The 5 Worst Things For Introverts About Working in Food Service

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Much has been said about the types of jobs that are terrible for introverts, and I think we can all agree that retail and customer service are among the worst. Still, I feel like there’s one particular job that needs to be recognized as a very special corner of hell for introverts — food service.

I worked in food service for many years throughout college, and I actually got quite good at it. Once you get to know your restaurant, coworkers, and customers, you can learn to make the best of it.

That said, there were plenty of moments that had me running to the bathroom so I could cry alone. Here are five of the worst things about working in food service as an introvert.

The Worst Things For Introverts About Food Service

1. Not having a loud voice

You may not think this has much to do with working in food service, but you’d be surprised. Trying to make yourself heard over constant chatter is difficult. For example, one of the restaurants I worked at decided it wanted us to practically shout “welcome!” at customers when they walked in. While I was of the mind that this annoyed customers more than anything, I went along with it.

The problem was, like many introverts, my voice was so soft that I was drowned out by others. This made my managers think I just wasn’t doing it, even though I was. I frequently had managers come by and tell me that I needed to be greeting customers. When I said I did, they didn’t believe me, because I couldn’t make my voice heard over the din.

2. Trying to be friendly when you’re battling an introvert hangover

At least ninety percent of your job success in the food service industry involves pleasing the customer. I was great at making sure customers’ orders were right and remembering what they needed — but that’s not enough. You also have to please them socially. It’s expected that you greet them, make small talk with them while they wait, and generally be very friendly and enthusiastic.

I tried, really I did, but having to do that over and over led me straight to exhaustion and burnout. Once I started burning out, I could only manage half-engaged responses, and then customers thought I was “unfriendly” or even “rude.” I wasn’t trying to come across that way; I was battling an introvert hangover.

And don’t even think about trying to explain social exhaustion to your managers, because the customer is always right.

3. Being surrounded by extroverts who don’t understand

If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, there’s a good chance you’ve felt like you were the only introvert there. It’s a job that tends to draw loud, energetic, extroverted people. Generally, this wasn’t a bad thing, and I actually got along well with most of my coworkers, even though our personalities were very different.

Occasionally, though, there were those coworkers who insisted on pointing out how quiet I was. They seemed to poke fun at me just to provoke a response. If I didn’t respond, they just keep doing it. Once, when I did address the “quiet” comment, the coworker actually burst into laughter and clapped because I said something.

If you’ve ever had this happen to you, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Most people notice that you’re quieter than the rest but just shrug their shoulders and get on with life. Sometimes, though, certain people find it amusing and can’t help but make you the butt of a joke.

4. Not feeling comfortable around your managers

No matter what your personality is, you’ve probably had to deal with an awful manager. I think the issue for introverts, specifically, is that there’s little time or opportunity in the fast-paced service industry to get to know their managers — and vice versa.

While extroverts can usually fall into a rhythm with others without much trouble, introverts need more of a connection with someone before they feel comfortable around them. It takes time for us to open up and let our real personalities out.

But what restaurant manager has the time (or desire) to get to know each of their employees personally? I’ve had managers who couldn’t even remember my name. This is understandable when you’re dealing with a large number of employees, but it doesn’t make it any less hurtful.

This happens with introverts and their coworkers as well, but when it comes to managers, it’s even worse, because of the hierarchy difference. When introverts don’t feel comfortable around their managers, it adds another layer of pressure, making them even more stressed out.

5. Having no time to think

We’ve already established that food service is pretty fast-paced — but it’s something almost anyone can get the hang of over time.

The problem, though, is when something happens that you don’t expect. Then, your comfort level is shaken and you need to step back and think things through. As an introvert, you need a little extra time to process before you respond. It tends to be hard for introverts to spit something out on the spot or make a decision right now. But because you’re dealing with other people and the demands of the job, you get no time for that.

I can’t tell you how many times I was forced to respond or react to something before I was ready, just by the nature of the circumstances, and that led me to react badly. Subsequently, I was embarrassed and wished even more that I could take a few moments to myself. The more someone pushed me for what they wanted, the more agitated I got, and the more mental anguish it led to.

If you’re an introvert who struggles with working in food service like I did, don’t beat yourself up for not being “the right kind of person.” You may be a fish out of water, but remember that everyone struggles in some way with the job, and no one is doing it perfectly. Plus, you likely bring a level of thoughtfulness and conscientiousness that few others can match. 

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Kayla "Kat" Mueller is a blogger, author, writer, thinker, and feeler. She hates phone calls, noise, and small talk, and loves books, pets, and her favorite chair. She is forever grateful for being able to marry her INFP soulmate. Visit her at www.kat-mueller.com.