Writer in Residence

Service Industry Hell (Part 1): One Angry Writer and Two Warring Bosses

Submitted by Nathan Whitlock

A lot of the inspiration for my new book, Congratulations On Everything, came from the things I saw while working in bars, restaurants, and hotels, and from the experiences of friends who did the same. Recently, I asked people* on Facebook and Twitter to send me their wildest stories of working in the service industry trenches - in part to show that, however cringey things get in the book, the reality is worse. But also because I find these inherently fun to read.

*to whom I promised anonymity, in order to protect the relatively innocent

These first tales all come from "C":

In my early 20s, I worked at a busy little restaurant on Bloor Street. One regular, who was a writer and CBC personality, was especially prickly. One night, after he and the woman he was with finished their meal, I brought them one bill. He then stood up and screamed at me, "What are you, stupid?!" The restaurant went quiet, everyone looked at me, and I ran to the back and cried. Someone told me later that the woman he was with was his ex. He felt I should have known (given what a big shot that he is, I guess) and brought them separate bills. A decade or so later he showed the world what a jerk he is in an interview with Emily Keeler for Hazlitt. I was delighted.

Every server and bartender has at least one story of a minor celebrity behaving badly. I remember a Much Music veejay screaming that he would use all his media contacts to expose the restaurant I worked in as one that made people wait a long time for their food during the Friday night dinner rush. I often wondered if he ever pitched that story. Could've been HUGE.

Oh and obviously the writer C is referring to is Susanna Moodie...

One night at a bar I worked at, I told a drunk that I couldn't serve him, so he picked up a stack of ashtrays and started hurling them at my head, one by one, like frisbees.

I think former bartenders would make good bomb disposal experts, if only because bombs are more predictable than drunks and therefore simpler to defuse.

I worked at a bar where one of the cooks didn't wash his hands after he went to the washroom (so we were told by the male employees). He made the homemade salsa and we'd see him elbow deep in it, mixing it up.

Gross, but fairly standard for a lot of places. (Sorry if you are reading this while waiting for dessert.)

I worked in a bar where the owner made the employees listen to him read his bad poetry.

Okay, that's dangerously close to a human rights violation.

My two bosses at a small, somewhat upscale Toronto restaurant hated each other. Both bosses wanted the other one to give up his share of the business. The feud came to a head one night when a short, scruffy guy in an ill-fitting tuxedo and running shoes burst into the restaurant to beat up one of the bosses. Boss A had obviously hired this guy to beat up Boss B. A waiter called the police. We servers assumed Boss A had told the thug that it was a nice restaurant, so that's why the thug wore a tux. I believe Boss A was charged with assault or some such thing.

I had a very similar experience of working under a pair of warring bosses, and gave it to Jeremy, the main character of my book. The detail of the tuxedo-wearing hired goon, however, is one that I am very, very jealous of and wish I could've stolen.

[More Service Industry Hell stories coming soon.]

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.


Nathan Whitlock’s award-winning fiction and non-fiction has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Post, Toronto Life, Report on Business, Flare, Fashion, Geist, Maisonneuve, and Best Canadian Essays, and he has appeared on radio and television discussing books and culture. He is a contributing editor for Quill & Quire. He lives in Toronto with his wife and children.

You can write to Nathan throughout the month of July at writer@openbooktoronto.com