7:06 AM on January 8, 2013 [22 favorites]

P.S. Never quit in lieu of being fired. Never, ever. Quit because you hate the job, or because you have a better one. But make them fire you, because even if you're not sure whether you'd qualify for unemployment if they fire you, you almost certainly won't if you quit.
posted by Etrigan at 7:27 AM on January 8, 2013 [8 favorites]

Just chill out and ask your managers for help. Tell them you're concerned you aren't doing as well as you could be, and you'd like some pointers. Do this at a time that they aren't busy.

You don't have enough experience in the industry to be on top of things like suddenly changing sections, but it's pretty typical to get inadequate training and then get yelled at when you goof up. If you're this anxious, consider whether you really like the industry so much -- a lot of places have management like that (and for people who work at restaurants that aren't like that, note that I'm not saying all places are like that). I got pretty lucky at my first job that the management was pretty chill, but my second restaurant -- oh, my. Etc.

Also I tend to find that restaurants would rather people quit than fire them. My restaurants were at about a 20:1 ratio -- this (supposedly) makes their unemployment insurance less or something.

And if they do write you up again, and say that's your last chance, ask for a hostessing job with them. Tell them you like the restaurant and you like the industry, and you'd like to learn the ropes better to eventually be a better server. If they go along with this, you can ask to move back up to serving when they suddenly have a shortage of servers when 3 people all quit the same week.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:32 AM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

1. Never quit, let them fire you. No brainer.
2. Any restaurant experience, even a couple of months, will greatly help you getting another restaurant job in the future. If you are fired, tell prospective future employers that they hired too many people and had to let some go.
3. It is pretty common to have poor to no training and capricious, unhelpful management in a restaurant. It is also common to get disciplined for things that are not completely your fault and are not predictable or even really fixable. If that is something you are going to have a problem with, you may wish to find another field to work in.
4. You certainly shouldn't feel bad about getting written up, and in this case it doesn't even seem like it is any kind of reflection of how good you are at the job. That said, waiting tables is not an easy job, and many many people are not cut out for it. There is no shame in deciding it is not for you, for whatever reason.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:42 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I assume that getting fired will be terrible for my future employment.

You are wrong. There is no "permanent record". Everything depends on what your employer's policies are regarding giving infomation to people seeking references.

If your employer will actually say what they didn't like about you, quiting before you get fired won't prevent them from saying that. If your employer doesn't give that kind of information out, it doesn't matter. Most employers confirm dates of employement and sometimes if you are eligibile for re-hire or not.

Since we are just talking about food service, it's quite likely places you apply to don't bother to check references or your former employers. If you are worried about what your current employer might say, leave them off your work history. You do not get put onto some secret "fired" list that any employer can pull up at will.

There is absoultely no reason to quit in anticipiation of getting fired. Keep collecting a paycheck and use your free time to find a new job.
posted by spaltavian at 8:01 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Whether or not you decide to quit now, you should (IMO) start looking for another job. Any place that would write you up for slow service and not tell you about it is not a good place to work.
posted by Bruce H. at 8:17 AM on January 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Seconding spaltavian. Don't quit, make them fire you if they're going to. There are some joints out there that prefer their servers to quit over firing them and will try to make them quit. If they're that bad, make it harder for them and put up with it until you find something else.

The thing I keep hearing (and have found is true in any industry) is that it's usually easier to find a new job when you are still employed. Also, less stressful overall, because though it sounds like an unfun corporate joint that likes to play games with its servers (not uncommon) and stressful in its own right, at least you have a bit of cash coming in while you look for something else.

Turnover in this business is incredibly high. Yes, experience helps, but there are so many places to choose from, so many other people to fill those jobs, that references don't really matter until you start getting into management or some fine dining.

Good luck.
posted by neewom at 10:40 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

In the future, don't sign a write-up if you weren't told about it within one pay period of it supposedly happening- and even that is generous.

But yeah, don't quit unless you dislike the job. People get let go all the time, it's no big deal.
posted by windykites at 10:46 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just gonna throw in my 2 cents:
I've managed restaurants for the past few years now. I have had some owners that pushed write-ups so that if we ever got to the point of wanting to fire someone we would have plenty of evidence to prevent us from having to pay unemployment for said employee. I have been involved with the hiring process/interviews and I will say this: I have been working in restaurants for well over a decade and I go with my gut at the end of interviews. I have certain questions that act as non-negotiables but at the point of hire/not hire, I listen to my gut.

If you are not the honest type and you end up getting fired from this restaurant and interview elsewhere, I do not know any other managers that call past employers in this industry. As previously said, the turnover rate is high and its usually not worth chasing down leads so if you did say you quit rather than got fired (I'm not condoning this) they would probably never kno
posted by Stan Grossman at 11:03 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

First of all, chin up. You're doing fine. You're learning. Don't sign any more bullshit write-ups. DO NOT QUIT before you have another job. Make them fire you. I think you should look around for another job. Is this a big chain type restaurant? Dime-a-dozen, my friend. When you go to look for another job you can tell the restaurant that you're looking because you're not getting enough hours where you're at. If and when you get fired you can say that they overhired and you weren't getting enough hours.

The restaurant industry is full of churn. Don't feel demoralized. Know that many managers can be stiff and mean to newbies. They do this because people quit all the time with no notice. People steal, they slack off, etc.. They don't want to get invested in you. It kind of sucks but until you've been there awhile, people are probably going to be kind of stiff. Let it roll!

You're there to do your job to the best of your ability, to the best of their requirements to earn tips and make a sub-par wage. If they aren't showing you the ropes then screw 'em. They will get out of their employees what they put in. Be strong. And try not to drink all your tips away at the end of a shift -- I know how tempting that is. ;)
posted by amanda at 11:50 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

[This is a followup from the asker.]
Thanks everyone, good advice. For the record, the write-up I signed wasn't properly dated or really anything (the first "incident" had no date or description, it was just a manager signature with no information, and I wasn't told specifically what it referred to though I asked), while the second one had a name, signature, date and description. I signed it anyway because I was just kind of like "hmm," but is that what I should've done? Should I have been like "no I will not sign this"? Would that have gotten me fired, but made me more eligible for unemployment? I could contest it in writing but I'm not sure what approach to take or how to write up my "grievance," but if it would help get unemployment down the line I would do it.

I was planning on speaking to my manager next time I go in to say that I didn't understand when the first incident had taken place and asking for more guidance about how to improve, that I enjoy working with them, &c.

I'm not overly worried about this job in particular but I do need a job and I've been out of one for about six months prior to this. I'm hoping having some restaurant experience will help me get a server position somewhere else, because it's been a shit job search so far. This is a new restaurant, thus the overhiring (and the bumpy management, according to other more experienced servers). As a server I feel like I've consistently gotten better and learned to let things go once I'm off the clock so I like it quite a bit. I'd much prefer serving to working in another mindnumbingly menial office job. I'll take the advice to hit up some restaurants tomorrow and try to get a new job (I could use more hours anyway). Thanks again everyone!
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:25 PM on January 8, 2013

Thanks everyone, good advice. For the record, the write-up I signed wasn't properly dated or really anything (the first "incident" had no date or description, it was just a manager signature with no information, and I wasn't told specifically what it referred to though I asked), while the second one had a name, signature, date and description. I signed it anyway because I was just kind of like "hmm," but is that what I should've done? Should I have been like "no I will not sign this"? Would that have gotten me fired, but made me more eligible for unemployment? I could contest it in writing but I'm not sure what approach to take or how to write up my "grievance," but if it would help get unemployment down the line I would do it.

Oh, good lord. This place is shady as hell. Which is to say, it's a restaurant.

And here's the thing: They don't get to decide whether you get unemployment. There's a whole office in your state (and possibly county or city) that does that, for this exact reason: employers will bullshit the "reason" for your "firing" because it might get them off the hook for unemployment. If they end up firing you, take your "write-ups" to the unemployment office and say, "Here's the bullshit they tried to pull." Whoever you talk to will have seen far worse bullshit, and you may well be eligible for unemployment after all. The unemployment system is set up to alleviate at least some of the power imbalance between workers and employers. Make them do their job.

And in the future, don't ever sign anything that's blank. Straight-up tell them, "No, I don't want to do that, because you can put anything over my signature if I do that." If they insist, draw a big line through the blank part, and write "This page/portion/area blank" in the middle, date it and initial it. Then sign it. Then take a picture of it with your cell phone before you hand it back.

Yes, this might get you "fired" (or have your hours mysteriously dropped). But with bosses who have a problem with you signing a blank write-up, that might be a better thing long-term.
posted by Etrigan at 1:06 PM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I just want to agree with the people who are saying that restaurants never check references. They just don't. Turnover is ridiculously high, and no one has time to mess with it. Plus, the people who are good at the job and stick with it tend to be outliers - people who don't fit in to normal office culture. So most of the places I've worked at have had at least a few employees who were alcoholics, former gang members, parolees, runaways, artists, musicians, actors, and other people who tend not to have your classic "good references." What matters is people who will show up, and dive in and get the job done.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:04 PM on January 8, 2013

while the second one had a name, signature, date and description. I signed it anyway because I was just kind of like "hmm," but is that what I should've done? Should I have been like "no I will not sign this"?

It really doesn't matter. These are not legally binding, and I'd bet they set right on the paper that you are not admitting fault, just affirming that they spoke to you. (Speeding tickets work the same way.)

Again, it doesn't matter unless there is something unusual about your jurisdiction.
posted by spaltavian at 5:44 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

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